T’is the season of Thanksgiving and year-end reflection, and my Alumnicorps Emerging Leaders (EL) experience is certainly an opportunity for both. When I think about memorable moments of these past five months with my fellow EL DC cohort members and our facilitator Hilary Joel, the prevailing sentiment seems an appropriate one: gratitude. It is the simple but satisfying emotion of feeling fortunate enough to have (and, indeed, take) the time to improve oneself and actively shape the paths ahead. It is also the common feeling that repeats, even if the EL experience prompts other (and sometimes more challenging) emotions.
There is fear…about sharing perceived weaknesses and being judged on them, until you learn that the EL community is a safe space for professional and personal growth. At our fourth session, I found myself in the proverbial hot seat, having volunteered to be coached by Hilary and then by my peers on a professional challenge (“Why did I raise my hand?” I remember thinking on the long walk to the front of the room). But as I observed Hilary’s and my peers’ thoughtful attention and heard their constructive feedback, I eased into my chair, grateful for their objective and sincere comments on how I might best approach a potential solution. Few of us in the world have the opportunity to talk through a challenge in such an forum, much less with a considerate audience that can help you walk away with actionable ideas. Whether in a hot seat or chatting with other participants during our breaks, EL has given (and continues to give) me useful knowledge and tools about how to assess my own professional strengths and weaknesses, and how to leverage both to improve myself as individual.
Then there is nervousness...about what you can’t do, until you actually do it. Few things unnerve me more than public speaking, and a recent EL session on that topic frankly gave me the heebies. In front of a small group of my fellow EL participants, I delivered a short three-minute presentation and mini-Q&A session that would be videotaped for our own assessment. Well, perhaps in my mind it wasn’t a “presentation” so much as a stumbling through of notes punctuated by shortness of breath and the burn of my face during the long 360 seconds of seeming torture. The feedback from my fellow EL participants, though? Constructive and supportive as always. And my presentation/stumble on camera? Surprisingly, it was not terrible on video (at least compared to the real-time experience as I remembered it). And, armed with my EL colleague’s feedback and our guest facilitator Mark House’s amazing guidance on presentation skills, I was thankful that I would have the knowledge and ability to improve my public speaking in the future.
And then, finally, there is amazement...of the many things that I have learned and will continue to learn about myself , and the ability to do the same with an impressive peer cohort whose professional and personal accomplishments never cease to amaze. Of all the emotions I have experienced with EL, amazement has creeped in slowly as I’ve seen my own professional progress as a future organizational leader. The ability to balance my weaknesses (which I always saw) with my strengths (which I rarely acknowledged) has been a breakthrough. I don’t know if I would have gotten there without a longer-term development program such as EL, and for that I am especially grateful.
When I listen to and speak with fellow participants, I can’t help but wonder if they’ve experienced the same arc of feelings that have stuck with me throughout the past few months. I suspect it’s difficult not to. But, regardless of whichever range of emotions we may have each experienced, for me it always returns to gratitude. I will always appreciate opportunity that EL has given me to continually improve myself as a professional and to embark on that journey with an amazing group of people. With spirit of today’s holiday upon us, it’s difficult not to be thankful for the EL experience.