Six Things We Learned in Provence

When a group of people enter into a retreat with the intention of learning about themselves and the art of leadership, there’s no telling what will happen.

It’s an adventure in which we sign up to discover whatever we need to learn next. So for each of us the learnings derived from the Resilient Leadership Retreat were slightly different. The journey was made richer by entering into new and unexplored terrain together. When we teetered at edges or doubted ourselves, there was someone ready to witness our transition, encouraging our growth.

What I’d like to share now, is not the formal elements of the program, but those incidental learnings that daily life together in Provence taught us. Some of these principles may seem obvious. It’s the power of experiential learning that really brings them to life. However, I hope they touch those times in you, when you connected deeply with what works:

1. Know Your Fundamental Commitment:

What do you believe in? What are you willing to give your energy to and make sacrifices for? When a fundamental commitment is present our discipline and resolve kick in when we most need it.

2. Track Your Sense Of Responsibility:

In our time together, our retreat guests and the team took a good look at the role of responsibility in their lives. When you’re committed to producing a fantastic result, it’s easy for a strong sense of responsibility to kick in. While responsibility is a powerful force, it can be over-taxing.

When we feel it too much, we become constrained and lose our vitality and creativity.

Re-assess the level of responsibility you’re assuming in your life. Is it out of habit or because it’s needed?

3. Fit Your Own Oxygen Mask First:

Recently there has been a strong and insistent voice in my head that tells me, “Fit your own oxygen mask first.” It pops up when I’m with clients and at the most unexpected times. Unsurprisingly, the path to looking after ourselves becomes easier after we’ve picked our way through our personal sense of obligation and responsibility, in order to discover what drives us. That’s right – Principle 2. Knowing precisely what you need to sustain yourself in a project is a vital source of strength. We had some real insights; the difference between resting early and waiting until you’re too cooked to be of value to anyone. Thankfully the different capacities within our team meant that some took time out early, while others pushed on. Whilst it seemed a little self indulgent at the time, those who’d headed for the pool first had plenty of energy when others later flailed.

4. Know When You’ve Got Enough On Your Plate:

Edith, our cuisiniѐre, was an absolute gem. She delighted us with delicacies such as strawberry soup, bouillabaisse, lamb in straw and pistachio madeleines. And then of course there was the Michelin star restaurants. But by the third day our clients were calling for a reprieve; there was too much on offer. Despite ourselves, we learnt to resist the temptation and to pull back. Quite a few members of the group skipped a few meals, opting to wander through the countryside instead. One day of slowing down and letting our bodies catch up with our aspirations made a big difference. Sometimes too much is simply too much and no matter how tempting it may be to push on, the benefits of your further efforts are lost – or begin to work against you.

5. Expect Surprises:

We set out on new ventures buoyed by our dreams and our initial plans. Our projects then take on the qualities of a magical act, revealing themselves to us. As the project or event emerges one learns what worked and what didn’t. Revising our plans sometimes tested our collective capacity for flexibility, but in the end we got there. The truth is we only really discover what we have done or created, after the facts. Appreciating this sharpens my curiosity and it helps me to go easier on myself. I find that I am a participant at the retreat myself, whilst facilitating it. Leadership demands this same capacity to work at multiple levels simultaneously. Unexpected insights come during and after the event. When the retreat ended we farewelled our guests and hit the road in search of new locations and further inspiration in the French countryside. For the past few days we’ve been in Dordogne, in 36° heat, overwhelmed and exhausted. Despite all of the tourist maps, castles and antiquities that surrounded us, we were uncertain of where to head next. My retreat partner Jean-Marc turned to me and said, “You have to distil the essence of a region. Like a good brandy.” The penny dropped. His comment helped me understand more what the retreat offered our guests. What Jean-Marc had brought to our program was years of dedicated research, visiting Provence and journeying beyond the tourist traps, to reveal the authentic Provencal lifestyle. Similarly, as leaders, we draw on our experiences to guide others through what can appear to be complicated and confusing for anyone with an untrained eye.

6. Celebrate

Our final learning? When it’s all said and done, sit back, appreciate your efforts and celebrate.


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