Nollau To You ‘Emergent Strategy: Ecological Leadership’ Retreats Offer Cedar Community Staff New Ways to Frame Work

Through play, reflection, and discussion, participants had the chance to discover the spiritual nature of leadership.

Mid-level managers and other team members of Cedar Community in West Bend, Wis., had the opportunity April 24 and 25, 2024, to participate in one-day CHHSM on-site Nollau To You retreats. Facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development, and Dr. Zaria Davis, CHHSM’s engagement coordinator, each retreat included time for strategy sessions and spiritual centering.

Themed “Emergent Strategy: Ecological Leadership for Today’s Dynamic World,” the retreats were based on Cedar Community’s Guiding Principles and Priorities, allowing participants to examine their roles as leaders within the context of organizational change. Also key in the retreat was an emphasis on self-care during times of change.

“I love doing these kinds of retreats, where we work with a group of folks from the same organization because we get to go deep and nuanced on the dynamics, gifts, and challenges they are facing,” said Berry. “At this retreat in particular, we got to dive into Cedar Community’s values and zoom in and out on how those are being lived into at the personal level, the team or department level, and then at the level of the organization as a whole. What was exciting for me as a facilitator was seeing the wide variety of ways those values are taking shape. I heard both quality and quantity there!

“Moreover, even though everyone in the room works at Cedar, there was such a diverse range of departments represented from those folks, who may not get to interact with each other that often. The retreat offered that opportunity to learn and hear from each other in a different way.”

After an opening gathering ritual service, the morning and afternoon sessions were spent delving into the six elements of emergent strategy, the wisdom that can be gained from already existing ecosystems, and how that can be  adapted to organizational change. Interspersed throughout the day were activities that highlighted the concepts.

“Many participants found the course structure and content a refreshing change from our required trainings and other opportunities we have made available to team members,” said the Rev. Julie Jennings, Cedar Community’s vice president of spiritual care and wellbeing. “They appreciated the attention given to self-care in the midst of change — and really, at all times — and the practical relevance of the concepts to their everyday work and living.”

Nollau To You retreats do involve some sitting and learning. But they also often feature meditation movement and other exercises. “For me, I truly enjoyed seeing the level of engagement this material invited and encouraged from participants,” said Jennings, who also serves as CHHSM’s board vice-chair. “Though not appreciated by everyone, the opportunities to ‘play’ a little during the retreat created memorable moments of joy and camaraderie among our team members.”

Berry said she valued the willingness of each session’s attendees to try new activities. “I was really touched by the vulnerability shared in the room and their openness to the exercises, especially the ones that invited them out of their comfort zones — like dancing and singing in a board room!” Berry said. “They were generous in spirit to be sure.” 

Jennings, recent Nollau Leadership Institute graduate Michelle Stelhik-Hurst, Berry, and Davis.

Among the comments received by participants were those highlighting the more personal aspects of the day. Said one, “I really enjoyed the event … it had more of a spiritual feel to it and an element of self-care than our traditional leadership classes. I found it refreshing.” Another noted, “I can see myself using some of the concepts discussed on a regular basis.”

Davis noted that “the Cedar Community staff was diverse in its make-up of participants. They were engaged in the process and open to the variety of how the information was presented. They were able to share thoughts in a respectful space where all voices were honored.”

 The retreat also was adapted as a free online course for night shift employees and others who were not able to attend in person. As with the live retreat, the online version was tailored specifically to Cedar Community, and includes seven lessons — an introduction and the six emergent strategy elements, all of which can be gone through at the user’s pace. 

“I included videos and podcast clips in each session to add variety to the presentation,” said Berry. “I also referenced what folks did in person and then adapted exercises for the online version when needed.”

During their time at Cedar Community, Berry and Davis were treated to a tour of the community. For Davis, the whole experience was extra special. “This was my first visit as CHHSM staff, and my first time engaging with Nollau to You,” she said. “It was a great way to kick off my work supporting the programming at CHHSM. I definitely look forward to being in community with more CHHSM agencies and their staff.”

For Berry, the experience at Cedar Community was uniquely profound. “At the end of the second day, during the closing ritual, I found myself becoming moved emotionally by all that I had heard, seen, and witnessed in how the staff cares for, upholds, and nourishes the dignity of the human person at every age and walk of life,” she said. “I reminded them that their work is sacred, and of how grateful I feel to be in community and shared mission with them through CHHSM.”

Photo credits: The Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry and Dr. Zaria Davis.

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