September 27, 2019

Day One, Taking the Leap

By Deborah Meyer-Morris

Driving home from work on Thursday  September 12, 2019, the night before VCLA Day One, I was giddy with excitement and gratitude thinking about VCLA starting the next day. I have worked continuously, one way or another since I was 12 years old when I first starting delivering magazines on my bike. However,  I have not previously had an opportunity for formal personal development. Therefore, I view my time in VCLA as a gift.

I have not ever really thought about my personal strengths or picking a career that built upon them. I have always loved solving puzzles. Aside from the summer after my junior year at CSUN, when I briefly thought about getting a teaching credential (which was an acceptable career  for women in 1981), I thought I wanted to be an attorney-advocate since childhood.

As part of VCLA, all new cohort members are required to take the Clifton Strength Finder. On Day One, Hilary Howard shared her expertise in this area with us. She  taught us that we can only build on our strengths, and that we cannot build performance on weakness. This message really resonated  with me, especially after running for VUSD School Board last year, and losing.   I have spent some time, wasted it seems, over the last year trying to figure out how to identify and improve my weaknesses. However, Ms. Howard’s message taught me that my worldview was backwards, I should be working on maximizing my strengths.

Ms. Howard taught us there are thirty-four prevalent talents, out of which there are thirty-three million combinations.  These talents can also be arranged around four main themes: executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. If you had asked me before I took the Strength Finder which two themes best described me I would have said strategic thinking and executing.  However, my top five strengths did not include one strength in executing. My top five strengths include two each in strategic thinking and relationship building, with one in influencing.

Over the last week, I have really thought about this assessment, and my lack of executing strengths. Maybe this explains some things in my life I had attributed to other causes. Clearly, (no pun intended),  my strength colored glasses are foggy.   However, rather than continue to dwell on improving my weaknesses, I am going to take reassurance in my strengths and use the Cohort 25 to Life community journey to become a more effective leader and change-maker.

Continue reading

September 27, 2019

The Expectation of Leadership: Re-orient

By Theresa McKenrick

Thirty-two individuals took the first steps to becoming a team months before the first session this past Friday. In preparation for applying to become a part of Cohort XXV, I visited the VCLA website and read thru the curriculum. When submitting my application, then again as I prepared for my panel interview, I looked at the website and re-read the expectations. Some weeks later, I received a welcome aboard email. The email was both a welcome and a comprehensive guide to the next steps. Step number one, read, sign, and return an agreement to fulfill the responsibilities and expectations for all cohort members; fourth look at expectations of future cohorts.

Be engaged.

Be present.

Communicate.

Participate.

September, Friday the 13th I arrived at a remote building in the hills of Ojai. Men and women were in the process of taking seats.  I had the agenda, my report, and note-taking materials. The day went mostly as expected. We presented reports, participated in icebreakers, and explored known and unknown information and topics. I had understood that diversity was an important goal for VCLA and I was mildly and pleasantly surprised to meet a couple of folks who I would not readily single out as “leaders” and many who embodied several traits of leadership. Great news, I was prepared to learn and grow with new people over the next year.

Six hours later, I found myself unprepared. My profession is as organizational communicator. “Public” is in my job title. As I looked around the circle of my fellow cohorts from all different backgrounds, motivations, organizations, and communities, and as the “call and response” of the drum circle made its way to me, I could feel my face getting warm and my heart rate pick up. I actually recalled to myself the agreement I had signed: be engaged, be present, communicate, and participate. This couldn’t be part of that requirement.  I reassured myself that nobody was expecting a professional performance. I even assured myself that it would take 30 seconds and no one would remember a thing I had done. My turn came and I beat that drum with no expectation of making music or anything pleasant to hear. My 15 seconds (not minutes) of fame passed. I sat there feeling spent and allowing my face to cool.

In my mind, I will rename Focus Session #1, “Reorientation” instead of “Orientation.” I came in with my own expectations beyond the expectations provided to us. I am not shy and like many of Cohort XXV, I signed up to challenge myself. I can’t explain why this particular task was such a challenge to me and I guess that is the point. We are different and we will find things hard while others find them easy. Leadership means a lot of things. We may like, dislike, disagree with, and/or heartily endorse the topics, activities, and speakers over the next few months. For me, on session day one, I faced a challenge because a public drum solo is NOT my thing. Every moment was uncomfortable, and honestly, for me it was embarrassing. I did it.  All discordant, disjointed, non-musical, and non-rhythmic all of it. I’m certain it was not as painful for all, maybe not for anyone else. We each will face the next months with our strengths and weaknesses. I will reorient myself. My drum solo is over. We somewhat know what’s coming and we’ll be mostly prepared.

