As I reflect on my leadership development over the past several months, so much comes to mind. The question of what stands out or what surprised me about my fellowship to date is a loaded one but yet a simple one. The words transformative and intentionality come to mind. I'm just under half-way through my fellowship, and I have so much to reflect on and yet much to look forward to. Planning and orchestrating my leadership development from a blank canvas is still a reality I remind myself of frequently. With COVID-19 and the civil unrest, my fellowship plan has required adjustments, but these adjustments have only been a reminder of the importance of adaptability. How does one maximize this once in a lifetime opportunity in the middle of these global pandemics? I've spent a significant amount of time grappling with this, both in my inner thoughts and in dialogue with others. I've concluded that I have two choices, I can carry on with my plan as initially plan to the best of my ability, or I can dig deep, lean in, and expand my "why." I've chosen to expand my "why," my original why still holds true; however, my expanded why has given my fellowship reinvigorated meaning.
My fellowship journey has always been about thinking strategically about how I invest in myself now that will later position me at tables where critical decisions are being made, game-changing policies are being shaped, and budget priorities are determined. More now than ever, we in need of equitable leadership, not only sitting at the table but placed at the head of the table. We need leaders at the table that looks like George Floyd, that understands his experience first-hand. We've come as far as we can with advocates, representatives, and brokers. There is no substitute for the voices of black leadership. Indeed, there is a place and role for our non-black brothers and sisters, but we are in a time where the change we seek to see will come from the black community. Further, the black community must determine and guide how others contribute to the solution.
Over the last six months, I've reached out and connected to more people for support and guidance than I have over the course of my leadership career. Partly, because my plan is about connecting, learning, and leaning in, the other part has to do a lot with my need for additional support and guidance. My experience and transition from state government was something I wouldn't wish upon anybody. However, I wouldn't take it back or exchange it for anything. I learned so much about myself, my leadership, white privilege, bureaucracy, and the very politics that support the status quo. Initially, when I decided to leave, I felt defeated, as if I was giving up or letting people down. Through the support of my network, many of whom I met during my fellowship, I was able to reframe my departure by adopting a new narrative, a narrative that serves me and those I serve much better.
Same battle, different angle. I've learned that my battle is my battle, regardless of my post. In fact, being successful in any battle requires adaptability and the ability to change positions and strategies when the fight calls for it. One of my learning goals is to deepen and broaden my knowledge to be an effective executive leader. I am doing this by studying executive leadership development and public service through formal and self-directed education opportunities. I needed to figure out how leaving state services aligns with my career and leadership goals. At first glance, it appears that my decision to leave state services is counterintuitive. More so, how do you learn to navigate state services better when you're not in state services? These are the questions that I posed to my leadership coach and others. I received a plethora of responses, all of which made me conclude that leaving state services have more to do with my sanity and health and less about my overall goals and desires as a leader.
This fall, I will be starting my second year as a doctoral graduate student. I have immensely enjoyed becoming a student again and being in a traditional learning environment. I feel most alive when I'm learning. Learning has always been fundamental to me, and while I believe the world is my classroom, I appreciate becoming part of a community of scholars. My course work has flown by; I have three courses left total and two before starting my dissertation. I have also been spending a significant amount of time thinking about my dissertation topic and research on navigating executive leadership as a black woman. While I'm still in the process of narrowing down my research questions, a couple of things I know for sure. Today, black women leaders have an essential role in responding to the nation's racial-justice protest and civil unrest.
In closing, the last several months have taken most of us for a ride like no other. Even in a world of uncertainties, there are still silver linings, many lessons to be learned, and opportunities for transformation and intentionality.