Finding Your Purpose: Leadership, Public Policy, What Matters and Why
Senior Fellow in Executive Education; Managing Director, Executive Development at Harvard Business School
Effective Leadership in Action
One of the most remarkable things about David Ager’s session was the wealth of applicable leadership lessons he shared with the participants. In leadership, he said, whatever the goal is, it is important to generate hope and keep it alive, as well as create a sense of togetherness. That is what allowed the 33 Musketeers, as the Chilean miners from his case study would refer to themselves, to not only stay alive, but to remain optimistic. It allows a team to work towards a common goal no matter how desperate the circumstances.
Another important task for leaders is to assign responsibilities so that people have a purpose and know that they and their actions matter and have value. The miners all had a specific task to carry out, and as such formed an important part of the fabric that held the group together. This allowed them to be realistic without losing hope.
Humility in leadership, David said, might just be the most important quality a leader can possess. He described the example of Alan Mulally, who after being appointed as CEO of the Ford Motor Company, learned that there existed a culture of fear within the company. His first goal as CEO was to eliminate this culture and to ensure that employees felt free and comfortable to speak up and speak their minds. This, after all, will spark creativity and innovation. David remarked that a leader’s job is not simply to lead, but to give others the chance to do the same thing.
Written by Rik Abels '21
Dr. Belinda Chiu, Ed.D., '98
Principal, Hummingbird Research Coaching Consulting
Finding Your Why
Dr Belinda Chiu’s “Finding Your Why” workshop focused on identifying the things that define your identity beyond the simple question “what do you do?” Dr. Chiu started the session by asking each of us to answer “how does someone win a ‘gold star’ with you?” In answering that question, we reveal something about the values we identify most with.
Finding your why involves first identifying those values, then learning to incorporate that into your interactions with others both within and outside of your organization. Identifying a ‘why’ is important. A critical feature of this is aligning your personal values with the job that you do, your involvements outside of the workplace, and any other context where you engage with others. Moreover, identifying your ‘drivers’, or the things that motivate and energize you, and ‘detractors’ which de-energize, can help get at what matters most.
One strategy that participants used during the session was to answer the question “I feel most motivated when I am doing...” and “I feel least motivated when I am doing...” This strategy helped us to consider what we were doing in life that aligns with our identity and values, and what doesn’t. One particularly meaningful activity was to retell an old childhood story to a partner, and talk about a favorite childhood book. All of the participants were surprised to realize how many of their stories reflected the things they value most. In all, this session and the tactics learned in it are useful at any stage of life or career, and can help us all to live more authentically.
Written by Olivia Harvey '19
Jay Davis '90
Director, First Year Student Enrichment Program & Director, King Scholars Program, Dartmouth College
Facilitate Leadership: Blending Individual Styles to Achieve Common Goals
Jay Davis ’90 led an interactive session entitled Facilitate Leadership: Blending individual Styles to Achieve Common Goals. He sought to articulate the connections between self-awareness and leadership in addition to building relationships with other students and alums in the workshop. To accomplish this goal, Davis led a condensed activity through which participants identified their own leadership styles. The activity divided participants based on compass points each denoting a specific leadership style. Once in groups, students and alums discussed the strengths and weaknesses of their own leadership style as well as the challenges of working with other styles and the ways in which other leadership styles complement their own.
To end the session, Davis facilitated a larger group discussion that emphasized the need to be aware of one’s own leadership tendencies. Davis noted that, although we all exhibit a variety of leadership techniques, it is important to be self-aware and pay attention to ones’ own strengths and weaknesses. Davis ended with articulating the importance of recognizing that even people we see as great leaders have flaws. He also reiterated the necessity of creating space for these kinds of conversations as a means to promote compassion in leadership and ensure the success of a team.
Written by Alex Keith '20
Kate Hilton '99, JD, MTS
Faculty, The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, ReThink Health & the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity at the George Washington University
The Psychology of Change: The Relational Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback
Students and alumni joined Kate Hilton ‘99 for an engaging and interactive session on effective feedback. Kate spoke of how disproportionate emphasis on shortcomings in feedback forums impairs people’s ability to respond to them and improve. “Learning can occur when people see how they might do something better by adding nuance or expansion to their understanding,” she said.
Further, Kate held that it’s a mistake to shame the emotional experience of feedback. That is, those providing feedback should endeavor to avoid becoming defensive when emotions inevitably flare up and to instead invite people to move to a place of exploration. After discussing various frameworks, participants were given the opportunity to test their new knowledge and learn from one another through partnered exercises.
Together, participants forged a host of new insights from their diverse academic and professional experiences. It quickly became clear that effective feedback was absent from most of their respective workplaces, and that honest discussions such as this one were a much needed step in the right direction.
Written by Taylor Morrell '19
Entrepreneur, Thriving in a Noisy World
Thriving in the Digital Age: How Intentional Solitude Can Help You Be More Effective & Resilient
Sarah-Marie realized early on in her career that quiet time was not valued enough. People did not just take time to sit and think, to reflect. That is when she founded Thriving in a Noisy World, offering workshops in which she examines people’s relationships with solitude and mindfulness. “Live intentionally,” Sarah-Marie advised the workshop participants, “instead of being reactive all the time.”
Sarah-Marie came prepared with a handout containing a number of exercises to put theory into practice. First, she told the audience, it is important to ask yourself questions, such as “What is the noise in my life?” and “How is solitude and mindfulness connected with leadership in the digital age?” She asked participants to write their answers down so they can reflect on them, something anyone can do anytime. After the second exercise, which had people write a letter to themselves, she asked participants to engage in “deep listening” and asking honest questions, to truly connect with one another. Lastly, participants wrote some calls to action that they promised themselves they would work on.
