We are very good at advising others what to do. This is especially true for those of us in the human development community by which I mean anyone working in executive coaching and leadership development. Our profession by nature is helping people discover truths about themselves so they can become more effective leaders. For that reason we heartily endorse coaching and suggest leadership development initiatives for our clients. But as for taking our own advice, some of us turn a blind eye (and ear).
And for that reason it was refreshing to spend a weekend of personal and professional development at the Banff Centre in the province of Alberta. The Banff Centre has pioneered a unique approach to leadership development. Taking advantage of its spectacular location in the Canadian Rockies, leadership development at Banff begins with a sense of place. Adding to that sense of place is the infusion of arts and culture. Banff Centre is home to many artists in residence and offers a myriad of arts programs in music, dance, writing, drama, and the visual arts. This connection to the arts infuses Banff’s programs with a sense of enchantment that stimulates reflection and creativity.
The weekend I spent at Banff was not part of a formal program, but rather part of a development exercise for the Centre and a group of fellow thought leaders, among them coaches, authors, and leaders in the arts and non-profit communities. Each of us came to the weekend with different perspectives on leadership development.
Our dialogue was probing and thought-provoking. We challenged each other to explain our ideas more fully. That was probably the richest part for me because it pushed me to think more deeply about some of my ideas, and by doing so I gained a deeper understanding of not only my work but more importantly the work of others. That was invigorating, and something that will resonate with me for months to come.
One final point, being at Banff is a humbling experience. It puts you in your place, literally and metaphorically. Located on the Bow River, Banff is nestled in the mountains but at 4600 feet it is dwarfed by 10,000 foot-plus granite peaks grated to sharpness by millennia of glaciers. (Think of being surrounded by half-dozen or so mountains like the imposing Half Dome in Yosemite and you’ll get a mind’s eye glimpse of what Banff is like.) Banff and its adjacent valleys were a winter home of First Nation peoples (as Native Americans are known in Canada) dating back some 15,000 years. More recently, the city of Banff was developed by the Canadian National Railroad in the late 19th century because the area offered hot springs. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Being out in nature (even if you are only looking out the window at vistas that stretch for tens of miles) confronts you with the realization that man is but a guest on this earth. All of our grand ideas about ourselves pales in comparison with what has come before us but at the same time we are responsible for protecting what is here and what will come after us. “In our every deliberation,” goes the adage from the Iroquois Nation, “we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” A wise lesson for any leader. Know your place as well as the impact you have on others.
[For more on the Banff Centre, visit Banff Centre]