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Leadership Is a Team Sport: My Time with CSN

By Adrian Rehn

Leadership is a team sport.” This expression resonated as I sped down the hill toward Fresno. I turned the wheel of my trusty 2006 Honda Odyssey to match the curvature of the country road before me. “Sometimes success is a change in the tenor of a conversation.”

I’d just spent two days in the foothills below Kings Canyon participating in the Orientation of the California Stewardship Network’s new Leadership Program. The California Stewardship Network (CSN) is an alliance of fifteen unique regional organizations committed to the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of our regions and our state (the “triple bottom line”). Notably, CSN collaborates with California Forward to host the annual California Economic Summit (set to be held in Fresno on November 7-8). Valley Vision represents the 6-county Sacramento region and serves as the backbone organization and fiscal agent for CSN.

As I reflected on the groundbreaking and brilliantly subversive lessons of the past 48 hours, I can’t help but be eager for the continuation of this program – a series of upcoming exchanges over the coming year where my “cohort” of 19 young leaders will grow and collaborate on creative solutions to the challenges our State faces. Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller left me with a key nugget of wisdom prior to my departure, which I also shared with the other participants: “it is really hard to build a statewide network through a conventional career. This is your chance to do exactly that while better connecting our diverse regions to one another.”

19 young leaders are taking part in the 2019-20 program.

The Orientation kicked off with a storytelling session, where each participant was tasked with telling their “origin story,” including why we are dedicated to advancing triple bottom line approaches to persistent problems. I was able to connect my upbringing in rural Mendocino County to my current work at Valley Vision on issues like wildfire resilience, rural broadband, air quality, and so much more. It was quite an icebreaker! Then, we took part in a very comprehensive Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 session with Gallup Certified Strengths Coach Adrian Ruiz, where we identified our talents and those of others in our cohort. We also dug into how sometimes our strengths can translate as weaknesses in certain circumstances (for example, an “Includer” needs to be mindful that at times they might be seen as too deferential to others). Strengths are like muscles, and it takes the intentional ‘exercise’ of talents combined with skills and knowledge to create a true “strength.” I had no idea that my unique ‘DNA’ of five talents – Strategic-Maximizer-Adaptability-Developer-Includer – is shared by only one in every 33 Million people. Crazy!

In the second half of the program, Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute and Kriselda Bautista of the Local Government Commission put our strengths and knowledge to work. We tackled a tough case study out of West Oakland where a new housing development was being considered for development (replete with NIMBY opposition group, cerebral city planners, et al), and we had to balance equity, economy, and environment in determining how to move the project forward. Our considerations ranged from the right number of affordable units, to design of a human-centered community engagement process, to the proper means of evaluating our entire effort.

Did I mention that it was super fun?!

Finally, we learned how to de-escalate difficult situations by appealing to emotion. Doug Noll, a former trial lawyer who has dedicated himself to peacemaking and conflict resolution, led our group through a science-based journey into human brain chemistry and cutting-edge psychology. Doug Co-Founded a nonprofit called Prison of Peace, which since 2010 has helped inmates develop peacemaking skills to reduce violence and promote problem-solving within their prison community. We learned how our society regularly invalidates emotional expression, which is manifested in how so many of us say “It’s OK” and attempt to problem-solve when another person is experiencing difficulties. This is actually a selfish act, and a form of self-soothing that is hurtful to the person we are trying to comfort. If you really want to help people who are angry or sad, you need to learn and practice affect labeling – essentially “lending them your prefrontal cortex” and helping them process their emotions through a specific set of actions. This simple yet effective process is detailed in Noll’s book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less, and I’m happy to share more if you send me an email! This tool stood out to me in a world that desperately needs more healers.

I want to thank Joanna Wessman, the Network Coordinator for CSN, Kathy Moxon, CSN’s Past Chair and Director of Redwood Coast Rural Action, and Deb Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council, for introducing us to this awesome network and guiding us through such an impactful and thought-provoking 48 hours. Thanks also to Bank of America for sponsoring. Of course, I’d also like to thank Bill Mueller for nominating me for this program, and my fantastic cohort – I so look forward to seeing you all again in May! I’ll continue to share my experiences as I learn how to apply triple bottom line outcomes and work to elevate California’s diverse region’s to build a stronger and more equitable California. Stay tuned!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.