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Friday, October 18, 2013

Give Yourself Room to Grow

Each month since June this year, my fellow Emerging Leaders and I have spent one full day away from our respective work spaces to focus on our own professional growth. As our facilitator (the wonderful Yael Sivi) starts off each session by having each person share a personal update, we shift our thinking from our daily work routine to reflecting on about how we approach our work as leaders. After all, how often do we have a chance to do this? How often are we able to have frank conversations about our personalities and work styles, the challenges of managing people above and below us, and our anxieties and habits when dealing with conflict?  How much time do YOU consciously spend each month to sit down with a peer and constructively talk through a personal leadership issue that’s been bothering you?

For those of us who have not yet built that time into our lives, I am finding the Emerging Leaders program to be a much-needed haven to help us create that safe space. I call it “safe space” because there is an intrinsic understanding among my fellow participants that the personal stories we share during our sessions are communicated with a sense of confidentiality and trust.  We may need to discuss a very sensitive topic but we know that our peers are willing to listen and give input without judgment.  While our professional work may not overlap, being able to hear from peers who may have experienced similar challenges or can give a fresh perspective sets a tone of genuine constructive feedback.

The Emerging Leaders sessions themselves are so thoughtfully designed and executed.  Each month’s session gives us vocabulary to define concepts we battle with but may not have explicitly called out (am I carrying too many monkeys? What personal obstacle is competing with my work commitment? What cognitive distortions am I allowing to twist my thinking?). We also have an impressive panel of seasoned executives who share their experiences and nuggets of wisdom about leadership and management. At our most recent session, we were excited to hear Della Britton Baeza, President & CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and Shena Elrington, Director of the Health Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, talk about how they have turned professional challenges into opportunities to grow as leaders. Each of us in the program may come away from these panels with different lessons learned, but they all shape how we are thinking about our personal development.

We are at the mid-point of our Emerging Leaders program and I am already starting to think about how to ensure I make the time each month to continue this type of an exchange with my peers even after our program ends. I’ve already had an amazing opportunity to meet with an adviser through the Emerging Leaders program who gave me great ideas and contacts that I am following up on as my personal homework. But it’s equally important to have that ‘safe space’ with peers so that we continue to grow and learn from each other outside the confines of our offices.  I am grateful that the Emerging Leaders program is helping us to build such a community of peers right now and look forward to continuing it beyond the program.

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