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Tears, Trust, and Tipping Points: LeaderShape 2013

Posted October 24, 2013 in Leadership, News

By Stephanie Haft ’15

“I had never seen so many cornfields”- This was my first thought as I prepared to embark on the six day journey of LeaderShape at Allerton Conference Center in Champaign, Illinois. As the flight attendants prepared the cabin for touchdown, I stared out at the lush, rippling waves of leafy produce below me. I studied the endless plots of grid-like farms from above with one thought running through my mind: could this be another tipping point?

[Pictured: Bridget Moran ’15 and Stephanie Haft ’15]

This was not my first time at the leadership rodeo. In high school I was active in many leadership conferences, including Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, Rotary Youth Leadership, and World Leadership Congress. In college, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Kravis Leadership Institute, which has provided me with numerous leadership opportunities prior to LeaderShape – Freshman Frontier, International Leadership Association Conference, and Sophomore Leadership Experience. I learn from all leadership programs I partake in, but a few select experiences have provided me with a valuable tipping point – a realization or change in my leadership lens that has allowed me to greatly progress to the next stage of my personal leadership development. As I scurried off the plane at Champaign’s local airport, I hoped that LeaderShape would provide me with such a “tipping point” experience.

To some people six days is simply a typical workweek, but LeaderShape managed to pack what seemed like months of learning opportunities into this time frame. Each day was filled with seminars from learned mentors, hands-on activities or games, and valuable small-group discussions. These sessions all fit into the context or theme for the day– “Building Community,” “The Value of One, the Power of All,” and “Bringing Vision to Reality,” just to name a few. Day Five’s theme – “Living and Leading with Integrity” – is certainly the topic that challenged me the most. At this point I had managed to meet all the LeaderShape participants. Many of the activities in this day required that I not only interact with the other participants, but share very personal opinions and values with them as well. In short, this day required trust and vulnerability. One activity that demonstrated these necessities was called StarPower. The underlying premise of StarPower was an inequality – designated by pure chance – in a player’s ability to succeed in the game. This inequality was represented by assigning players’ chips certain value, and allowing these players to trade chips in an attempt to increase their total value. Ultimately, those players that started at the “top” with their chip values stayed at the top, and those beginning at the “bottom” found it difficult to attain upwards mobility.

As my small group sat down to debrief this powerful activity, nobody said a word. Our group facilitator encouraged us to speak out, but the other participants simply stared blankly into a void in the middle of the room. Although I certainly had opinions on the game, I was afraid – afraid to be vulnerable. Finally, I realized that I could not expect my group members to share with me if I was not willing to share with them. I spoke up with hesitation, attempting to disguise my nervousness. After I expressed my frustration with the corruption that had occurred in the game, two participants started crying. They shared about their life experiences and how at times they feel challenged in their leadership development because of a perceived inability to “move upward.” And then another person spoke. And then another. And soon, I felt something “tip” inside of me. I realized that by choosing to be vulnerable, I was a leader. This, indeed, was my tipping point – the moment that I realized that sometimes, confessing to a weakness or an emotion is not weakness at all, but is instead strength. I then understood that as a leader, I must be vulnerable; I must open up to others in order to establish a safe and trusting environment in which to lead.

I developed many aspects of leadership at LeaderShape, but the power of vulnerability was by far the largest lesson. Bridget Moran, a sophomore at CMC who also attended LeaderShape, was similarly impacted. When asked about her “tipping point,” she said:

“While at LeaderShape, we did many valuable exercises but for me there was one in particular that impacted me the most. At one point, we sat down and defined our values. This completely changed my perspective on how I view and react to many situations. I had always had a general idea of what I valued, but I had never taken the time to consciously think about it. This exercise helped to further reaffirm and ground me in my values.”

Bridget and I both had an incredible LeaderShape experience, and although the program was only six days, we realize that the most important day was Day 7. This day was not a day at all, but was in fact the rest of our lives after the LeaderShape experience where we apply what we learned.

So as I ascended into the air, en route home, watching the cornfields fade into the distance beneath milky clouds, I thought about what I would do on “Day 7,” and naturally thought of my tipping point. LeaderShape taught me how to be a vulnerable leader, and therefore a more empathetic and accessible one. This lesson is certainly something that I will carry with me beyond the cornfields – to my leadership positions at CMC, to my work at the Kravis Leadership Institute, and to all relationships that I continue to nurture and build.