Unexpected Challenges in Mile 1

The next six days of our Leadership Residency were full of rich content with surprises around almost every turn. Days were long and nights were full of team meetings to prepare for the next day, followed by a pint or two at the Darden pub. The focus of the week was leadership from an enterprise perspective.

Over the course of the week, the faculty weaved this theme through the material as we covered topics in Management Communications, Leading Organizations, Accounting, Finance, Macro Economics, Ethics, Marketing and this interesting sounding class called “Decision Analysis.”

It was clear that Darden had exemplary faculty in a range of classes. It was also increasingly clear that there was a large volume of work. Along with “leadership from an enterprise perspective”, two other phrases were repeated all week: “this is a marathon not a sprint” and “strategic renewal.” Both phrases were inextricably linked.

Even though it had been almost fifteen years since I graduated from law school, the nightmares from my first year had only recently vanished so I could see parallels to the first year at Darden. This was going to be a long slog through loads of material with a steep learning curve in the fall of year one.

What was different this time, was the need for physical stamina. I had been running and participating in triathlons for the past few years and I thought I was in pretty good shape and had good endurance. Even though I had not competed in a marathon, the analogy fit. My early morning training was going to help my endurance through the long days in residency and those to come when I was juggling work and family with school.

My training regiment was also going to benefit me in one other important way – as strategic renewal.

Strategic renewal was a concept introduced by our Management Communications professor Lili Powell. The concept was simple: Give yourself time to “recharge”. I could tell that prioritizing strategic renewal sessions was going to be critically important and easier said than done. Since I had been using triathlon training and weekly yoga dates with Jennifer as my strategic renewal from the stresses of parenting for some time, I knew the benefit. I just really hoped I could keep it up.

What I didn’t realize, was how important this strategic renewal practice was going to be so soon.

Most of the assignments the first week were completed in teams and delivered in class only if called upon or volunteered. The one exception to this was the speech we were each asked to make for Lili’s class. The speech was time limited and recorded for posterity. The class was divided up into thirds with the first half of the alphabet going first on Wednesday which meant I was one of the lucky few to lead off.

Despite a tight time period to deliver our speeches, the topic was broad. We were asked to speak about ourselves and our occupations. After considering a number of topics, I chose to speak about a very difficult time in our family. When my son was in kindergarten, he came down with swine flu and spent three days in the pediatric ICU at UVA before making a full recovery.

Even though the circumstances at the time were incredibly scary and stressful, our experiences in the hospital were top notch and reinforced my decisions to practice health care law as well as work at UVA.

I practiced the speech almost thirty times and was only able to deliver it twice without choking up. The weight of the subject and the exhaustion from the long week at Darden had set in. As I sat in my chair waiting for class to start, I was using all the deep breathing exercises I could remember from my strategic renewal activities. We took a short break before launching into the speeches. In order to take my mind off the speech, I brought my phone into the hall to mindlessly check messages.

As we were called back into the room to begin presenting, a flurry of messages came across my phone. I looked down at my phone, read the message and just closed my eyes defeated, “Dad has cancer, please call ASAP.”


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