I had the opportunity to speak with Powers of Leadership (POL) Co-Facilitator Craig Fleck about the program, in which I participated several years ago. Here’s that conversation. The next session of POL begins this October. —Marnie Jackson
How did Larry and Sharon’s founding leadership create the platform for POL?
Sharon and Larry’s conception and design of this retreat series is a marvel of integration and synthesis. Using the basic framework of the Chinese five-element model and focusing on the expression of each of those elements in one of the seasons, this approach then weaves a tapestry for leadership that incorporates purpose, adaptation, rhythm, artistry, awareness of life cycles, a sense of place, and a deep connection to the Commons and our surrounding environment. In each of the seasons, we look at these different threads and explore them through the essence of that season—so, over the course of the year, we dip into the core aspects of leadership in numerous ways and from various perspectives. As an educational design, I believe it allows a tremendous flexibility and responsiveness to who and what shows up in each cohort. No two POLs are the same, but they all address these critical aspects of leadership.
What has prepared you to lead this program with Christie?
It is easy to say that the sum total of my life experience has prepared me, but that is an unsatisfying answer. I have been involved with leadership development for over 25 years and it would be wonderful to think I knew something about it by now. My experience tells me, however, that the requirements of leadership keep changing and what people want from leaders keeps changing and so the ability to adapt and respond to the reality of what is emerging around you— in your colleagues, your organization, or your community—is an essential part of leadership today. I lived this for many years as a leader of a board of school trusties. In that role, I often struggled to respond effectively to the challenges we were confronted with from year to year. The successes of that time, and even more so the failures, were my own learning laboratory about leadership.
From a very different direction, I love and have studied poetry. I pursue my own artistry in various ways, most notably by tending a vineyard for the past eight years and attempting alchemy by making my own wine from the harvested grapes. I also consult with various organizations around the country on issues of strategy, change, team building and other organizational development disciplines and partner with them as they address the complexities of our current world. Some current clients work in the food industry, retail, education, health care, and the environment.
Can you tell me about your style of co-facilitation with Christie? How do you complement one another in holding this work?
I think it is best described as a dance. We both bring very different backgrounds and experiences, mine from business and consulting and Christie’s from therapeutic, contemplative, and higher educational backgrounds. We both love poetry, music, literature, and art and find lots of ways to play with those dimensions. In terms of the design, we both feel very comfortable with any of the material and often shift and change what and how we share from session to session. We also have very different styles and personalties. I am more an extrovert and Christie an introvert, which leads to various ways we approach and express the material and engage participants.
What is an example of the kind of impact this program has made in someone’s life?
We regularly hear how POL was a turning point in someone’s career or leadership direction. During any particular cohort, we often have four or five significant transitions occur in participants’ jobs or work responsibilities. We often hear that the time spent in intense inquiry— exploring new approaches and methodologies and then having time for personal reflection— creates the conditions for participants to ask questions they haven’t given themselves the time to ask. The annual cycle provides time to live with those questions long enough to begin to sense what they mean, and to have that understanding influence new possibilities.
What do you continue to learn through this work?
I am constantly learning what it means to be a leader in today’s world. For me, leadership is not a neutral skill or stance. A leader stands FOR something, and clarifying what that is for oneself is a continual process. The pace of our lives and the way we work and interact in our society, along with the expectations people have about what work is and should be is constantly changing and so what we pay attention to as leaders needs to be open to change. As I work with different cohorts and participants, in the cauldron that is POL, I am continually educated about these new realities through the experience we share together. It changes the way I lead and consult with others and enriches my perspective of the world.
Does the Chinook land have importance as a home for this work?
The Chinook land is fundamental to POL. Each season we are out on the land and connecting with the essence of the season by being in it. The presence of POL on the land for 17 years has made the space an integral part of what we do and how we orchestrate POL, in order to ground participants’ learning and experience.
Are there questions I’ve not yet asked, that you’d like to answer?
Why should a leader spend their valuable time at a year-long program like POL?
I think it is essential for leaders, operating in the relentless and challenging world in which we live, to carve out time for reflection and vision. We often operate at an extremely fast pace, and most of us spend our days moving from one urgent issue to the next. While this can be very creative and generative work, it can also be short sighted and exhausting. Leaders are rarely given a break. POL provides the space, with creative, experienced leaders like yourself, to consider, observe, reflect on, and plan what’s next for yourself and your organization, and to make decisions that support your long-term health and vitality. Wherever you find yourself, engaging in new ideas and approaches to leadership with others from very different industries and sectors who share an interest in doing good, generative work is always an enriching and stimulating experience.