Bryan Uher, University of Alaska Southeast Master’s of Public Administration student

The Fall 2017 Circumpolar Indigenous Leadership Seminar was held in Anchorage for the week of October 1st-6th.    This week was filled with great speakers from across Alaska and Alaska Native populations.    To say the experience was insightful is an understatement as the whole week illustrated a different form of leadership than the traditional westernized version.

The structure of the seminar was built around telling your story.    Wisdom and knowledge was to be gained through others thoughts, feelings and experiences.    This differs from other leadership trainings I have attended where the focus was primarily on theory and instruction. There were no textbooks to comb through, worksheets to complete, diagrams to examine or tests to take.    The main requirement of the course was to be engaged and listen.    Truly listen.    The concept of Deep Listening, where an individual is present, attentive and engaged without distractions, was explored through required reading before the seminar and was the basis for our experience.    This meant no note taking or surfing the web during the in class seminar.    A novel concept that was foreign to me as a student who has been taking higher education courses for the past 15 years.

The reality was that principle of deep listening was more effective in my opinion than the traditional notes, journaling and paper writing.    I felt 100% engaged in the conversation and enthralled in each and every story.    I attribute this increased form of presence to the fact that my mind was not constantly worried about writing what the speaker said down verbatim to cite in a paper later on or jotting down arguments to highlight in a final that would be required further down the line.    It provided a release of distraction, which enabled true listening.    I feel after this experience that I have retained more information and concepts from the speakers and classmates than I would in the traditional format of learning.

The central concept that I took away with during the seminar was that a professional position does not define or automatically grant an individual with leadership. This title or attribute is given to an individual by those around them and is earned through building relationships and trust.    Not everyone is a leader, but anyone can be one.    Meaning that you can be a CEO of a company or a Director of a department and still not be a leader by the definition of leading people successfully to a common goal.    Yet you can be in an entry level position of a large corporation or a teenager in high school and be an effective leader in a community.    Leadership is not bound to professional positions or in a career ladder.    It can be experienced by all at any level of development or job.

Additionally sharing one’s experiences and story has an impact on not only those around you but on yourself.    One of the requirements of the courses was to “tell our story’ which meant building a storyboard, expressing ourselves in a talking circle and finally recording our story based on a pivotal leadership moment.    This to me at first seemed intrusive.    Being a “5” or an Observer based on the Enneagram test of personality (it is a fun tool that we went through in class to define your personality type), I am not one to share my emotions or feelings.    Being asked to do such a thing in front of people I hardly knew was uncomfortable and terrifying.    Yet the experience was also liberating and informative.    I found many people had experienced similar events in their lives and we were able to discuss the outcomes and experiences together.    This sharing of knowledge grounded the conversations and illuminated the many types of leadership and what is to be considered a leadership act.    It helped alleviate the fear that sharing personal experiences can lead to rejection and unacceptance.    We should be proud of our lives, heritage and the future that is available to us.

This was my third RD Seminar over the course of my college career.    I feel it has been the most impactful for my personal development as both a leader and a person out of the three.    I find myself stopping and reflecting on the conversations and stories we shared and discovering new insights and knowledge into myself and leadership as a whole.    The experience and the people I met are ones I hope to never forget.    As a final class in my higher education journey I feel it was a perfect way to end it.    Thank you to all my classmates, Instructors, Elder and Speakers.

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