Sarah-Marie’s session provides participants with many lessons. Solitude and mindfulness are great tools to reconnect with yourself and the world around you. The average person checks their phone about 80 times per day, so it is not hard to imagine the profound effect putting our phones down could have. It can take away a sense of restlessness, something several of the participants shared they have felt at times. Taking time for oneself to just be quiet, sit, and think, is another important tool to not get overwhelmed by life. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let go of all focus. Do this for three minutes, and changes are that your challenges seem a bit less daunting to face. While Sarah-Marie acknowledged that everyone has their own tools and practices that work for them, the exercises she shared with the audience are some universal practices that have the power to make people live more intentional and calm lives, without giving up on their busy schedule. Just taking a few minutes for yourself every day goes a long way.
Written by Rik Abels '21
Luke Katler '15
Theatre Producer, Barbara Whitman Productions
Telling Your Story: Connecting to Others Through Personal Narrative and Vulnerability
“When you see me coming it oughta make you proud.” - Maya Angelou
Luke started the session by defining vulnerability and showing real life examples of powerful figures who use vulnerability to lead, people like former President Obama and Oprah, who aren’t afraid to be authentic in their narratives when connecting with others. He went on to detail the structure of personal narratives that grapple with vulnerability which include the story of self or of one’s own challenges, the story of us which connects one’s personal vulnerabilities to the larger audience, and the story of now ending in a call to action.
After getting the chance to connect with everyone in the workshop through fun and innovative improv exercises where we got out of our seats and shook out our Saturday morning jitters, Luke led the group in a conversation about setting the scene for your narrative depending on your audience. One student asked how as a woman, she could show vulnerability while not crossing the line that every female leader must walk - being strong and approachable without appearing incapable of holding that position. While acknowledging his position as a man who does not personally understand those pressures, Luke gave examples of types of vulnerable experiences that other folks can relate to, such as frustration and weariness, without straying into the deeply personal. The workshop ended with a writing session where participants had the opportunity to create their own narratives and then share them with the group.
Written by Lauren Bishop '19
Emily Esfahani Smith '09
Finding Meaning in Life and Work
In this workshop, Emily Esfahani Smith drew on major themes in psychology, philosophy, and literature to discuss the human experience and meaning. As someone who has been preoccupied with questions on spiritual trappings and thinking critically about life, purpose, happiness and service, Emily first spoke about her work in positive psychology. She was concerned with finding the why of existence as well as studying the “rising tide of despair.” In her research, she told us, she was able to conclude that the happiness and success zeitgeist were less connected to one’s greater external purpose than we first believed. Despair and discontent do not come from a lack of happiness, she posited, but rather from a lack of meaning. She defined meaning as connecting and contributing to something beyond yourself that grants you a sense of purpose, significance or worth, and coherence (following that life makes sense).
Fielding questions from the group, Emily then reflected on how some things that give our life meaning are stressful and require constant servicing or work. These things, rather than ephemeral happiness, give us a deeper sense of satisfaction and a longer sense of peace. We don’t do more than past generations, but have the perception that we are busier. This may come down to our mindsets and sources by which we find meaning. As so many traditional sources of meaning have eroded -- ritual, duty, religion and community -- we are beginning to see a crisis of meaning. In order to combat that crisis, Emily turned to the lessons she learned from the many interviews conducted for her book’s research. Coming across four main themes, she shared that we can find meaning: with a sense of belonging, purpose, transcendence and story-telling.
Belonging comes from a place of love for the other, where we recognize and offer others our generosity to forge a deeper relationship. Purpose is you why, your reason for living. Transcendence is the way we reorient ourselves and our psyche to find inspiration and awe in our lives, to connect to the stillness. And story-telling is the narrative we tell about our own lives and the roles we play within them. This perspective allows us to cultivate a sense of meaning and legitimacy that brings a deeper motivation to life and work.
Written by Alexa Green '19
Alex Talcott '04, JD
Managing Partner, Seacoast Financial Planning; Adjunct Instructor, University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics
The "Go" of Negotiation: A Quick Start
Talcott’s session focused on negotiation tactics and strategies to achieve “real world outcomes.” In a series of four role-playing exercises — a salary negotiation discussion between a boss and employee, a car purchase between a dealership and consumer, a zoning board meeting between an entrepreneur and local government, and a donation discussion between a college and a major donor — participants paired up, practiced in an improvisational fashion, and then debriefed with Talcott and the larger group. This allowed the participants to engage with what he called “the Go-Go-Go of negotiation.”
Talcott also gave his perspective on major trends in business, law, and education negotiation. He pointed out, for example, that research shows a common business negotiation tactic, “feigned anger,” actually leaves the negotiating parties feeling guilty, stressed, and distrustful afterwards. In law, he said that a frequent strategy called “puffery,” essentially using exaggerated language or misleading the other side as to your intentions, is questionably ethical but is seen frequently regardless. And in education, he cited a recent book by Jessica McCrory Calarco, titled “Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School,” that analyzes the differing experiences of middle- and working-class students through the lens of negotiation.
Talcott concluded the session by telling several anecdotes of failed negotiations he had taken part in, including a failure to get onto a standby flight at the airport. He said that he learned to “always talk to those with authority and those with an incentive to solve a problem.”
Written by Kyle Mullins '22