I discovered the Center for Courage & Renewal through a couple of odd coincidences. My own 40-year reunion class of Carleton College, 2016, had sent out Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak. While I read the book and was intrigued and interested, it was really a second nudge—or coincidence or sign—that gave me the push to come to the Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders.
I was reading “Table for Two,” a study by the Management Assistance Group of founders who stay in their organizations in different roles after they step down from leading their organizations. That was the process I had been undergoing myself. In the “Table for Two” study, there is a tantalizing footnote about Parker Palmer’s work to develop “Clearness Committees” and how helpful these committees could be in answering a “focus person’s” deep personal questions about how to manage one’s life direction and live with integrity and balance.
I decided a “clearness committee” was exactly what I needed to launch the next phase of my professional life. I was 62 years old. I wanted to make the most of the 10 to 20 years of leadership that I hoped I still had left. I was quite confused as to how best to achieve an integrated life that was filled with meaning and purpose but still allowed me balance and joy. In fact, I didn’t trust myself at all to be able to manage my own professional transition into the new role.
You see, I’m a lawyer and a workaholic. I’m a person who takes on the world and leaves little time for myself. I did not know that some of my lack of balance would subtly start to change in November 2016, a most cataclysmic time for me personally and for our nation.
The leadership academy retreat I signed up for happened to start two days after the Presidential election. Like many of the other people who came to that particular retreat, I arrived in a state of shock and fear. How could I navigate the totally new landscape in this new political reality?
The Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders proved to be the perfect solution to the internal crisis and the national crisis we all were facing, but it was an unexpected one. And the Leadership Academy, surprisingly, set me on a clear path forward out of the many conflicting tensions I felt, and still feel.
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2018 Academy for Leaders in PA
Retreat 1: Apr. 12-15, 2018
Monthly Calls: May – Oct.
Retreat 2: Nov. 1-4, 2018
The Academy does not work by magic. Nor does it work by navel gazing. It brings the basic principles of Parker Palmer’s life work, principles in his book A Hidden Wholeness, to concrete individual application in the here and now. And the results in my case, while hardly complete, were both gradual and revolutionary.
At the retreat itself, I was so overwhelmed with fear about the future that I had to opt out of being the focus person. What I found, however, is that by opting out of that role, I gained a stronger ability to listen and ask honest, open questions. This in turn has caused a subtle, sometimes-imperceptible change in my approach to working with others in a community. The Center’s teaching of the practice of listening and trying to frame open and honest questions is transformative by itself.
It was during the session on Paradox at the first retreat, however, that I had a flash of insight that I have spoken about to many other people since. It was in that session that I saw clearly that there were great possibilities for action in the world that I was in a unique and privileged position to start to lead.
For many years, I had been working with people on both the right and the left in child welfare reform cases, including in the Supreme Court. I had lived through and navigated tensions—call them mine fields—between right and left approaches to the child welfare system, constantly struggling with how to make our issues understood by the larger community.
In addition to working in this space of tension, my own family was a space of deep right/left polarity. Since I stood in the middle between these poles, I realized suddenly that I was in a position to actually try to do something to bridge what Parker Palmer calls the “tragic gap.”
Besides, what else did I have to do? I had been looking for direction and purpose. I believed that the only way out of the terrible conflicts our country was experiencing was to start bipartisan dialogue. The flash of insight during the session on Paradox gave me an immediate sense of purpose and answers. It moved me to actual courage and renewal all at once.
I decided that my own calling was to start a bipartisan child welfare reform dialogue. I saw that I had the ability and the courage to do this very hard thing, and my self-reflection and resources from Center helped me manage a host of obstacles in my path, mostly of my own making. I began a process that has gelled into a new organization, United Family Advocates. This process led, eventually to a new professional home for me that will allow me to achieve the goal I had going into the retreat: creating meaning and purpose, balanced with joy and a clearer role for my own self in the process of working to change the world for the better.
Since November 2016, I have experienced a time of great personal challenge and change, but through it, the sense of reflection and alignment of purposes and self has given me help beyond measure. I cannot recommend the Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders strongly enough.
Diane L. Redleaf has been a nationally-respected child and family civil rights advocate for nearly 40-year-long legal career. The founder of the Family Defense Center in Chicago in 2005 and now the Legal Director at the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, Diane has led litigation, legislative and policies projects on behalf of families in the child welfare system, creating many innovative programs and establishing constitutional protections for hundreds of thousands of families in America. Diane enjoys writing (and is working on her first book, They Took the Kids Last Night, to be published in 2018) music, comedy, theater, and walks in nature with her family and friends. Learn more here.