I participated in the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute last summer, a program which included a 360-degree feedback process, a week-long intensive seminar, and follow-up coaching. This experience has been a transformational learning experience for me, largely due to the rare opportunity to stop, reflect, and plan in the context of group discussions regarding effective leadership.
The importance of reflection
In the past, I resisted taking the time to reflect on my leadership because I had a sense of guilt about taking the time away from other tasks I viewed as more practical. The importance of reflection finally hit home for me as a result of the profound connections I made with the group and the intense level of discussions which we were engaged in.
As individuals, we never could have gained the depth of insights we generated as a group, nor the pragmatic applications and strategies that sprouted as a result of those insights.
Each participant, having a different set of stories, experiences, and knowledge, made a unique and valuable contribution to the group through full participation. The safe, open, and supportive atmosphere enabled for participants, including me, to completely open up their hearts and minds. It was an enormous blessing to be both giving and receiving from such an inspired, diverse group of professionals.
A 360-degree view
One of the most impactful, and somewhat horrifying, activities we engaged in was a 360-degree feedback process.
Fifteen individuals – direct reports, board members, colleagues and stakeholders – answered questions regarding my overall leadership competencies in areas such as vision, wisdom, communication, integrity, and conflict management. I could feel heart palpitations when I was handed the 40-page summary of their candid, anonymous interviews.
This was the most comprehensive and structured feedback I’d ever received in my entire career, and I had virtually no sense of what might be inside. I was able to digest the information after taking several deep breaths and reading through it several times. Being thrust into this new level of the unknown had an incredible effect on my learning. I gained new awareness of my deepest strengths and validation on things I suspected I needed to work on (always that dreaded conflict management), as well as several eye-opening comments on communication issues with my organization.
The supportive environment of the institute helped for each of us to further distill the results of our 360-degree reviews, and to create action plans around where we wanted to grow. Three months of coaching after the institute helped to bring our action plans to life.
Reflecting on a regular basis
Since the institute ended over a year ago, I’ve been consistently engaged in this new practice of slowing down and taking the time to reflect on a regular basis, resulting in a heightened sense of awareness of my own strengths and areas for improvement, as well as a deeper clarity on my core values and how they can influence my decision making. I’ve also deepened my practice of requesting ongoing feedback from others in a structured way.
Overall, my participation in the institute has enabled for me to be fully present and to make more meaningful contributions to others around me, my organization and my community.
About Julie McDonald
Julie is the executive director of Leap: Arts in Education.