I’m up in the middle of the night caring for a sick child. Nothing serious, just a back-to-school bug. Andy was up too, getting the recently thrown-up-on things into the wash, shuttling cold rags to the patient, and letting the dogs out for a little rabbit chasing.
All four of them are back asleep. I am still awake. It is 4 a.m.
I just walked back to the laundry room only to discover that our new machine had released its contents onto the floor.
Did my washing machine just throw up, too?
Am I next?
While laying out a great many towels to absorb the hose leak that I am not going to worry about until daylight, I remembered that I made a promise to recap my recent Authentic Leadership experience, and what I absorbed during that time. What better time to write about leadership than when everything is truly out of my control?
Julie has been nudging me to write about this for a while, but it’s been tough for me to get started. I think because I thought I’d recap it and have a bunch of useful tips and things to teach you. But I don’t. And I didn’t really finish. I mean I completed the course in August. I turned in my final project. I have a certificate. But I didn’t finish.
Stay with me.
I first read about the course this spring. Andy actually pointed it out to me, in the way that he does things. “This sounds like you,” he said from his spot on the couch, tossing me his mediation magazine folded open to the page with the ad.
I thought, “Authentic Leadership? Sounds like what I already do! Might as well go through the program and get some third-party validation and a big ol’ pat on the back!”
I mean, wrong-wrong. I was way off.
What I assumed would be a months-long program confirming how perfectly authentic I am, was not at all what I expected. This program had me looking - not deep into my company or my policies or my clients or staff - but at myself.
This kind of thing can sting. It wasn’t easy or pretty at times. I didn’t always want to participate. But I did learn that by doing these things I felt better, stronger and much more at peace. Peace that I’ve brought back from the program with me, even if it’s just a tiny bit.
I also learned that my willingness to dig, and then dig deep, and then dig even deeper, may actually be tied to my financial investment. Seriously - this program isn’t cheap. But I think that kept me mentally engaged. I couldn’t walk away without wasting a lot of money. I’m too frugal for that. So I stuck with it and I joyfully ate my words and re-centered my eyerolls about the idea of “leadership.” My only regret is that I wish I had started this process years ago.
What was it like?
This was an online course over a nine-week period, with two in-person weeks at Naropa University in Boulder; a week at the beginning, and one toward the end of the course. This program was facilitated by superb professionals. They rotated to stick with their strengths (and maybe also to not bore us to death during a 12-hour day.) They taught a roomful of different adults from all over the world, all with different experiences, and managed to reach all of us.
What did I do?
I set a goal, and I applied my coursework to that goal. I also got really emotional and talked about things that had ZERO to do with leadership (or so I believed.) We meditated every day as a group. We worked with horses. We went on a mini vision quest. We were assigned readings, movies, books and exercises. We laughed. We cried. (Some of us even ugly-cried!) We made art. We wrote poems. We pushed each other and we also offered each other a great deal of grace. We were together a lot even when we weren’t together.
We also workshopped ways to discover what was holding us back. Check out Immunity to Change and take it with you to your therapist and dig in. Good luck! It was one of the toughest exercises we worked through, in my opinion. My outcome was rather unexpected, too. It’s kept me growing well past my course completion date.
Oh, and I have a coach now!
What did I learn?
Well, I wanted to learn that I knew everything and that I could just sort of show up and get a badge for being so super-awesome. Instead, I learned that I will never stop learning. I’m not finished. I learned to listen better, but that I may never master the art. I learned that I need to slow down, but I bet that will never come naturally and I’ll always have to work on it. I learned that everyone suffers, and that it’s our approach with them, as bearers of that knowledge, that gives us a special lens through which to view them. This allows us to offer a more compassionate response to meet their needs. I came back better equipped to connect with others.
How does this affect my work?
Whether it’s with employees, clients, media or the general public, my job is to connect with others. But really, this course didn’t specifically teach me how to better connect with people. Instead, it bred a little compassion. I think it changed me in a fundamental way, which in turn changed how I work. I am better at my job now because of the pausing and the listening and the compassion. Plus, as a bonus, the same compassion I learned to share with others, I also allow myself. That freedom to be human is a great place for a communications professional to really begin to connect on a deeper level. Not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of my clients as well.
Since I’ve finished, when people ask me about it, I tell them that this was about mindfulness in the workplace. That’s really a mild cop-out, shorthand answer. It didn’t change my workplace. It changed my point of view. It’s about mindfulness in life.
If you think I’m not telling you enough specifics, you’re right. I am being intentionally vague. Everyone who took this course with me brought with them a completely different set of experiences. We all were there for different reasons and we all taught each other and learned from each other. If I took it again, I would have a totally different experience. So this little post is my best explanation, and my best presentation of how I went in and what I left with. Feel free to ask me any questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer. But if you want to learn more, you can simply check out the program for yourself: Naropa Authentic Leadership Program.