Continue reading

October 31, 2019

Learning, on an Unnerving Day

By Crystal Stratton

The day started off a little unnerving. With the fires burning, we all had to rearrange our personal schedules a bit, whether that was traveling, daycare, work or even freeway access – they were small issues, but affecting us all. I was checking my email constantly that morning. Coming from West County, I wasn’t sure if we would cancel, move the location or have to jump yet again to another freeway to make sure I was on time-

Being late for the 2nd day of school is just as bad as being late for the first day.

Jump forward a few hours, and in spite of a few detours, Focus Session #2 was on course, barreling straight down the tracks to Local Government, and personal reflection, with #25toLife on board.  Settling in to my seat at the Human Services Agency, I was excited and nervous to see what the day held.

Dr. Herb Gooch was wonderful and insightful with explaining (in the most easy to understand terms) how government works alongside politics, and even had helpful stories and (!!!) a PowerPoint to assist my visual learning brain.

He then introduced and moderated a discussion with County of Ventura Supervisor, Kelly Long, and City of Moorpark Council Member, David Pollock, beautifully icing and adding personal sprinkles to my government comprehension cake.

Moving forward, the day was a swirl of Simi Valley learning. From City Hall, to the Library and on to the Sheriff Department, learning the history, culture, and personality of the City helped me to understand the community and how each sector and neighborhood works together to build a strong and vital municipality.  When Fred Bauermeister, the Executive Director of the Free Clinic of Simi Valley spoke about his work and place of business, I could grasp how non-profits were able to fill in the gaps in cities, and how those in Public work could still help while fulfilling their passions by volunteering at Private and Non-Profit organizations, further helping and strengthening their community.

Mixed in to the activities were two more personal leadership growth discussions and exercises. I enjoy learning more about myself, as well as my fellow Cohort partners through the guidance and expertise of previous Cohort members and mentors. Banks Pecht helped to grow us individually in a Leadership as Applied lesson, while as a group, we all collectively grew together in Genevieve Evans Taylor, Ed.D.’s Authentic Leadership exercise.

By the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe I can speak for just about everyone, in that we all had a full, eventful, educating, enriching and fun day that left us all a little tired, mostly at maximum mental capacity, full in personal connections and experiences, more connected with our local communities and government, and definitely overly excited for what next month’s Focus Session will bring.

Continue reading

4 Degrees of Separation

By Merrill Whatley

Shortly after our January 11 VCLA session, I took a trip to Pittsburgh for work. As I write this, I am on Southwest Airlines, flying to Denver on my way back home via Burbank.

In the morning portion of the Local Government focus session, the subjects we covered about city government, county government and special districts may not have a greater available organizational and cultural juxtaposition in America than Continue reading

Ahoy Matey!

By Franki D. Williams

Squid boat: Up to 40% of California’s squid can be distributed through the Port of Hueneme on any given year.

After a morning focusing on local government in Thousand Oaks, I drove the back way through the agricultural fields of Camarillo, a part of the city unfamiliar to me, and met the rest of the cohort at the Port of Hueneme. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Continue reading

Water, water everywhere

By Jon Gathman, Installation Program Integrator at Naval Base Ventura County

How much water comes from the San Joaquin Valley (ie Sacramento) to support the Metropolitan Water District (serving you, me and the 18.999998 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties)?

  1. 4%
  2. 10%
  3. 30%
  4. 60%

Continue reading

October 17, 2018

On Leadership and Exploring the Deep Sea

By Melissa Baffa, Cohort XVII, President, VCLA Board of Directors

Seven years ago, I was a member of Cohort XVII. It was during our session on education that our director asked for volunteers for the position of cohort representative. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, but I was afraid to raise my hand. I would need to be elected by these fellow cohort members I was just getting to know. The last time I had run for anything was in high school, and I lost that election pretty badly. Being the cohort rep would mean attending the organization’s monthly board meetings, reporting out on our progress, and offering feedback. It would meanContinue reading

Cohort XXIII Reflections

By Nerissa Stacey, Communications Strategist, Mustang Marketing

It seems like only yesterday that I took my seat at Camp Arnaz for Cohort XXIII’s very first session. I remember looking around the room at a sea of unfamiliar faces, not sure what to expect but excited to find out. And now I’m preparing to sit among my fellow cohorts — no longer unfamiliar faces, but instead cherished new friends — at graduation as we conclude Continue reading