Changing jobs at the start of the pandemic is quite a challenge. Kickstarting within a vital unit that supported the continuation of the education for our students did not allow for much “getting-to-know-each-other” time. Caring for a large group of people I never once have been able to really meet face-to-face in a plenary meeting or whatsoever was a pity. After 18 months I found time for some reflection. In an Avicenna course.
I spent three days in Leuven, Belgium, with a group of fourteen people, all focused on leadership. It was our first session: we will have two more sessions (of each three days) in the coming months. This leadership course is slightly different from other ones I have attended over the past years. It is not so much about learning and absorbing theory, but we were spending our time on really getting to know each other and our learning goals, and listening to inspirational teachers, with a lot of interaction. These teachers (we had five separate parts with changing themes) had, though with different approaches, actually all one story, and that came down to, in my own translation, being in balance with a strong mind.
Whether it was, as friar Thomas put it, finding the right balance between action or contemplation, or, as Johan Verstraeten told us the following day, to be able to vary between or combine the two languages. Try to avoid the extremes, i.e., not just looking at facts & figures, but also knowing the context and telling the story. To avoid that you’d be in an active & eager “on” switch all the time, but also also being able to be silent and giving room to what happens, being attentive and alert to incorporate more perspectives than your own. We practiced wandering through the city of Leuven without our phone, watch or money. And were invited to walk around in a “playful” mood, trying to find the child in ourselves. The stories we exchanged afterwards were really wonderful, so much more material we realized that was just out there in the open, if you allow yourself doing this. I ended up at the International Office of KU Leuven, where I found the “boom van het groot verdriet” (the tree of the big sorrow), and a small garden with the following sign: “This garden was planted by the International Office as a tribute to the importance of diversity and silly ideas”. I am pretty sure I would never have seen this without being given this exercise. It made me smile all day.
Another experience was guided by two professional actors from Improfiel, who made us being associative, expressing ourselves in different ways and having fun while doing it. There were other teachers, the one I like to conclude with was Ivo Brughmans. The “paradox” was the theme he put forward, i.e., the way an organisation always holds a paradox (e.g. the variation between top-down management and self-organisation), and the way you as an individual have a paradox in you. I know that I contain both a very optimistic, enthousiastic attitude and also an eagerness to do things skillfully, consistently and carefully. And those sides do not always go hand in hand. Here the balance comes around the corner again. Where as an organisation you should in a certain period turn around and grow into an opposite direction to avoid ending up in extremes (to continue with the first example, being too much top-down driven, or too self-organised). And as an individual, you also need to find the best of both worlds in you. In a physical “constellation” exercise I found, coached by one of the other participants, that I would like to bring more innovation in my (working) life again.
Of course all of the above requires a strong mind. Being flexible enough to use other perspectives, and leaving your own comfort zone from time to time, is something that we (I) could do more. I am really curious what the other sessions will bring.
Wilma van Wezenbeek
17 February 2022