As most of you know, I’m currently pursuing my Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership. Last weekend marked my third class and first, on campus, class experience. I’ve mostly enjoyed the content thus far, as it has opened me up to different theories, perspectives and really helped me make sense of life through a different lens. The courses thus far have also provided me with valuable new lenses through which I can view leadership…and this ‘learning experience’ was very much the same.
The class I took was called, “Leadership and Imagination”. It was a three day, on campus residency/intensive. People came from all over the nation (New Jersey, South Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona to name a few states represented) to participate. Everyone’s experience was quite varied as well– from businesspeople, to clergy, to schoolteachers, to the self employed, to people in the medical field and people working for big corporations like Boeing and Microsoft. Needless to say, this made for interesting reflection and discussion within the group, especially in light of the content.
The whole “premise” of the course was the idea of “Seeing, and Seeing Again”. Basically, not getting so set in the way you’ve seen things before, but taking the time to ‘see it again’ in such a way that it opens up new dimensions of whatever you’re observing– be it leadership, people, organizations, preferences, beliefs, etc.; basically, not getting stale in our perspectives, but taking the time revisit things and “see them again” with the hope of something new emerging from that reflection.
Although simple, this concept was a refreshing one because, for me anyways, it put value on revisiting and reframing events, experiences, and perspectives– taking things you’ve already seen or been through before , and looking at them again through a different lens… which, in my opinion, is a very valuable practice. Obviously I’m not inferring that life should be lived through a rear view mirror, as that typically isn’t great for anyone… but maybe more so with a telescope, magnifying glass and the occasional rear view mirror– maybe? I digress
The class was broken down into five different sections– Leadership and Art, Leadership and History, Leadership and Drama, Leadership and Film and finally, Leadership and Architecture. Each class presented a different context through with to view leadership, and provided some valuable insights, experiences and conversations.
As I reflect on my experience, here are a few of my takeaways:
This Leadership and History class was probably one of the most interesting to me. The professor was an old soul, full of wisdom. He talked in a low, quiet, and especially calming voice. (His voice actually kinda reminded me a little bit of Liam Neeson). He carried the type of presence that just makes you feel safe, secure and like everything was going to be ok. He brought with him a wealth of insight from years of experience and also created a very sincere and comfortable atmosphere.
One topic he covered was the idea of “False Self vs. True Self”… Basically exploring the idea of who you have become as it compares to who you really are or who you were designed to be. We discussed the question, “What causes us to be our “False self” instead of our “true self”… and are we self-aware enough to differentiate between the two? Elementary perhaps, but thought provoking none the less.
We also discussed a “space in time” my professor described as, “The Cloud of Unknowing”. He articulated that the “Cloud of Unknowing” is essentially “the time between the times… In other words, it’s that space in time between what you know and what you want to know, between where you are and where you’re going, between the certain and the uncertain, between the now and the not yet.
This metaphor, rich in imagery, gave me plenty to think about… especially considering the events of my life over the last year and half. As I thought about it, I concluded that this “space in time” identified as the “Cloud of Unknowing” is a rather uncomfortable place, but does create opportunities for personal transcendence and lasting transformation– IF, and only if we allow it to…
The Leadership and Film class also provided some great content to chew on. We watched a film called “God on Trial“. This controversial film was set in a concentration camp during Nazi Germany. The story line centered around the question that I presume many Jews were asking at that time, “If we’re ‘God’s chosen people, then why in God’s name is this happening to us?” Due to the injustice of their experiences, the prisoners (as portrayed in the movie) decided to put “God on Trial” for breaking his covenant with the Jewish people.
This film focused on concepts like free will vs. free choice, faith vs. Science… and the sometimes irreconcilable question, “If God is really good, then why do bad things happen in the world?”
I mean– from the Jews perspective, think about considering yourself as “God’s Chosen People”, then facing some of the greatest acts of oppression in human history?… Geez. Talk about difficult.
Anyways– due to the films provocative nature, many in the class were quite stirred and emotional… which in turn created a rather emotionally charged discussion. It was interesting to navigate through some of these controversial topics, especially with a group from all different walks of life, who all carried their own perspective of what God is really like. A conversation of that nature probably wouldn’t have happened so openly and freely in (what I knew of) the Bible Belt, so I found myself extremely interested and engaged! Great topics and great conversation– I loved it! haha.
Another activity we did (in Leadership and Architecture) that I especially liked used a Technique called the Johari Window… This activity focused on who we think we are vs. how we’re perceived and experienced by others. We were given a list of… oh… maybe 25-30 adjectives and then had to pick the top 5 we felt best represented and described us. We next had to give the same adjective sheet to to 3 other people in the class and have them fill it out about us. Once completed, we were then to compare the adjectives they thought described us vs. the ones we thought described ourselves. It was interesting to see which ones matched up and which ones didn’t. Out of the five I chose about myself, four of them were chosen by the people I gave them to… Four out of five isn’t bad!… Especially when we’d only known each other for 2 days! It was cool to see that the way I think about myself is the same way that I present, especially to people that I’d just met. 🙂 I’d be interested to do this activity with family or friends I’ve known for a long time… In fact, maybe I will! haha. 🙂
A few other activities included a blind contour drawing, playing with clay, reading Shakespeare and an impromptu “photo shoot”… haha. Fun times! For the record, I must say that I was terribly terrible (haha) at the Art projects we did… The blind contour, the forming an animal out of clay with your eyes closed and the drawing of a man upside (that we weren’t allowed to trace mind you) were not exactly up my alley. hahaha… Although I am at times a closet perfectionist, I found a way to enjoy the class and not take my artistic ability (or lack thereof) too seriously.
ANYWAYS– all in all it was a great weekend filled with valuable experiences and meaningful takeaways– definitely a ‘First Class’ experience. I must say, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of school as I’ve known it, but I am extremely thankful to be in an environment that values conversations that facilitate learning and initiate personal discovery. Would I consider myself the greatest “student”, eh, probably not… but I am proud to consider myself a “life long learner”… yea– that sounds about right.
Until next time– live, love and learn– preferably something new– I mean.. only if you’re into that sort of thing. 😉 haha. Later folks!