Becoming the Leader I Am

Leadership is as much or more about who you are as what you do. This has been a basic tenet of my work for years. Our identity shapes us even as we struggle at times to know who we really are.

Last week I had the opportunity to reclaim some of who I am. I was with some 50 graduates of the African Leadership Academy, first at the Princeton Blairstown Center (PBC) and then on campus at Princeton University the end of the week. Returning to Princeton re-connected me to parts of myself that indeed have helped form the leader I am today.

Those moments revived in me my deep awareness of the soulful dimension of leadership.

Engaging in the outdoor activities, including the high ropes course, at PBC brought back so many memories of how important that place is to me – the site of high impact experiential learning. While I have incorporated such activity in my leadership development work in years past, I am powerfully reminded of how trust deepens and community consolidates when faced with the elements outdoors. Nature’s learning lab is so incredible! Beats a stuffy conference room any day.

One evening sitting under the stars at PBC, a close-harmony quartet of four male students sang a wonderfully rhythmic song, as only sub-Saharan Africans can do. Music stirs the soul! All of us wanted more. Finally, one of the members of the quartet, Oswald, gave in, stood up, and sang an acapella solo, “Peace Like a River,” with the repeated refrain, “It is well with my soul.” For me, time stood still. Those moments revived in me my deep awareness of the soulful dimension of leadership. Oswald embodied it, even as he co-hosted the Conference at the University later in the week.

A trip to a University town is not complete for me without an hour or so in the University bookstore. This is most especially true of Princeton. I wandered among the tables of books, picking up volume after volume, many by Princeton professors. I lingered especially in the philosophy section. I purchased Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being among other paperbacks, despite my growing practice of downloading e-books. I was reminded of the discipline and rigor of my undergraduate studies. My intellectual curiosity becomes stale too easily.

Leadership learning is most powerful when experiential. It necessarily has a soulful dimension. And it requires astute inquiry and continual learning. As I launch my new website, I am reclaiming more of who I am. It feels great! And strangely it feels new in a familiar sort of way.