Tag Archive for: Professional Development

Listening to Women

 By Debra Valentine

The first discussion of this new program will be on works by American author Kate Chopin, pictured here. Our syllabus includes works by Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood, among others.

Howard Zeiderman, Co-founder of the Touchstones Discussion Project and Director of Leadership Programs, and I are starting a new series designed to help us reflect on ourselves.

The readings are by women writers, and we will use them to probe issues of self-identity and historical and cultural differences and distances between ourselves— both between each other and the writers. While gender has become an increasingly fluid and plastic concept, it touches on every aspect of our individual and communal lives. So, much of our discussion should, we hope, improve our self-awareness and ideally, our understanding of others.

I am certainly aware that as a woman in the 1990s who was often the only woman in a conference room or meeting—whether at my old law firm or in businesses where I have worked—I was often not heard. It wasn’t because my voice was too soft, although we know that men hear voices differently than women do. My voice was simply overlooked. Often, a man would later restate or paraph

rase the idea I’d expressed earlier, and everyone would agree it was a good idea. The point is not whether the idea was good or bad but whether it was heard. I guess that is why Ruth Bader Ginsburg encouraged us to always speak our mind, even if our voices shake. We have to work harder to get our voices heard.

The gender environment has, thankfully, evolved a lot in the past 20 years, but there are still many ways in which various people’s voices are not heard in the same way that male voices are heard. This is not to say that males’ voices have lesser or no value—they have much to contribute. It is simply that other voices have equal value. Touchstones has always been a wonderful process for getting all participants in a group to listen to each other, to respect each other, and to think before they speak. We thought bringing a bit more of the Touchstones method into an adult discussion program based on works by women would be a great way of opening ourselves up to the voices of others.

While the readings we’ll be discussing are not necessarily the latest and most cutting edge on gender studies, we believe they are fertile touchstones for exploring gender. Indeed, many are ones I recall seeing on Justice Ginsburg’s library shelves. And we know she thought long and hard about what it means to be a woman in what has remained a male-dominated world. We hope many of you will join us, either this time or in a subsequent group, as we look forward to learning more about ourselves and each other.

Recent Fiction as Navigating an Emerging and a Virtual World

A New Touchstones Discussion Program

Since late spring, once a month 12 professionals— lawyers, CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs—sign onto a ZOOM meeting to spend 90 minutes together in a Touchstones discussion. Like all Touchstones programs, this virtual program uses selected texts— in this case recent short-fiction by writers such as Borges, Calvino, Handke, and Hazzard. These works function as tools, touchstones, to make our emerging world more visible. Undertaking this in a virtual form is a relatively new departure as we chart a course both by exploring these recent modes of fiction and engaging in authentic inquiry via a virtual platform.

Although we’ve piloted online programs in the past, we’ve affirmed this spring that our unique, decades long and tested approach in the concrete Touchstones face-to-face experience translates richly and effectively into virtual discussions. These meetings equal both the intimacy and collaborative power of our traditional environment and, like explorations in person, create a venue for full and balanced participation with room for everyone’s talents and insights. One participant, a CEO from a major marketing corporation with prior experience running Touchstones groups said he was stunned at the extremely high level of engagement and in certain respects even preferred the virtual sessions. A successful entrepreneur from the Midwest who is also involved in internet marketing said he finds this Touchstones program an important vehicle for igniting his thinking and expanding his horizons. Participants come in from every time zone in the continental U.S., effortlessly overcoming geographic distance with remarkable ease and connecting meaningfully with others from diverse communities and professions.

Our foray into online executive programs began six years ago in piloting Mapping the Future with nine highly experienced Touchstones participants. Mapping serves as the backbone of our executive work because it develops a deepened and collaborative organizational culture. In that pilot, the group felt a virtual format offered many exciting possibilities, but issues of connectivity and bandwidth were problematic. High-speed access has improved significantly and new platforms such as Zoom offer tremendous adaptability.

In creating the new Touchstones custom program, we offered additional guidelines for online interaction: participants do not mute their microphones and the private chat tool is not allowed. Everything remains public and available to all— with few barriers to entry into the discussion. The use of breakout rooms enables small group work where teams of two to apply the Touchstones method to examine leadership issues. And polls, creatively designed, allow the group more detailed assessment of their dynamics. Even Touchstones speech maps can play a useful role, as they capture the flow and patterns in speaking. Although the current group has 12 participants, we’re considering expanding future group sizes to 18-20 participants.

