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Stories from CAELI: Be Ready to Let Your Guard Down

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Mar 26, 2015

In our Stories from CAELI series, Community Arts Education Leadership Institute (CAELI) alumni share their insights from their own CAELI experiences. Our fourth post comes from Robyne Walker Murphy, director of DreamYard Art Center in the Bronx, NY. Robyne is a member of the CAELI Class of 2012 and will be returning this year as practitioner faculty. Check out our other Stories from CAELI posts from José Ochoa, Sue Elliot, and Fiona Chatwin.

Note: This is a re-post of an interview originally shared in March 2014.


Why did you apply to CAELI?
I now know that my journey to leadership reflects the journey of many others. I started out as a teaching artist. I then became a site coordinator, then a lead teacher, and then a program director. The leap from teaching young people to leading a program and managing people was huge for me. I had been in my role as director of out of school programs at DreamYard Project for four and a half years when I first learned about CAELI. Up to that point, I had been on a quest to figure out what it means to be a good leader. I kept asking myself, “What are the observable qualities of good leadership?” After reading about CAELI and talking with a colleague who had attended other Guild training events, I said to myself, “Okay, CAELI is going to be an experience that is going to allow me to answer this question.”
I was immediately excited by the faculty and the thought of having them as mentors. I also was excited that the institute was seven months. It is hard to reflect on leadership when you are in the throes of your day-to-day responsibilities. So the idea of going away for a week for an intensive seminar and then having the benefit of continued coaching afterwards was a big reason I decided to apply.
Was CAELI what you expected it to be?
I imagined I was going to learn about core values as they related to my organization but the experience was really about reflecting on my own personal values and leading from that place.
The 360-degree feedback process was particularly eye-opening and something I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience. People who know different aspects of my work (my executive directors, board, people I work with) were asked to give anonymous and honest, written feedback on me as a leader prior to the on-site seminar. What they shared gave me a very holistic view of myself as a leader. With the help of Diane Foster, our executive coach, I was then able to use this feedback to examine and better understand my strengths and weaknesses, and to craft a personal leadership development plan which I could work on after the seminar.
Are there any other aspects of the institute that were particularly beneficial?
Phil McArthur’s training on difficult conversations was incredible. He introduced me to the “ladder of inference,” a tool for achieving a healthy balance of advocacy and inquiry in difficult or high stress conversations. Usually during difficult situations, we tend to either advocate for our own point of view without asking a lot of questions or we ask a lot of questions which can make others feel like we’re interrogating them. Phil taught me how to come into conversations with an open mind and the willingness to be changed by other people’s perspectives. His training during the CAELI seminar was so transformative for me that when I returned to DreamYard Project, I shared my experience with my executive directors and we’ve since invited Phil to our organization twice to give his workshop for our entire leadership team. The "ladder of inference" has now become part of our organizational language.
The one-on-one, executive coaching with Diane Foster was also amazing. She was so compassionate and invested in my growth that I felt like I was the only person she was working with. Our conversations during the coaching sessions always came back to the work we did during the seminar at Bryn Mawr and were rooted in her observations of me as a learner. She was a wealth of knowledge, extremely organized, and really cared about following up with me and helping me think through different strategies. She shared so many of resources with me as well. I now have a binder of materials that I am working through. I sift through that binder continuously; the resources are still transforming the way I work.
What impact has CAELI made on your leadership and career?
Before CAELI, I thought being a leader meant that if there was a problem I had to solve it. I thought I had to have all the answers or pretend that I had all the answers because if I didn’t, then why am I here? But through CAELI I learned that being a good leader is not about having all the answers; it’s about asking really good questions. I learned to think ahead like a forecaster and help prepare the rest of my staff for what’s coming. John McCann (program designer and facilitator) defines leadership as "behaving in ways that bring people together to move things forward.” That definition stuck with me. It’s the “behaving in ways” that is the key to my exploration. “Behaving in ways” is having difficult conversations, knowing how to manage change, knowing how to ask the right questions.
I’ve met some amazing people through CAELI that are now my cohort. I continue to connect with them and think about ways we can work together.
CAELI also has deepened my relationship with the Guild. It’s made me think more deeply about my role in our field, not only as a program director but also as an arts advocate.
Is there anything else you feel a prospective applicant should know or consider before applying?
This is not going to be your run of the mill workshop. The faculty has a lot of heart, and the experience is emotional because you have to examine yourself and the reasons you’re in this field. CAELI will reconnect you with the importance of your work and transform the way you think about leadership. You have to be ready to think about what drives you, what you’re passionate about, and how you can build up not only yourself but the people around you in order to work towards a common goal. CAELI is full of heart. You have to be ready to let your guard down. But if you do, it’s refreshing.
The deadline to apply to CAELI is April 9, 5:00PM ET. Click here to learn more and here to watch a recording of our recent Application Orientation Webinar.
Pictured Above: Robyne and students at DreamYard

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.