Leadership Chose Me
This essay is a reflection on my original Leadership Philosophy essay written in 2012 exploring how this program has changed how I interpret and apply leadership competencies.
Leadership chose me. It is with those words that I embarked on my Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a Concentration in Servant-Leadership on May 19, 2012. Exactly ten years earlier I walked across the stage as an undergraduate of Whitworth University. On May 19, 2002 I accepted not only my Bachelor of Arts in English but also a lifelong dream to complete a collegiate degree; a path that had been paved by resilient leaders whom I emulated. To embark on a graduate degree ten years later invited me to step courageously off a paved trail, stepping tentatively yet with strength in creating a path towards leadership for others to embark upon.
This reflection essay will weave three elements of my leadership journey. I will create a foundational explanation of where I was on my leadership journey when I accepted the invitation to pursue my graduate degree at Gonzaga University. I will then explore how my leadership philosophy has shifted, changed and adapted to represent where I am at the end of this graduate program. I will then develop and refine a leadership philosophy for the future, identifying professional and personal goals through the lens of a leader who models an integrated heart, mind and spirit.
Leadership is a powerful word. At the start of my journey I believed that to accept the role of leadership is by it’s very admission an act of humility. To lead is to accept responsibility not only for oneself but also for the actions of others. Leadership tests one’s resolve to a commitment to excellence.
Pursuing an education in leadership resolves an individual’s deepest held beliefs, forming and framing a person in to a more complete version of who they were. At the start of my journey I highlighted the role of my grandfather as the patriarch, my mother as the following matriarch. Born a 1st generation Italian in rural Dunsmuir, California, my grandfather Angelo modeled resiliency fueled by a commitment to excellence. His voracious love of reading led to a commitment to individual and academic learning that included being the first in our family to complete a collegiate degree. In 1938 my grandfather Angelo caught the winning touchdown of the Big Game against Stanford etching our family name in the history books of the University of California at Berkeley. He modeled for my mother a commitment to authentic learning that developed her unique passion to teach in inner city schools. My stepdad adopted me becoming my Dad who modeled acceptance by loving one’s character, authentically caring for people as they are. He wisely taught: when you see a person who has a quality you admire, emulate them. These stories of resilience developed in me a commitment to hard work and excellence.
As a child I struggled in school. I believed educational opportunities were for those who excelled in rote memory. Without a formal disability diagnosis, teachers made clear that I failed academically. My educator mom spent countless hours bridging the gap between my ability to excel in school and a deep curiosity and passion for learning. My grandfather’s vision for me to pursue a collegiate education came to life through my mother’s commitment to excellence.
Paulo Freire distinguishes two contrary teaching styles in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970). Freire outlines two systems of education: the banking system of education whereas the teacher (or leader) professes their knowledge to the subject (the student) teaching boldly to the meek and creating a system of passive reception (Freire, 1970). Problem-posing education invites leadership development, creates critical thinkers, stimulates authentic reflection and engages in inquiry and creative transformation (Freire, 1970). This singular text opened wide my conceptual views of education opening doors to authentic, transformative, engaged and passionate learning.
As a graduate student, my advisor helped design my course load to meet core competencies relating to specific goals. Two years prior to the start of the program I became unemployed due to the economic crisis of 2008-2009 coupled by the high-stress, complex premature birth of my son requiring I commit full-time as his caretaker. The goals set out for graduate school were 1) to develop the skills and capacities needed to return to work and 2) develop within me the transformative leadership capabilities to achieve my graduate school mission statement: to support organizations who care for families experiencing prematurity or special needs. Throughout my graduate studies I have weaved topics pertaining to issues related to prematurity ranging from Early Intervention support services to developing a servant-leadership paradigm in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The design of my graduate school coursework far exceeded the goals set out at the start of the program. One year in to my graduate program, Dr. Adrian Popa selected me to participate in an elective course climbing Mt. Adams in Washington State. Chris Warner & Don Schmincke write, “whether in an office or on a mountain, choosing to stay stuck in the safe world ensures losses of great opportunities to the ultimate strategy killer: fear. It stops staff from making great decisions, stops change agents from disrupting the status quo and stops leaders from leading” (Warner & Schmincke, 2009). It was at 9000 feet of a 12,276 foot mountain – 2/3rds of the way up Mt. Adams – the same 2/3rds distance as my prematurely ended pregnancy – that I left failure behind and climbed towards my future.
Upon my return from Mt. Adams, a national non-profit called Hand to Hold invited me to write a parent-blog post “Raising a Preemie is like climbing a Mountain” (http://www.preemiebabies101.com/2013/09/feature-friday-raising-a-preemie-is-like-climbing-a-mountain/). Writing this blog post caught the attention of Founder and Executive Director Kelli Kelley of Hand to Hold who invited me to complete an Action Research Project as part of a graduate school course followed by employment as an Organizational Development Consultant.
The completion of my degree of a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a Concentration in Servant-Leadership is the start of my leadership journey. It is the “place of most potential” outlined by Dewitt Jones in “Everyday Creativity”. It is the birthplace of a promised future. The growth opportunities presented during and within my graduate studies are best explored through work studying Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Scharmer’s Theory U invited me to look critically at a point in my life that limited my ability for effective and authentic leadership. The foundational principles of teaching which are reflected in leadership, consultancy and teaching as a noble profession came to light rooted in my childhood failures. My work in Theory U invited me to, “learn from the emerging future, we have to activate a deep learning cycle that involves not only opening the mind (transcending the cognitive boundaries), but also opening the heart (transcending our relational boundaries) and opening the will (transcending the boundaries of our small will). (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013). Stepping in to the future I am ready to embrace teaching as a leader, as a consultant and potentially as a professor.
My graduate degree from Gonzaga University has not substantially changed my leadership philosophy; it brought my leadership philosophy to life. No longer a theoretical idea, my leadership philosophy is a courageous step. Named after a commitment with the same name, Courageous Steps is committed to growing servant-leaders who support prematurity organizations (www.courageoussteps.org). Courageous Steps is that unmet need within the realm of prematurity research and support. It is that unique gift compromised of life experience and education that only I can offer.
Courageous Steps is my leadership philosophy. Simple. Tangible. Engaging. Within Courageous Steps are strands of my grandfather who modeled resiliency and my mother who committed to the pursuit of multicultural education undergirded by socio-economic empathy and conceptualization. Courageous Steps demand I contribute to the legacy of those who came before me leading with courage and conviction. It is the delicate weaving of past and present that allows the future to emerge creatively to meet the needs of today’s society.
Courageous Steps invites me to expand my worldview. This Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a Concentration in Servant-Leadership program invites emerging leaders to think globally while serving nationally. The Ph.D in Leadership Studies will invite me to go global creating a vision that embraces servant-leadership culturally and internationally. One hundred years ago characteristics of servant-leadership were common sense, every day practicality. As society has individualized, disengaging from one’s belief’s and familial values one must now commit to modeling after leader’s willing to take courageous steps. Organizations such as the Preemie Parent Alliance who represents organizations such as Hand to Hold document global readership. This indicates a need to be met globally. Nobody has been here before or knows what to expect. It requires listening to the still small voice within and a commitment to serving the world’s deepest hurt in a unique and applicable way. Let’s go.
Everyday Creativity [Motion picture on YouTube]. (n/a).
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Scharmer, O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future: From ego-system to eco-system economies. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Warner, C., & Schmincke, D. (2009). High altitude leadership: What the world's most forbidding peaks teach us about success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.