Nollau Class Examines Courageous Cultures in Organizations During Second Retreat

Class participants were able to reflect in the beautiful autumnal colors of Cedar Valley Retreat Center.

The current class of CHHSM’s Nollau Leadership Institute held its second retreat Oct. 24-28 at Cedar Valley Retreat Center in West Bend, Wis. While the first retreat in June focused on personal leadership growth and experiences, this time, participants delved into organizational awareness and the ecosystem in which leadership exists.

“Our workshops and exercises brought to life skills and perspectives that support leadership through connection, courage, and change, said the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “We engaged not only in how you live into your own values, but also what it means to cultivate an ethical culture at your organization.”

Pre-retreat reading included the book Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. The book deals with helping to develop the brave leaders and courageous cultures organizations need to transform, including four courage-building skill sets that can be developed by any individual or organization.

Each day of the retreat centered on specific topics, which were interspersed with small groups, worship, and reflection time. Day one focused on Brown’s book, along with a continuation of enneagram work begun at the June retreat; day two was centered on appreciative inquiry, emergent strategy, and group coaching strategies; day three included leadership ethics and organizational change theories; day four examined issues around Race, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (RDEIJ), equity competent leadership, and conflict and repair; and day five looked at the spirituality of leadership.

The Rev. Dr. Monica Ouellette, minister for search, call and congregational transitions for the UCC’s Indiana-Kentucky Conference, found the day one sessions particularly engaging. “I really enjoyed discovering what enneagram number I am, and how knowing this can help me strengthen and grow my leadership,” she said. “I also enjoyed identifying my two core values in the exercise we did from Dare to Lead.”

CHHSM President and CEO Jamar Doyle ran the Dare to Lead session. “As Brené Brown states, ‘You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability,’ and it is a privilege to be a part of the leadership journey of people passionate about their work and courageous enough to breathe life into their ministries,” Doyle said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of our time together, which will culminate in their capstone projects at the Annual Gathering in March 2023.”

Valerie Garrick presents her small group’s conclusions during the retreat.

Dare to Lead “was incredible and the discussion led by Jamar was deeply powerful for me,” said Valerie Garrick, M.Div., BCC, clinical chaplain at Providence Medford (Ore.) Medical Center. “I struggle with vulnerability, and rating the myths of vulnerability and reflecting on what I need to unlearn about vulnerability as a leader was enlightening.”

Garrick also found the Thursday sessions on equity competency and RDEIJ particularly meaningful. Equity competency was led by Erica Merritt of the Equius Group in Cleveland, which conducted CHHSM’s RDEI Assessment in 2020-2021.

Merritt’s “sharing around equity competent leadership was powerful. She really touched on what we are talking about when we say ‘equity,’” Garrick said, “stressing the imperative that RDEIJ committees must be in the budget and part of the structure of the organization — with paid staff.”

The retreat ended with a powerful closing ritual and worship service.

The session on organizational change theories also introduced participants to new ways of approaching change in their organizations. The Rev. George Graham, vice president of CHHSM, led the session, sharing information about the phases of collective trauma response, along with the nonprofit lifecycle and double loop theory. “It offered a space for people, particularly those who provided direct service, to share what they had been through over the past three years with COVID,” said Graham. “More than a few of us shed tears! It felt like it provided an opportunity for people to let go of some of the pain and grief they had been carrying.”

Both Graham and Berry remarked on the willingness of the class to participate in the sessions. “I was struck by how quickly the class began sharing deeply from their experiences again,” Graham said. “They went right back to where they had left off in June. It showed the level of trust that the group had built.”

Berry concurred. “This group continues to be incredibly engaging with the material and with each other. We’re able to talk about real challenges as well as celebrate the hard-earned successes people have made in their personal or professional growth,” she said. “They laugh so easily while they bring an authenticity in the room that doesn’t shy away from the challenges they face.”

Amid the structured sessions, the retreat also featured time for shared meals and socializing. “I really enjoyed the small group and large group conversations with my Nollau colleagues as we attended workshops and ate meals together,” Ouellette said. “During these conversations, I learned more about my colleagues and myself as people of faith and as leaders.” She added that her biggest takeaway was her “connection to and appreciation for the people serving across the United Church of Christ.”

Jamar Doyle’s morning line dancing group included (from left) Doyle, Maria Soto (UCC Pension Boards), Arlene Lacayo (Retirement Housing Foundation), Nora Foust (UCC Penn Central Conference), and Monica Ouellette (Indiana-Kentucky Conference). /Maria Soto photo

Another hit with the class was a now-legendary line-dancing session held the first evening after dinner. Led by Doyle, “several people liked it so much that they held additional early morning sessions” before each day began, said Berry. Doyle also has been approached about running the session during CHHSM’s Annual Gathering next March in Denver.

Reflecting back on the week, Berry said, “I think people really gravitated towards the ways in which they can make a difference where they are. Whether it was talking about RDEIJ, or ethics, or dealing with conflict, what guides our decision making and how we interact with the ecosystems we’re in are really fertile ground for action and change.”

The 2022-2023 Nollau class will participate in one more retreat, during the Annual Gathering. Until then, the class will meet each month in small groups online. They also will be preparing final Capstone Projects, which offer a creative and unique way for each participant to articulate what they’ve learned during the year. Capstones include expressions of leadership that most deeply resonate with the participants. The projects vary widely, and the expressions of leadership can include photographs, artwork, poems, scripture, sculpture, song lyrics and more.

The Nollau Capstone Projects will be displayed at the Annual Gathering, with classmates available to talk with attendees about their experiences. The Nollau class ends with participants being consecrated as Diakonal Ministers during the Annual Gathering’s closing worship service.

Each new Nollau class brings inspiration and hope, not only to the classmates, but to the faculty; and each class completes the year equally inspired to be the serving leaders their communities need.

“This group has such emotional and intellectual range that makes it unique,” added Berry. “I am so inspired by the strength of this class as a whole. The wisdom this group brings to the retreats and our relationships with each other are gifts I’ve continued to reflect on.”

“One of the highlights for me so far in my tenure as president and CEO of CHHSM is the Nollau Leadership Institute,” said Doyle. “Gathering with our CHHSM and other UCC colleagues to grow leadership capacities through shared experiences is a rare opportunity and a blessing.”

Learn more about the Nollau Leadership Institute.

Find out more about CHHSM’s Annual Gathering.

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