A Leadership Mentor Reflects

Below is an end of year reflection written by a mentor participating in the YMCA Black & Latino Achievers Leadership & Mentoring program, a collaborative project by the Hayes-Taylor YMCA of Greensboro and the Center for Creative Leadership.

I’ve worked for two great organizations that empower and support youth, the YMCA, and now CCL—both places to earn a living just like anywhere else. Over the years I’ve discovered that the real magic lies in what their teachings and philosophies have the capacity to DO inside of people.

I was drawn to this program because I have experienced firsthand the impact that mentor(s) (or lack thereof) can have on a person’s trajectory in life. I have had many role models and mentors, but two who have left indelible footprints on my young soul and inspired me to do the same in any capacity I can while we are together for such a fleeting time on this planet. Both passed away, too soon, and suffered great illness at the end of their short lives.

Their lives first spurred my passion for improving health care one person at a time, in a time when AIDS and cancer were new and scary unknowns. Their leadership and mentoring brought out the best in me, challenged me, believed in me, and through their trials I learned a depth of empathy and connection with others that continues as a bittersweet gift. I have also seen the lack of mentoring on people’s lives. This too has reminded me of my dedication to this service, because without support to dream, grow, and encouragement for development, life can seem insurmountably tough.

This program consists of one half day each month during the school year, delivering remarkable impact and unexpected beneficial ripple effects for months and years to come for its participants. The curriculum is leadership essentials, aimed at high school youth, and creates a safe space where being your truest best self is refreshingly encouraged. We learn about Direction/Alignment/Commitment, head, heart and feet, learning curves, goals, social identity, our vision, and our “spark”- what makes us feel truly alive.

As a mentor you go through the experience of learning and doing just as the Achievers in the program do, the synergy flowing both ways from mentor to mentee as time progresses, and the sessions fly by in a blur. I am in awe of how this program has touched me. The Achievers have coached me through some really challenging times in my life and checked in with me, leading and mirroring back the gentle spirit and values of the program. They have given me direct unsolicited feedback that has led to career decisions, reminding me what I excel at when in the busyness of adulthood I had forgotten.

Many Saturday afternoons, motivated after sessions, I researched some of the leaders that were conversation starters, pulling my Nelson Mandela autobiography off the shelf, watching a Spike Lee film or notes from my African American studies. I dusted off my guitar and sang again. The most telling impact this program has had is the peaceful joy that comes from the alignment of head, heart and feet into a living, breathing authentic self. The process of allowing for direct practice of these principles is transformative, and arguably more powerful than any other program I’ve been a part of.

Val's Visual Explorer (TM) pictures help her describe her own leadership journey

This year we chose images or words that represented where we were on our leadership journey, and one for where we are headed. A perfect example of the simple yet profound work we do in this program. I am humbled and honored to walk in the path of my mentors, and so privileged to witness your extraordinary leadership journeys along the way.


Additional impact data about mentoring from this program

Val with her "family group"

Mentor recognition at annual end of year program banquet

I get by with a little help from my friends...

It's been a really long week. Something major that we've been working on for a long while - well over a year and in earnest for the past six months - has encountered a big glitch, big enough that it may trip up the whole plan and send us back to ground zero. It's one of those plot twists that shakes you to the core, and makes you rethink everything you've been working towards.

In these times, it can be really hard to stay on track because it can feel like life is on hold indefinitely while waiting to resolve the snag, broiling in a state of purgatory. For whatever reason this term is part of my lexicon, so I looked it up:

purgatory: 1:  an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification; specifically: a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven 2:  a place or state of temporary suffering or misery

I suppose it feels more like definition #2 ... 😊

Despite experiencing this misery I have a parallel track running alongside this one, a wellspring of support from colleagues, mentors, coaches, and friends. 

My meditation for today is: What if we remembered it is OK to lean on others when our brains are fried and we feel like we can't go on? Remembered that it's OK to ask for help? Sometimes we think we have to be perfect and do it all as a leader, professional, parent, etc. I'm thinking about how much I appreciate discovering examples of successful people acting like the human beings they are, and that true authenticity means being Real, in whatever form that looks like. Our partners and collaborators appreciate it too, and guess what- it's an infinitely easier way to live!

I am a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, and it still rears it's ugly head in stubborn places of stress and strain where old habits die hard. Throwing our hands up in defeat can be a good place to start actually. Eternal optimism, even from an eternal optimist, is not always the answer. One trusted colleague and friend reminded me today that true authenticity is about being real and speaking the truth. So, for today, I give up and I rest. I give in to frustration, gridlock, and disappointment. I give myself permission to feel grumpy. Tomorrow I fight on.

I will activate this tremendous support team when the time is right to do so, and for now they powerfully remind me that even in dark times, someone has my back and that is enough. The expression "believing in someone until they believe in themselves" means we get to heave a big sigh, celebrate being human, and let someone else carry us until we are ready to go again.

When we are head down and feeling alone in our struggles, so swamped it's hard to come up for air, it really helps to take a minute to reach out to someone and share a laugh, vent/rant, or ask them about their lives and listen to their stuff. 

I invite you to consider who's rooting for you in your corner when the chips are down in your lives. We don't always remember the good when things are bad. Take the time to really think about these people, maybe even thank them, and then pay it forward, so that someone thinks of you as a source of support when their life temporarily takes a trip to hell in a handbasket!

Thanks for the soundtrack Joe Cocker!


*Original post on Linked In Pulse

Travel is good for the soul, but it's great to be back.

Research has shown that returning home after travel is the best time to implement changes, as our routines are disrupted and we have had new experiences to bring fresh perspectives. (Please let me know if you find this research, my quick search did not turn it up and I know I've read it many times!)

I have spent the past 31 days traveling across the country to Colorado, Vermont, Boston, and Florida. Three trips were to deliver work programs, and one was to Vermont for vacation in-between. For me, I seem to be returning with much mental energy and fresh ideas, but this mountain of work that awaits seems to have other plans! I am being pulled to write, which feels wonderful and I am striking while the iron is hot. 

I was privileged to help deliver 3 different types leadership development programs/workshops this past month, and I'm brimming with collected tidbits of tricks and wisdom from these experiences and inspiration osmosis from incredible leaders at each.

One of these is the idea of being and having two informal mentors, one younger and one older. I love this idea! I realize I have already been practicing this but now will be more intentional about it. As my generation moves out of the "youngest" category, I find myself more and more around younger people at work, and though at first it was a bit strange, I now embrace it because I really do have much to offer in informal knowledge sharing that people have so generously taught me (and equally have so much to learn!). I have one younger friend, by about a decade, at the office that I have had loads of fun sharing my tips, tricks, and thoughts with. He in turn has done the same for me, and it's been enlightening and refreshing to have this type of no-stakes, mutually beneficial relationship with a colleague. I've done the same with role models who have paved the way, decades older... Remain open and seek these relationships out. We hear about "succession planning," but I don't hear much about practicing it on a daily basis. We need to teach others and pass on what we have learned, and the older I get the more I see the great importance of this.

The other concept behind this is that even the coach needs a coach! Every successful person has a coach, mentors, mentees, and a personal board of directors to bounce ideas off of and to motivate them. 

I'll stop there for now. What are your experiences with informal mentoring, both down and up?

View from my balcony on Amelia Island, FL for an RWJF ENF Alumni Meeting last week

*Original post on Linked In Pulse here