From: A member of LSL 42One year ago, just like you, I found myself having just left a room full of strangers, not entirely certain what I’d gotten myself into. A few friends who had been through the program spoke highly of it, and the general word on the street was this would be a powerful experience. But despite all the stated opportunities and testimonials, I had doubts. Would this be the experience I’d been promised? Was this group of people one I would come to confide in deeply? As I look back from the finish line now, I can tell you are at the starting line of a wonderful, intriguing and heartbreaking journey. It will not be easy but being the type of person to apply to a program like this, you are not the kind of person that signs up for easy. You will learn things you didn’t know and hear inspiring, saddening and hilarious things from your classmates that will stay with you.
With a few extra minutes to reflect on the advice I was asked to give at the Welcome Orientation, here it is a bit more flushed out.
Speak openly and listen courageously: You will build trust among each other and learn more when you open yourself up to having your mind changed, setting the tone that this is a safe place where reflections are shared and questions are asked. The world we occupy today is one that tends to seek certainty and place labels. Right and wrong. Good and evil. Progressive and conservative. We identify dissension from our thinking or popular thought and promptly discard or snuff it out. Our curiosity and desire to investigate are low because we are either afraid to let our guard down or we let our circle convince us we are on the righteous side. The people you sat with at your orientation are a new kind of family for you. They will teach and console you. Some will come to occupy a space in your life few others do because of what you will see and learn together.
Becoming a leader: Our region, like many parts of the country, needs to acknowledge and atone for injustices past and present. And yet, sometimes we are so quick to embrace these shortcomings that our tone and narrative becomes one of shame or hopelessness. What our region needs is not one more voice criticizing from the sidelines or analysis paralysis. We are in need of people who want to write the future rather than critique it. You have a choice: will you step up to the plate and engage an aspect of our region’s problems (avoid trying to fix everything) or will you cede responsibility to someone with more time, permission or ability? Leaders are made. Not born.
52 weeks and counting: It will not be all that long until you find yourself sitting where I am. The program will be behind you. Lean into the hard stuff, lean on your classmates for support and leave plenty of time for laughter and enjoyment. But I hope you also find restlessness and urgency. One of the professors who led us during the long, hard weekend on our region’s racial past asked us at the end of that session, “How long will this bother you?” It’s likely many of you, like me, have the ability when you walk away from each weekend, to step away from the bad and the ugly you have seen. Engaging with these things will be voluntary, and you will have to elect to spend some of your time giving to something beyond your immediate world. I believe part of the way you do that is by staying bothered by what you have seen.
The very best of luck to you.
LSL 42 “We’re Not Average”
Chris LeBeau is a graduate of the 2017-18 class of Leadership St. Louis. In addition to his career as Portfolio Marketing Manager for Enterprise Bank & Trust, Chris serves on the board for Urban Harvest St. Louis and is a Young Friend of the Contemporary Art Museum. And thanks to fellow Leadership St. Louis class member Cheri Tillis, Chris has signed up to be a mentor at the Fathers Support Center. This post is reprinted with permission from his personal blog, Go Forth Boldly.