03-Jan-2020 by Allison McMillan

Read Time: Approx. 5 minutes

A Different Kind of Professional Development

At the end of June, I attended a leadership workshop in Jerusalem, Israel, called the ROI Summit. The ROI Summit was started by the Schusterman Family Foundation 13 years ago. It was created to bring together leaders and changemakers all over the world. The conference is about 140 people and the organizers aim to make it 1/3 US, 1/3 Israeli, and 1/3 from the rest of the world. I had heard great things about the Summit but what I experienced during that week went above and beyond my high expectations. From the organization of the conference, to the opportunities to learn from and with one another, to the leadership lessons I took away from the week, I've got a lot to share... but I'm going to try to boil it to my main takeaways.

First, remembering the responsibility leaders have. As the "Bnei Mitzvah" year (13th year or the age a young Jewish person becomes a Jewish adult with a responsibility to the larger community), this year's theme was all about responsibility. Thinking about what it means to be a responsible leader, thinking about being able to respond as a leader, and more. The week was broken down in to three sections: our responsibility to ourselves, our responsibility to our community, and our responsibility beyond that. In our responsibility to ourselves, there were workshops about self-care and we, as busy individuals, were reminded of how you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. In our responsibility to the community, we worked to help each other solve problems, took peer-led workshops for skills building, and had "braindates" with one another. Finally, our responsibility beyond that focused on a massive open space session where topics ranged from educational models around the world, to climate change and what we can do about it, to inclusivity and what that really means. On an extremely important note, the conference ended with us thinking about who took on additional responsibilities in our lives in order for us to attend the conference. From colleagues to spouses to others, for me, it was a really interesting note to end on being sure I took time to think about the responsibilities I was able to abandon for the week and who took on more responsibility so I could immerse myself in the Summit experience.

Second, the conference helped push me to reframe problems. Our three keynotes each dug in to challenges they faced and how they persevered through challenge after challenge. They talked about luck and authenticity, owning your narrative, and thinking through problems and solutions. Spark talks, which were select participant lightning talks, focused around life-changing experiences they had and how perspectives (both theirs and others) were changed as a result. I took a molecular gastronomy class that talked about how molecular gastronomy takes foods we know, adds an element, and completely changes them... not how they taste but how they appear, how they transform, and what you can do with food in different forms. The leaders took this experience and related it to the way we think about problems. Lastly, we went through a lightning round case study session where we got in to groups of 4 and used a specific timeframe and structure to help solve one another's problems, not in an obnoxious advice-y way, but in a thoughtful, sincere way.

Third, there was a focus on really getting to know people. Sometimes, until you're really connecting with people, you don't realize how infrequently we do so in every day life. We were broken up in to small group pods of 5-6 people and immediately dove in to deeper topics. The conference encouraged us to think about telling each other what they would know "if you really knew me" as opposed to just covering where we lived, what we did, and the usual "starter" questions. This was reinforced by workshops and sessions. In one session in particular, we spent 30 seconds writing down how we describe ourselves and sharing that with a pair. Then we met with another pair and described how we were feeling in that moment. It was astonishing how quickly we got past the simple descriptors we usually assume describe us to others and got in to more of who we consider our real selves, talking about real things happening in that moment.

I was thrilled and inspired when the final keynote speaker started talking about each of us leaders as dots and took the Hebrew word Tikvah (hope) and broke it down (a common practice when interpreting things Jewishly is to look at the letters that make up a word and derive meaning from it's structure, the order of the letters, etc.). She said that within tikvah is the word kav which means line. She spoke about how hope connects leaders (dots) with lines. She continued telling an old Jewish tale about a "lost and found" rock that people would go to and how people were responsible for returning lost items there and helping others find and reclaim things that were lost. However, it went deeper than that. The interpretation talked about how this rock was not just for things, it was also for people... people who had lost hope or inspiration and others who would wait at the rock to help them find it again. How we need to get to know people in order to find what is lost and return things to others, especially those who are unlike us.

I loved this conference. Here's the recap video if you're curious: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2378525749103296

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