Last year I had the immense honor of participating in the Central American Leadership Initiative (CALI), a fellowship that brings together leaders from different spheres to interact and learn how to be better leaders. There are four participants from each of six Central American countries, who in most cases, have never met before. I cannot describe the magic that took place when they brought together these musicians, filmmakers, public service leaders, and entrepreneurs to discuss leadership models based on prior case studies.
The program is built to take you out of your comfort zone by having conversations about leadership as well as participating in different types of team-building activities that challenge your perceptions. CALI is a very specific type of program, and not everyone may wish to participate in something similar, but its lessons are universal: getting outside your comfort zone and looking at your life and work from an entirely new perspective can help you transform your world.
Leaving the Familiar
It is comfortable to seek what makes everything easier and more efficient. The bubble in which I live is convenient, and I love it. I can work efficiently and run everything smoothly from it. In the process, however, something very important to me was missing. There is a part of me that I left behind when I was 20: art. It simply didn’t make it into my bubble, and I think that probably for that reason, when I met the artists in the group, I instantly connected with them.
This experience got me thinking that we need more of that in my company and that I want to reconnect to art in my personal life. I went so far as to think that we need a resident artist, but then again, maybe I can be that artist. I realized that we need to do a better job of telling our story as a company: who are we, what are we here for, and what our purpose is. Our mission and our vision are supposed to do that, but somehow, those feel very artificial. I want to connect with who we are as a team and where we are going.
Once I started looking, I thought of many other ways I could better connect the different parts of the company between each other and to our purpose. But first we needed to find out those stories — our team’s, our clients’, and our suppliers’ — to learn more about ourselves and to see where that can take us in the future. Getting close to those stories is a way to leave that bubble.
Looking at Work from a Different Perspective
We are so immersed in the work we do that it is often hard to see things from another angle. Travel can help, and so can talking to people outside of our industry or even outside of the world of business. But how do we shift our perspectives more completely?
Shifting our perspective is not only a matter of knowing more or doing things better. Yes, we can always improve, and so much of what I write relates to constant improvements and innovation. Sometimes, however, what we need is a completely different lens, and then the obstacles that seemed so insurmountable may disappear or become mere challenges.
The artists in the group did that for me. I met someone so connected to her mission and heart that you can sense it in the products that her company produces. It also got me thinking about the type of company that comes straight from the heart (or the collective heart) will produce compared to a company that relies on studies and numbers. Data is incredibly useful and necessary. It’s crucial, however, to consider a company’s mission and how its collective effort comes through in the creation of products.
Our company hasn’t changed, but I did, and now I see our organization from a different perspective. I’m unsure as to where this shift will take me and my work, but it feels much more fulfilling and connected.