Leadership Wilmington Retreat with the Class of 2023
What do thirty-six strangers, retreating away to Fort Caswell together for three days in a dormitory, learning about leadership and Wilmington, have in common? Turns out, quite a bit! Broken bones, family heirlooms, international travel, dogs, traffic tickets, and COVID were some of the shared life experiences and hobbies that the Leadership Wilmington Class of 2023 had in common during our ‘get to know you’ activities at our group retreat on August 24-26. These activities were certainly fun, and funny, but also so important to establishing the culture for our class. It allowed us to break the ice, unveil some vulnerabilities, and learn what connects us to each other.
Classmate Carson Porter describes the ride to Fort Caswell:
The school year has officially started and all the children in our community are diving into new classrooms, new friendships, and new routines. As parents, we encourage our children to “introduce yourself, make a new friend, don’t be shy, be yourself,” and we always give this advice to our children as if it’s easy.
When I stepped onto the bus that Wednesday morning, I remembered those words of encouragement I confidently gave to my kids just a few days prior, and suddenly I was the kid with the nerves and had the emotions of a child starting school.
The opportunity to be a part of the 2023 Leadership Wilmington class is something we were all proud of and excited for. Thirty-six smart, successful, diverse, people together for a 10-month program that gives us an opportunity to take a deep dive into our city, and learn and understand its successes, its challenges, and how we can actively take part in its improvements and in its future. Exciting, interesting, and challenging, for sure…but before that, each one of us still had to get on the bus and ask someone that we didn’t know if we could sit next to them.
We got through this with small-talk conversations, smiles, nervous laughter, and small acts of kindness: helping with someone’s luggage or holding someone’s coffee while they got situated. And as the bus started its cruise it was time for our first assignment. Each one of us would have to stand up and share something personal about ourselves to the group. When this assignment was explained to the group via email, I can’t imagine any of us thinking “Oh FUN! A chance to stand up in front of 35 strangers and share something personal.” But I’m pretty sure all of us are now glad we did it.
There were stories of surfing, faith, and of family friendships. Stories of loss and sadness, funny stories, and private stories. Although some of us may have struggled sharing our story, all of us loved listening and learning more about our fellow classmates.
And that seemed to do it. As we stepped off the bus the feel of the group was different. The first day of school feelings disappeared, conversations were easy, fast friendships were made and all of us dived into the material and the lectures with an enthusiasm that everyone in the room could feel.
Teamwork makes the dream work
The first day of the retreat was dedicated to learning about our very distinct communication styles and getting insight on how to begin developing our own leadership philosophy. After that, it was time for a field trip into Southport for dinner. However, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Adversity has a tendency to bring folks together - and we certainly experienced that on our first night when our charter bus broke down on the way to dinner. After it became clear the bus was not going to be moving anytime soon, we found ourselves looking for alternative transportation. That meant coordinating and catching rides from some very nice neighbors on Oak Island.
Teamwork makes the dream work as they say - and that was our first lesson in looking out for each other, leaving no one behind, and being part of the solution to a problem.
Lessons in leadership and team building
Days two and three of the retreat were filled with sessions on team effectiveness, leadership philosophy, influencing and coaching, and becoming a high performance team. During free time, classmates bonded over games of cornhole, exploring the fort, and conversations on the back porch. We became both teammates and competitors during some intense team-building activities on the final day of the retreat which had us solving puzzles and learning to communicate effectively. We even put our science hats on for a classic “egg drop” competition. Talk about feeling like you were back in school!
The retreat was a perfect way to set the stage for what we will all be doing over the next eight months, which is planning for and implementing Work on Wilmington!
For those who don’t know, the Leadership Wilmington Classes are responsible for pulling off Work on Wilmington. It takes many hands, many hours, and lots of togetherness to make a county-wide volunteer event successful, and WE ARE HERE FOR IT! It takes individual and collective leadership, and we spent lots of time learning about ourselves as leaders and followers, about leading teams, and about coaching. All things that we will need to draw upon to be successful not only for WOW, but for our continued leadership roles in Wilmington and at our places of business.
We started our Leadership Wilmington journey learning about the importance of finding our ‘why’. Why do we lead? What is important to us in terms of our values? What should others expect of us and our leadership behaviors? This was a powerful self-reflection exercise that will lead to the development of our own personal Leadership Philosophies that we can carry with us throughout our careers. Have you ever written a leadership philosophy? Ever asked your boss for their philosophy? It may now be one of the first things I ask folks in the hiring/onboarding process going forward! Very powerful ideas and insight you can gain from some time spent reflecting on your ‘why’.
What brought us together in applying for Leadership Wilmington is our desire to learn more, do more, and be more for our community. When we left the retreat, we understood the powerful impacts of our diversity, our lived experiences, and our individual and collective strengths to do more and be more for our community and each other.