We believe providing exceptional experiences in both in-person and virtual discussion programs strengthens our position as leaders in innovation and education. We will keep you current on these ground-breaking initiatives, as we seek opportunities to engage more leaders from around the country and the world in Touchstones.

Our Future Is Now

By Howard Zeiderman

For several decades, many reputable business magazines and corporate leaders have sounded an alarm: future generations aren’t being prepared for a world that requires a new set of skills. Some of those “new” skills include the ability to collaborate and share leadership in a 21st Century globalized and technological world.

During a Touchstones workshop for deans and directors in a recent leadership development retreat, small groups explore how building a brand requires input from all members of a team.

These skills aren’t meant to replace skills designed for large-scale mass production and distribution. Those skills are still necessary. However, a highly interconnected and technologically evolving world introduces new opportunities and challenges. In this world, new knowledges constantly emerge, and related business decisions require input from many different types of experts, as activity in one region and one market bears on other regions and other markets. The skillset required to complement those we’ve been teaching and learning for more than 150 years are, not surprisingly, as complex as the world that requires them.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 “The Future of Jobs” report indicates that skills of creativity, interpersonal dexterity, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, ability to find common ground, and cognitive flexibility are essential skills in our world that is increasingly transformed by technology. But how are those skills being developed—in our children, our young adults, and our existing workforce and leadership? Touchstones programs are indeed addressing some of this urgent need, but there is a lot of work yet to be done.

Recently, we were hired to develop and run a customized Touchstones program within a large corporation to help a senior management team focus on developing some of these key skills. The team’s leader recognized she wasn’t tapping into the full potential represented within her managers. There were members of her group who always spoke in meetings and others who were much quieter. Some rarely spoke at all, and yet each was a valued member of the team. What, she wondered, did they need to learn to do differently to make sure everyone’s voice and ideas were available and accessible to the entire team?

Over four, five-hour workshop sessions, each member of the team worked on active listening and what it means to create an environment in which each person’s viewpoint is welcomed and respected. By the time we finished our work with the group, many had practiced running Touchstones discussions— sharing responsibility for leading and bringing in all members of the team. Since then, that group has integrated their Touchstones practice into their monthly staff meetings, rotating leadership month to month to ensure their continued development.

Next month, we’ll run similar leadership development programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas within the Emergency and Crisis Management Master’s of Science Program. The participants are enrolled in a blended learning program, which brings them to campus several times a year to work together in person. Touchstones will be a central part of building connections and trust within the cohort, as part of strengthening participants’ abilities to collaborate across key leadership positions even in times of great uncertainty.

We’ll also be traveling to Montgomery, Alabama to provide professional development and leadership training for members of the Community College Association of Alabama consortium. As that organization looks to foster future leadership from within its younger managers, Touchstones will feature as a primary tool for augmenting existing skillsets.

Leadership Development On Deck

By Howard Zeiderman

As we look forward to spring of 2019, we’re gearing up for some great Touchstones professional development activity this month and next. Next week, Touchstones staff will be working at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario for two intensive days of classroom observations and coaching. Touchstones programs are integrated into the academic curriculum throughout the Junior and Senior Schools, and this is our fifth consecutive year of continued professional development work with teachers and administrators.

A group of Senior School administrators and faculty work together to refine
their Touchstones discussion leadership skills.

Then, in March, Touchstones staff will have the pleasure of working for a second year in a row with participants of the annual CAFÉ Deans and Directors Retreat. This professional development opportunity is “for postsecondary program leaders who work in “the Hourglass” position; i.e., they have administration above them pushing down with the needs and requirements and they have to filter the information down to the faculty and students with whom they work.”

CAFÉ, which stands for the Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education, was founded in 2002 by Mary Petersen from Annapolis, Maryland, to provide shared educational opportunities for professionals in the foodservice industry and the culinary/baking/ pastry classroom. Mary has been widely recognized for her leadership and entrepreneurialism and received numerous awards for her exceptional work in education, including being inducted in 2005 into the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque as a lifetime honorary member (one of 15 honorary and only 100 members in the United States).

This year, the two-day retreat will take place in Charleston, SC—home of exceptional, modern Southern cuisine—and Touchstones will focus on the role of collaboration in building a brand.