Seize the day of empowerment!

It was my privilege to attend the Women of Color Foundation~10th Anniversary “Women In Leadership” Conference.  This phenomenal empowerment initiative is the brainchild and passion of Alexandria Johnson Boone.  Learn more about WOCF and its Founder/Executive Producer at http://new.womenofcolorfoundation.com.

I was excited to learn that the Conference was being held at my alma mater, Cleveland State University, in its new Student Center Ballroom where the view of the cityscape reminds you of CSU’s commitment and connection to the Cleveland community. 

Upon arrival, the Registration and Vendor space was already abuzz with ladies signing in and checking out books by Black women authors and other vendor offerings.  I was signed in and welcomed by a very cordial staff, received my Program and choice of Conference bag provided by some of Cleveland’s most recognized event sponsors.

The announcement was made that we would begin shortly and everyone should take a seat in the Ballroom.  Having been taught by my mentor that “Leaders always go up front”, I took a seat at the table right in front of the podium, checking to be sure it was not a reserved table.  There was one gentleman seated at the table and it turns out that I extended my hand to shake the hand of University President, Dr. Ronald Berkman.  Well what a way to start the day.  President Berkman extended the welcome for the Conference.  In his remarks, Dr. Berkman shared two important elements of leadership, (1) the ability to think creatively; and (2) the ability to implement ideas at a number of stages, and to carry them through from start to finish.  He referenced and recommended a book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com.  He shared that the book is about extroverted and introverted leadership and realizing ‘leadership is not all one flavor’.

Following the Welcome, a ‘spark’ was introduced.  She is a CSU Graduate Assistant who came from West African to attend school in Cleveland (I’d like to hear the story behind that decision) and ultimately became a U.S. citizen.  She spoke beautifully, her accent still very present, and with a self-assurance that was engaging and uplifting.  She spoke about her academic journey at CSU and all the people who ‘mentored’ and ‘championed’ her along the way.  One of those persons was now sitting next to me so I introduced myself.  The powerful thing that this young woman shared (at least for me) was “A lot of people speak life into me.” Oh my goodness, that shakes my core even as I reflect and write those words.  She gave distinct instances when someone called her ‘Administrator’, ‘Success’, and while introducing her Dr. Charleyse Pratt called her a future ‘President’.  She said, “You start to become what people speak into you.” Lastly she shared, “Leaders pay it forward”.  I updated my FB status right then, “I already feel empowered and we’re just at the Welcome.”

What are you speaking into others? Who and what are you allowing to speak into you?

We then moved into the Lecture Room for the Conference Presentation.  The Presenter was Dr. Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell, Associate Professor at Amos Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.  Her academic and career path includes Case Western Reserve, Yale and Darmouth.  She is the author of “Career GPS”, http://www.careergpsthebook.com.

Dr. Bell’s topic was ‘Authenticity’.  She’s a pint-size powerkeg, not tall in stature but has this great height of scholarly and experiential learning.  She shared, “Leadership is needed no matter who or where you are.”  There are different kinds of leaders and leadership styles … she said, “We often don’t see images of ourselves as leaders” because we have this concept of what leaders look like that may not include the perception we have of ourselves.

Highlights for me included: Seize opportunities. You are a blank screen, paint what you want on it … your true authentic self. Avoid self-destruction. Help and support each other … You see me. Help me! Don’t be so self-consumed; divided from your sister. Performance alone will not advance you, relationship is also important. (Yes you did all the work, but what relationships did you build?) You are your best tool as a leader, you’re your best asset.

Then we did an exercise where we had to list our Good, Bad, and Ugly. Yes, self-evaluation … not comfortable with that. But she said number them, write them, then share them with the people in your row.  Our good is always recognized, celebrated and reinforced. We must use it to grow.  In sharing those ‘good’ virtues, we were energized. She encourged: keep the list, grow the list, review it often. Then we wrote the ‘bad’, all that energized chatter turned to engaged thought about what we were writing on those lists.  In sharing those lists, we found that we shared a lot of the same ‘bad’ … how people perceive us and what we know to be true ourselves. Finally, the ‘ugly’.  No one wants to look at that, right? She exclaimed, ‘we must’.  She said, you have to learn to dance with your ugly. ‘Ugly’ is not your identity.  She referenced that Bishop T. D. Jakes asked, “What comes out of the chaos of your life?” Out of the ‘ugly’, the dark, distorted, destructive, hidden, wounded, insecure comfort zones.  The best of us (charistmatic, celebrated leaders) have those places of ‘ugly’ (I recalled that from my Gender and Leadership class).  Some childhood trauma, family dysfunction, identity crises, social, class, ethnic inqeuity, rejection, abandonment … it is from these places, often in our youth, that the ‘ugly’ starts to form.  BUT! It is the ‘ugly’ that gives us muscle, determination and inner strength throughout our lives, it all makes up who we are, our authentic selves.  It is a triangulation, Dr. Bell said, the good, bad, and ugly, all points from which our gifts and blessings proceed. The book she referenced in her presentation, “Leadership & Self-Deception (Getting Out of the Box)” by The Arbinger Institute, http://www.arbinger.com)

What is your good, bad, ugly? Write it? Grow the good, embrace the other and work through it, use it for the development of your most authentic self.

Next, was the Awards Luncheon celebrating and honoring the achievements of three professional women. This year’s honorees included a NASA Aerospace Engineer, the first African American and woman Pastor of an historic congregation, and a leader in the local social sector.  African American women of influence, stature, and success breaking barriers, creating pathways and opening doors. At the end of the Luncheon, all the attendees recited to a partner the WOCF Covenant:

(in part) “I regard myself and you, as being created in the image of God. I see your beauty. I sense your power. I celebrate your potential. I support your prerogative to sing your own song. I share your pursuit of a high quality of life. … In you I see God and in God I see you. You are my friend and I love you.” Powerful!

The Conference continued with two panel presentations in the afternoon. The first panel presented on organizational Mentoring (of relationship and sponsorship) and Championing (of positional power) for others. What leadership competencies would be important for sponsorship? Cases of inequity; someone who demonstrates curiosity, is transparent, builds relationship; someone who demonstrates greatness, is available, connects with people, persons who SHINE in their career pursuits. Highlights: “Learn from every opportunity whether you fail or succeed.” “Keep your antennas up, be true to your convictions, but also open to opportunities.” [In the absence of any external champion] “Recognize your internal champion.”

 The second panel presented on having what it takes to make the grade from the classroom to the boardroom.  Panelists shared that it takes passion (the prevailing characteristic); in some situations, it takes a calling; purpose, perseverance, not only academic, but emotional readiness, and understanding power and the ‘rules of the game’ (which can change midstream, without your knowledge), and it also takes the ability to apply wisdom; self-reliance, “It is up to me”; create your own path, write your own story.  How do you recognize your own passion? It is what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what you live and breathe.  Closing tips: Define things for yourself; set goals; receive advice, but listen to our heart; follow your passion; realize you’re not alone; don’t sell yourself short, know your value; speak to, encouarge and empower yourself. Learn some skills (how to run a meeting); don’t be perfect; speak with authority/boldness, don’t apologize so much; have a short memory, don’t hold grudges; Have FUN!
 
I’ve shared my takeaways from the WOCF Conference because when you experience something great, you want others to experience it too.  So I pray my nuggets will give you a sense of being there.

Recommended books:

What will the WOCF be doing in the future? Whatever the platform, I’m sure it will be empowering!