I admit it. My mere existence within our circle was first and foremost a humbling surprise to me. As my colleagues introduced themselves I found myself impressed with each and every one of them. So many amazing life stories, so many diverse backgrounds, such rich and lasting contributions from members across the group. I found myself nodding and shaking hands with CEOs, executive leaders, university professionals and community organizers. And without exception, their polished résumés and personal successes were matched only by their bright smiles and warm hearts. Landing squarely in the middle of Rochester’s growing leadership network, I readily grasped the magnetic buzz of the room. It was all the confirmation I needed to recognize that I was in the midst of a truly special learning experience.
Allow me to explain.
The University of Rochester’s Warner Center, partnering with Rochester-based Ramerman Leadership Group, invited me to embark on a six-month journey in the tenth cohort of their Leadership Coaching Certificate Program (LCCP) this past spring. The program began in January and drew to a close at the end of June. Details of the program curriculum can be found at the link above but the course faculty was very clear from the beginning that this was going to be a transformational learning experience. “Leaders go DEEP to reach HIGH,” was the foundational mindset of Jim Ramerman, CEO of Ramerman Leadership Group. Focusing our thoughts on the three pillars of the course – Leadership, Coaching, and Diversity – we were promised:
“[A] unique, specialized university level executive management development opportunity that leads to international certification: The Leadership Coaching Certificate Program. We provide powerful learning experiences for leaders and coaches, with a principal focus on strengthening leadership practices designed to increase performance and to transform work environment and culture.”
Dr. Frederick Jefferson Jr., Professor Emeritus at the Warner School of Education (who received the Frederick Douglass Medal midway through the program) co-led the program with Ramerman, alongside a versatile gang of executive and master coaches assembled from an array of university departments and coaching/consulting firms. While some of my fellow participants were locally based, others traveled from nearby cities and others from as far away as Washington, D.C. When researching the program I learned that it’s not uncommon for LCCP course participants to be based in states across the country or foreign nations.
So right away I recognized the necessity of taking this opportunity seriously. My District Superintendent accepted my proposal requesting to maintain a regular teaching schedule while taking a number of educational leave days over the semester to attend the LCCP. I reserved my attendance in the cohort and eagerly awaited the first 3-day session in January.
As I met my Cohort X peers for the first time I found myself wondering how a twenty-four year old second-year Special Education Teacher was professionally deserving of such a ripe golden opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always fishing for interesting professional development opportunities – I just never expected to have the chance to complete a program like the Leadership Coaching Certificate Program so early in my teaching career. I’ll forever be grateful to Jim, Frederick, and all of the program faculty, especially my dear friend and coach John Ramerman, for shepherding me through this pathway. I know I’m a better person because of your passion.
It’s worth mentioning that part of the reason the LCCP program impressed me so much – and why I benefited so much from it – is because although I was intrigued by LCCP, in some ways I didn’t initially expect that it would actually be a transformational experience. I’ve attended enough professional development camps and seminars that let me down or didn’t live up to their potential to enter new opportunities with a fair dose of hesitancy. To be sure, this certification program had a strong record and promising testimonials, don’t they all?
On top of my premature skepticism, I began this journey during particularly trying times. A family emergency had pulled me across the country the night before LCCP was slated to begin. After jumping through hoops to make this program fit with my course schedule and teaching responsibilities, I was going to miss the kick-off welcome dinner and the first 3-day module, a full one-fifth of the program, due to something entirely out of anyone’s control. Then on the day before the second module was scheduled, my ex-wife and I separated from each other. Given the circumstances and my yet-to-be-disproven skepticism, I was certainly in no emotional state to begin a certified leadership development program.
When I talked to my coach, John, to cancel my attendance in the LCCP program he gave me advice that I’ll never forget. Supporting me as a friend and a coach, John asked if I had a safe place to stay and offered a warm meal for the night. John and I have known each other for years, and he reassured me that I could handle this season of my life. He acknowledged every possible reason to drop out of LCCP. He validated every concern I had about joining the cohort and discussed the benefits of narrowing my focus before branching out professionally.
But after a few minutes John said something amazing. “That all may be true. Maybe you should drop out or join the next cohort,” he said. “Or maybe, just maybe,” he paused for a moment. “Maybe – this program, this experience, this group – Maybe this is exactly what you need right now.” That was the moment when John became my coach.
Sometimes leadership coaching is about asking the right question or positing the right statement or observation at just the right moment in someone’s life. John’s comment was one such remark. It stopped me. It changed me. It was the first of many such experiences during LCCP.
What struck me most as the cohort met was observing people who have triple or quadruple as much experience as I have going through the same journey. As we progressed through specific modules and activities about finding our voice, signature presence, or giving and receiving meaningful constructive feedback in individual and team settings, we watched each other grow and change every time we sat together. It was an experience that benefitted everyone, all of whom were at different stages of their respective careers.
Relating course topics to our own personal experiences, we would discuss how clarifying our values and maintaining professional credibility would lead to success in each of our environments. We tackled challenges associated with prejudice and bias and articulated ways in which decisions or mindsets that we may have held for our entire lives were flawed.
There was something comforting and refreshing about clarifying where we stood on these issues and growing together. Most of us had participated in similar conversations at one point or another in our pasts. We had considered our positions on these grounds at one seminar, conference, or training program before. But something about this setting was truly special. Something about the environment the LCCP coaches had developed helped mold each cohort member into better personal and professional versions of ourselves.
LCCP made me a better person and a more effective professional. It helped me confront longstanding biases and perspectives within myself that made me a better teacher and team member. It introduced me to a network of like-minded peers in my area that has already proven useful in multiple ways. It changed my mindset when approaching difficult problems and nurtured new interpersonal analytical skills that I didn’t know existed, much less realized that I had lacked.
As was promised, the LCCP advanced my thinking in the three pillars of the course: Leadership, Coaching, and Diversity. I am a better, stronger leader now than I was when I began the program and I have seen my efforts profoundly enrich my work. My initial mix of excitement, skepticism, and anxiety as I began LCCP and met my peers in Cohort 10 flowered into a truly humbling and rewarding personal journey that has helped me in so many ways. It’s unclear exactly how each cohort member will proceed from here, but I can say with certainty that each of us agrees: LCCP is much more than just another leadership certificate program.