The J Leaders Academy Retreat Blew Me Away
By Leya Aronoff, 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow
I had some high expectations going into the first J Leaders Academy retreat. You see, I’ve always prioritized professional and personal development. My day job is at a career development company. My side hustle is in career coaching. I spend my free time practicing mindfulness and journaling. I studied leadership development and psychology in college. I’ve done my fair share of experiences about becoming my “best self.”
With that said, my expectations were exceeded. The J Leaders Academy retreat was a marvelous experience full of new insights and learnings. What made this retreat so special? Let me tell you:
- Each theoretical concept resulted in something tangible
It can be easy to vaguely talk about personal growth. But during the retreat, each concept was translated into a useful tool or set of steps that I can use right now.
One example is personal branding. In the past, I’ve heard that personal branding is “what people say about you behind your back.” But how can that be useful? By the end of the session, I had a list of attributes that describe my identity and an introduction for networking events. Now those I can use!
Another example is belonging. On the surface, belonging is just about feeling welcome and accepted in a space. Turns out there’s a lot more to it. During the retreat, I learned that fostering a sense of belonging can be difficult because our species has survived in small tribes or groups. After the session, we listed specific actions we can take to become more inclusive leaders.
- We learned from world-renowned experts and speakers
The speakers provided their expert advice, which leaned on their professional experiences, research, and stories. Three speakers stood out to me.
First was Meghan O’Leary, a two-time American Olympian in rowing. O’Leary talked to us about the 3 foundations of grit and resilience. First was consistency and commitment because when your goal is audacious, every day counts. Second was to embrace discomfort — that’s how you know you’re growing. Third was to practice self-compassion because not every day is going to be a great day.
The next speaker that I enjoyed was Arnnon Geshuri, a former HR executive at Fortune companies including Google and Tesla. Geshuri talked about how emotional intelligence related to leadership within organizations and trends we see in the labor market since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The third speaker was Monica Rodriguez Kuniyoshi, Chief Marketing Officer at Gunderson Dettmer. She discussed inclusive leadership within the context of her multiple identities. Being inclusive is about expanding our circles such that people with various backgrounds, identities, and attributes feel welcome.
- The most powerful learnings happened among my peers
Being in the same room as the other J Leader Academy fellows was invaluable for diversity of thought. For example, take our values exercise. I have done a good amount of values work in the past. However, discussing values with the group gave me the opportunity to expand on my definition and embodiment of my values.
Also, each fellow brought their unique backgrounds and experiences to the table, which offered various perspectives on the same topic. For example, we talked about our superpowers and kryptonites. It was interesting to hear one person mention a kryptonite that another thought was a superpower.
- The content was rooted in Jewish values
At the end of the day, J Leaders is about development leadership with Jewish values. At first, I was skeptical about how they were going to introduce Judaism into the leadership development material. But the integration was seamless.
For example, we talked about how sometimes people try to guess who is Jewish and who is not based on their name. However, there are plenty of people who are Jewish but don’t have a “typical Jewish name” which does not foster inclusion or belonging.
Another example was discussing the importance of Shabbat in our leadership development. During the work week, it is easy to get caught up in the every day grind. But during Shabbat, we disconnect, which serves as a time to reflect and focus on growth.
Overall, the first J Leaders Academy retreat blew me away. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this year’s J Leaders Academy cohort and cannot wait for all the learnings to come!
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Leya Aronoff is a 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow.