Friday, January 30, 2015

January Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection

"I am over trying to be all things to all people. Really, I am."

I figure if I tell myself that over and over again, perhaps I will start to believe it and then eventually actually practice it. I’m getting better at it, but I have a lot of work to do.

One of the interesting personal dilemmas I face every day is my role at LeaderShape. Because I have a title along side my name, I get attributed (both good and bad, but mostly good) to all of the wonderful things that LeaderShape represents. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and represent LeaderShape in a pristine way as if that were even possible.

Then a funny thing happened to me. I got older and I went through a pretty traumatic life experience. That will straighten you up real quick and give you a dose or reality whether you are ready for it or not. I found out soon that I don’t have it figured out, I don’t know all the answers, and that I can’t solve all of the world’s problems on my own. Even more personally, I can’t be all things to my children or myself. That was a sobering thought.

The realization that life is not sterile or conducted in a cocoon can be hard to accept. It is messy. It is hard. It is unexpected. And yet it is wonderful. In fact, the craziness is what makes it wonderful.

I am such a huge fan of Brene Brown. If you remotely find yourself in a similar position, I recommend reading her book, The Gifts ofImperfection. The subtitle is what resonated with me even more…"let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are." Pretty obvious why I was drawn to the book, huh? Brene provides a guide to becoming more resilient, accepting, compassionate, and present. She provides ten guideposts to help us all come to appreciate our imperfections and then develop habits that can help us embrace our authenticity.

We can all use a deep breath, letting the shoulders drop down for a bit, and to smile a smile that says, “I am not alone in this battle to figure everything out.” Maybe the next thought you have is that you don’t really have to.

I used to open up national sessions of the Institute with an inspired, “this will be the best week of your life!” sort of talk. Given the last couple years and my continued walk toward accepting my imperfections, I have changed that talk. I now welcome participants to those sessions with the same beginning and then I follow it with, “…and I hope it is one of the most challenging, frustrating, rewarding, (etc.) weeks of your life. In other words, I hope it is real.” Seems to get a little different reception when I set it up that way. You can feel the pressure in the room dissipate.

Read the book (it is quite short) and embrace who you are. Lead by living your life with all the weird and wonderful stuff that makes you human.

We would probably have a whole lot more patience for those that haven’t reached that point yet and are still trying to be perfect. We can silently tell them, “good luck with that” and continue along our path of imperfection.

Hope you have a great and challenging day.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Institute FAQs

Institute FAQs

The Institute is LeaderShape’s six-day immersion program that challenges participants to lead with integrity while working towards a vision grounded in their deepest values. Participants explore what they want to do and who they want to be.

Who is the Institute for?
The curriculum was created for individuals who are committed to taking their leadership to the next level and who want to make a significant impact on campus, in the communities, and in the world.

Those who attend generally do so through an affiliation through the college or university they attend. We are fortunate to work with so many wonderful campus and organization partners who are committed to the development of ethical leaders. We also have the opportunity to welcome participants even if there isn’t institutional or organizational involvement.

How is the Institute different from other conferences and residential programs?
Everyone who attends the Institute engages in the same activities and contributes to the same conversations. While the involvement of the individual is honored and expected, everything during the Institute is approached with a sense of community. Everyone is viewed as a learner and as a teacher. This belief is evident as the community is created through the contributions of everyone at the Institute, with time spent in meaningful conversation serving as its foundation.

Unlike conferences, participants don’t only leave the six days with a few tips and ideas. Graduates of the Institute experience a breakthrough in their leadership capacity.

How will we spend our time during the Institute?
Everything in the curriculum is anchored to four themes: community, inclusivity, integrity, and vision. Therefore the work that we do during the six days is tied, in some way, to these concepts.

We participate in large group activities, in small group exercises, in conversation with one another, and in personal reflection. We set out to discover our most deeply held values and greatest passions and how they can come together to give our lives and work purpose. We learn how developing a vision and plan of action can create lasting change. We reflect on how our personal styles and life experiences influence our leadership and our relationships. Those who graduate from the Institute leave as an agent of positive change in the world.

Why Six Days?
Six days is a lot of time to give – and we ask that time of participants because we see such value in the extended time together. Six days allows us to remove ourselves from the day-to-day demands of life and focus more intently on discovering who we want to be. It gives us the chance us to move beyond the masks of our composure and embrace the opportunity to share our authentic selves. Six days for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Six days to make the experience your own.

Bigger Picture
LeaderShape believes in the possibility of and is working towards the creation of a just, caring, and thriving world. If every one lives and leads with integrity and if everyone holds a healthy disregard for the impossible we can get there! We aren’t alone in the desire to live in this type of world! Participants from the Institute engage in this extraordinary work and make a difference in their communities and in the world.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
Mother Teresa

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Nerd's Reflection on LeaderShape

Each summer we ask participants of The LeaderShape Institute to write a letter to a donor sharing their experience and their thanks for providing financial support. In our most recent class of LeaderShape graduates, we received this reflection along with their letter. And we loved getting a deeper look into Jessie's experience at the Institute.  We hope that you enjoy reading this reflection as much as we did.

A Nerd's Reflection on Vision After LeaderShape

We have all had those experiences, the hours, days, weeks, that change us forever. This past week, I spent my time in the middle of Illinois at LeaderShape, a conference focused on building leaders of integrity. When I received an email from the director of the Student Leadership Center at UW-Madison concerning a full-ride scholarship to a leadership camp, I filled out the application with little idea of what I was applying for. However, upon being awarded the scholarship, I was excited to discover what a leadership camp for leaders was really all about. Never have I been pushed so hard to realize, reflect, and dream that my brain hurt. The really amazing thing is that upon coming home, I still have not come down from my castle in the clouds. And this castle is too big for one, so it is time I share. 

"Nerd. One whose unbridles passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person, without fear of other people's judgment." -Zachary Levi

I am a nerd. No shame - I do enjoy writing essays and studying calculus. So what? If I do nothing with my "nerdiness," can I still identify as nerd? We only call Albert Einstein a genius because he exercised his thoughts and used his brain power for the betterment of humanity. He could have sat at home merely pondering energy and the universe. Maybe he even would have gotten a haircut. But he didn't. Einstein lived to his full potential, and LeaderShape has helped me realize that I not only have amazing potential, but that I also need to live into it - not on Mondays and Fridays, but every single day. 

"How you handle the uphill battle determines everything."

I am sure many have heard the saying, "Life's a journey." But why is it that we live as though it's a destination? We become so caught up in arriving that we forget to enjoy the travel time. Sometimes life feels like a road trip in a Mini Cooper, and other times like a flight on the Concord. LeaderShape has helped me reflect upon all the things I have accomplished and see them not as the peak of Mount Everest, but as the foothills. I scaled, stood at each peak, and, with my fist in the air, declared, "I did it! Now, onward." One has to climb the foothills to reach the mountain. If I am not content with my life during the process, I will never be satisfied, for there will always be another mountain. Whether the next mountain is big or small is up to me.

"Don't bury your failures. Let them inspire you." -Robert Kiyosaki

Failure - it hurts. One can get so caught up in the fear of failure that their dreams become smaller. As my advisor Kozhi Makai said, "The world has no more room for small dreams." At LeaderShape, we wrote dreams down on giant post-it notes, our visions too big for three-by-threes. It is scary, seeing your vision stare you in the face, just asking you to try it. All week, we are encouraged to have a "healthy disregard for the impossible." Striving for visions and goals that seem larger than attainable many sound crazy, but to people with vision, it looks like a challenge. I may not quite reach my goal, but through the process, I will have scaled more mountains than I even would have had Everest not been in my sights. LeaderShape has changed my outlook, now it is up to me to let it change my life. 

Jessie Thomas, 2014 LeaderShape Graduate

Thursday, January 15, 2015

National Sessions of The LeaderShape Institute: What is at the Heart of These Sessions?

Looking back at the history of The LeaderShape Institute, national sessions started as the way to get students together to talk about the concepts of leadership and help them develop as leaders. In 1986, colleges and universities didn’t offer much formal training for leaders of student organizations so the idea of The LeaderShape Institute was cutting edge. Fast forward 29 years, nearly every college campus has some formalized training for people interested in the topic of leadership. So, why does LeaderShape continue to host national sessions of the Institute? This is a question our staff has spent much time thinking about and it comes down to this….
As an organization we believe in the importance of providing time and space for people to come together to have conversations that matter. In our over-connected society where technology has been used as a tool to bring people together, we are seeing that people are spending less time face to face actually talking about things that are important to them and the world around them. The LeaderShape Institute provides that experience.

National sessions provide an opportunity for students from colleges and universities from around the country to come together and build a community. For six days they will explore their values together, learn from each other, and leave ready to do work that creates a more just, caring, and thriving world. While at LeaderShape, participants have an opportunity to explore. To immerse themselves in their own learning. To be challenged. To learn from others and to have fun!

When you ask a past participant about their experience you may hear things like “amazing” or “life changing.”  The LeaderShape staff and community never gets tired of hearing those stories. They provide the heart to why these sessions matter. 

We would love to hear from past participants about what was most meaningful about their national session experience! If you have attended a national session, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have not yet had the opportunity to attend a national session and would be interested in finding out more or if you know someone who would love this experience, please direct them to the LeaderShape website or call our office at 888-988-LEAD (5323).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dates Announced!

The LeaderShape Institute provides a transformative learning experience for those who attend, engage, and participate. The six day program gives participants an opportunity to explore their values and develop a vision for something they care about. They do this work in community with others as they embrace a healthy disregard for the impossible. It is a program we believe in deeply and are honored to work on year after year. 

It's no wonder we are excited to announce the dates for the 2015 national sessions of the Institute! This year we will be holding 4 national sessions in 3 locations. 

  • Sunday, May 17 - Friday, May 22
    (Boston, MA)
  • Sunday, July 19 - Friday, July 24
    (Champaign, IL)
  • Saturday, July 25 - Thursday, July 30

    (Atlanta, GA)
  • Sunday, July 26 - Friday, July 31
(Champaign, IL)

We are fortunate to have a community of people willing to share their experience at the Institute, so if you aren't sure about the program's impact please visit this page and spend a little time reading over what participants have had to say. Reading these comments motivates us in our work and renews our faith in the creation of a just, caring, and thriving world. We hope they do the same for you!

To reserve space or ask questions about sending students or attending yourself, please contact Vernon Wall at

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Writer's Block

I’m currently reading the book, Everybody Writes by Ann Handley, and one of the chapters is on writer’s block. The author describes it as a “reluctance to begin” that is “rooted in fear and anxiety about knowing where, exactly, to start.” After thinking about the obvious – what keeps one from writing – I began to think that “writer’s block” doesn’t just apply to putting pen to paper. This experience can find its way into other areas of our lives and work as well.

How often do you feel the reluctance to begin? How often are you stalled because you just don’t know where to begin? I know that I am no stranger to this experience. And it got me thinking about all of the other LeaderShapers in this community and how you are impacted by writer’s block. Or vision block. Or manageable goal block. Or “fill-in-the-blank-with-what-is-stopping-you” block. I would venture to guess that at times we all have experienced a block of some kind.

For me, it’s (sometimes) ok to have a block. I don’t especially enjoy it, but I do work to get past it (most of the time). And that’s the important part, isn’t it? To bust through the blockage, whatever that is.

So how can we move forward and get to work when faced with “fill-in-the-blank” block?  Here are a couple strategies that might be helpful…

Write it down: Put those apprehensions on paper as a way to get them out of your head.

Talk with a Mentor: The encouragement from someone who cares about your success might give you the push you need.

Talk with someone who understands your passion: The enthusiasm around a shared interest can “stoke the fire” and provide you with some momentum.

Get Inspired: Connect to the work you want to do by reading about it, watching a documentary on it, or visiting your favorite website on the subject.

Reward Yourself: Good ol’ bribery. If you get X amount done, you can grab a fancy coffee at your favorite shop or meet up with a friend.

Do all the other things: Clean your room, re-arrange you closet, get to in-box zero. In other words, do that thing you do before you get down to work. My thing is cleaning my desk. It is never so organized as when I’m experiencing a block of some kind.

What about you? What tips and strategies can you share to help us all beat the block? Share them in the comments section.