Jan 22
Kendra Courson, Director for Special Events

Last week I was immersed in the role of a Family Cluster Facilitator for the 20th LeaderShape Institute (LSI) at the University Illinois.  The history of this program goes back to 1986 when the Institute held its pilot program at the Allerton Park Conference Center near Monticello.  Over 70 institutions held sessions of the LSI for their campuses or organizations in 2013.  To date, over 50,000 participants from colleges, universities and corporations from around the world have attended The LeaderShape Institute.

I have to admit, being away from the office for an entire week, plus an additional day of training, was a time challenge which gave me pause.  But, many ACES students were involved in this six-day conference and I was extremely interested in learning right alongside of them.

Out of the 60 students, I spent the majority of my time with 10 students in my family cluster, including two ACES students: Abby Marten and Tessa Cowser.  Getting to know these two young ladies and the other students in my family cluster made the 12-15 hour days worth every minute.

LeaderShape defines Leadership as:

“Leadership involves living in a state of possibility, making a commitment to a vision, developing relationships to move the vision into action, and sustaining a high level of integrity.  Effective leadership takes place in the context of a community and results in positive change.”

We spent many hours working on defining what leadership meant to each person as well as spending each day on themes that included building community, the value of one, the power of all, challenging what is and looking to what could be, bringing vision to reality, living and leading with integrity and staying in action.  This included vision exploration and refinement (which led to a poster session on “tomorrow’s headline” for each student), the dynamic of power and influence (including a difficult simulation illustrating both) as well as emotional intelligence, social awareness and relationship management.

I am always excited to learn more about leadership, but this was a different conference.  It wasn’t a quick one day or overnight conference with a lot of free time to socialize.  This was an all-consuming 6-day institute. The shortest day was 12 hours. The latest breakfast was 7:30 a.m. and the earliest bedtime was 11 p.m.

I have to be honest, at the beginning I really questioned why in the world I had committed to this Institute.  However, as Day 1 turned into Day 3 and as the relationships became closer and closer in the family cluster, I understood why it is important to be a part of something this special.  Thursday evening’s final family cluster was scheduled from 8-11 p.m.  Initially, I thought there was no way I could sit through a three-hour wrap up, but three hours turned to four and, before I knew it, midnight had come and gone and I still had 2 more hours of notes to write to each one of my students.

The students in my family cluster came from many different backgrounds, all different ways of life, different states, and even different countries.  They had MANY visions for where they wanted their lives to end up.  Some visions were as simple (if this is actually simple) as being a good father to being a Senator or Supreme Court Justice.  They had ideas that surpassed anything I could have imagined at age 42, let alone as a freshman in college.  While the days were long and my hours of sleep were less, it was hard to shut my mind off each evening. I couldn’t help but think of where they all had come from and where they all were headed.  It was more inspiring than I could ever write.

Robert Kennedy once said, “It is from numberless acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a person stands up for an idea or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, they send out a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

The conclusion of the institute was reading this quote, while each of us held a small pebble in our hands and then clasped hands.  While the lead facilitator was reading this quote, she asked us to open our hands at the end.  All of the pebbles scattered to the floor.  While it wasn’t an exact ripple and the pebbles weren’t thrown into a body of water, there were a bunch of watery eyes in the room thinking about the possibilities for all of these students… and all of us in general. 

Each one of us has the ability to make a tremendous difference in the world… one vision at a time.