Lead First by Listening, Then by Doing

Emily IhrkeGirls Leadership, Leadership Lab, Leadership Programs, Pedagogy Of Leadership®

By Emily Ihrke, LL’15, gcLi Scholar ‘21, Co-Coordinator, PK12 Ethical Leadership Program at University School of Milwaukee (WI)

Twice now, on the last night of the Leadership Lab, I’ve listened as Jim Carney has sounded the chime. The entire group has walked away from each other, outward from the circle, and I’ve felt my sandaled feet, wet from the grass. The chimes have continued to sound, on the beautiful hillside at Fountain Valley, and I’ve been heartsick, walking away.  Heart full, too though, with hope and wonder, yet not quite sure how I would do what I knew I must: do that something to make the world better… for my students, for my colleagues, for my school, and for myself.

The power of the gcLi Leadership Lab is difficult to put into words. For all of us who return to our regular lives after a week in Colorado Springs, we are changed. Most certainly for the better. Yet it’s almost impossible to explain to those who have not attended the Lab what exactly has happened to us. We stumble, looking for exactly how to sum up the professional and personal experience we’ve had. We can’t find the right words, so we fill in the spaces with words that are not quite right. At least that’s what’s happened for me.

But maybe the best thing to do is to not speak. Maybe the best thing to do is listen

On the first night of the Lab, too, we begin in a circle, and there as well, we listen for a connection. In that exercise we wait, we choose (and we probably hope to get chosen): we listen as other participants describe elements of themselves, and we think, “Maybe just maybe, they could be right for us… Maybe they could become our buddy?”

And all week long we listen, too, to the faculty, especially to Jeremy Lacasse, model beautifully the act of listening and receiving feedback, and most certainly when we go back home, we do the same.

We know, in our own lives before and after the Lab, too, that listening is critical in our work as classroom teachers, and as school leaders. We know in our families and in our homes, that listening is an act of love. We lean into this work. We do it, when we’re at our best, generously and naturally.

And on the final evening of the Lab, after Jim’s most gracious telling of the origins of the gcLi, we walk together to the hillside. The faculty deliver to each participant the diplomas, and we take each others’ hands. If you’re like me, as we untangle, and unbecome… and the chimes sound, and you feel at-once, both incredibly full and unbound, it’s almost too much.

That listening together is what we have for that moment and for eternity.

And we go out, as one and as many. To make something great. 

Ready to listen, I propose, and then, only then, to do.

Emily Tymus Ihrke is Co-Coordinator of the PK12 Ethical Leadership Program at University School of Milwaukee. She is also a full-time Upper School English Teacher. Emily lives in downtown Milwaukee with her husband Doug, daughter Ellie, and puppy Snowball—the family enjoys all the city has to offer.