How has your understanding of your own leadership changed through the Fellowship to date?
My initial form of leadership started from a very practical point of view. My engineering mindset placed me in a mentality to solve problems through logical and dynamic methods. I was well aware of the issues of my community. I wanted to find viable solutions. My whole undergraduate experience taught me to be resourceful, innovative, and content with knowing that I would be embarking on complex challenges with little to no help. This mixture of experiences emboldened me to be an agent of change. I was given positions of leadership because I was a “doer” and tenacious in my dedication to personal, professional, and community growth. I had the sincerity, willingness, and coachability to understand challenges and parameters that community leaders had to operate within.
Reading the book, Leadership on the Line, was truly enlightening. I was unaware of the pitfalls of leadership. I often wonder if I was immune to the criticisms of leading in Indian country because I was unaware of the nuances of leadership pitfalls. In a racially charged movement such as law enforcement and minority relationship, I am hyper-sensitive to another’s concerns. Ultimately, I am fortunate for learning the pitfalls and my blind spots, so I could be more effective in race relations. My leadership development had a lot to do with emotional intelligence, organizational behavior (which is basically industrial psychology), and psychology. This, paired with a foundation in engineering and analytics, brings an interesting perspective to every meeting.
I now have all the education needed (thanks to the fellowship), but what was missing was general professional experience. Also, strategic management has also been a missing core component. My courses at Harvard are teaching me to consider and evaluate internal and external factors that could inhibit my performance and the performance of my endeavors. In summary, a major shift for me is that I shifted from engineering to psychology to executive/business mentalities. Looking at myself as a business helps me better apply metrics such as SWOT analysis’, values, mission statements, objectives, financial performances, market share, competitors, etc. to myself. I would like to think of myself as a well-rounded leader, but I do recognize that I still have a long way to go.
How has focusing on your own leadership changed the way you lead in your work?
I have noticed that many initiatives are planned without considering how it fits into the larger society. Then, those initiatives experience much obstacles, adversity, stalemates, and bottlenecks. My background in Industrial Engineering has taught me to evaluate systems, but programs in my fellowship have filled in deficiencies and leadership blind spots. Although some programs seem small or isolated to certain demographics, it often affects or competes with so much other initiatives. Rather than moving forward with innovative ideas, great initiative, and positive energy, I have changed to evaluate and forecast risks, emphasis “systems thinking,” and be more strategic in how I approach, management, and monitor my work. I’m thinking more like an executive rather than the rambunctious student who entered the fellowship.
How do you now view the role of self-care in sustaining your ability to lead?
I have always viewed self-care as pampering or spoiling one’s self. I was not raised in a manner where that was not possible, so I felt guilty for investing in vocal lessons, piano lessons, parkour lessons, etc. After long days, those hobbies were a saving grace to me. Having a healthy emotional outlet is crucial to sustaining leadership without falling victim to empathy fatigue, burnout, and cynicism. One of the most compelling forms of self-care was talking to a therapist. I’ve gained such an appreciation of psychology during this fellowship. There is nothing better than reflecting on various perspectives with somebody who is unbiased and well educated in the constructs of the mind. There are so many levels to our motives to lead and I have benefitted immensely from discovering what my psychological drivers are.
Lastly, I am embarking on a passion that I had tabled so I could pursue higher education. That passion was mixed martial arts. I was inspired by a professional athlete in my undergraduate program. This athlete, Robbie Lawler, was older, but competing with people much younger than him and still became a champion. This was very much how I felt as a non-traditional student. I can honestly say that I felt like a champion when I graduate from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. As I transition into to my next seven-year cycle, I have found a new inspirational figure/athlete, Donald Cerrone. I was able to see him perform leave last week. I was moved by his words after winning a very competitive match. Donald Cerrone said, “I had to find new reasons to propel my ambition to become a champion.” Those words have resonated with me for the last week.
I have started training in a gym. I do not intend to compete professionally, but I am reminded of how dedicated I was to my goals in my undergraduate program. After taking a break from race relations, I felt as if the hard part was behind me. However, this iteration of Vaughn (post Bush Fellowship), is going to be sharper, more powerful, and strategic. Ultimately, what I’m learning from this self-care is the discipline of this art. Also, it is teaching to me to use every tool in my toolbox and to spend hours into developing a game plan and sticking to that game plane when the tough gets going.