“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu ~
My journey in authentic leadership began after I left Rudi’s Organic Bakery on June 4th 2002. It had been a rough three years and I was excited to move on. After 25 years, I was exhausted and a bit relieved. There was much to be proud of — building a wonderful, strong brand, creating a trusting culture and literally feeding and nourishing countless customers and staff. And yet I felt a sense of disappointment and some fear. A realization that we as a company didn’t scale well. Yes, our growth was slow, sure and profitable. With our growing brand we began to attract opportunities. But we were not ready for what that meant. Our eyes grew quicker and larger than our stomachs’ ability to digest the meal.
Over the next six months, I rested and healed, at least physically. Emotionally and psychologically? That was another story. Where was I headed and what might I want to do? There I was, adrift on the sea with no safe harbor. I was grappling with why I didn’t learn what I needed to learn when I needed to learn it. There was a lack of knowledge and experience, and a feeling of shame for being too comfortable, too lazy. And yet something was beginning to emerge ever so slightly. A curiosity.
Then I met Susan Skjei at a teahouse. She and some of her colleagues had recently created the Authentic Leadership program. What was that? In the past, I’d been curious and had studied leadership as I had always been in leadership positions from early on, including being class president in the 1st and 2nd grades. But what was Authentic Leadership? My interest and curiosity were piqued…
So, in January 2003 I went back to school. A new notebook and pens were bought. There were 35 strangers in the room and a few instructors. We started with a “check- in”, not just my name and a short bio, but what truly brought me there. Diving deep from the very beginning. We proceeded to talk about trust, conversations that matter, learning organizations, defensive routines, self-awareness, transformation, what truly brings results in a values-based organization. Though I resonated with a lot of this material, I still didn’t know what it had to do with leadership.
As I moved through this 16-week deep dive of lectures, readings, coaching (powerful), online chats, meditation and embodiment, it was the quality of the people and faculty I met that made the difference. I was connecting to a deeper sense of my work journey, my way of being, and my style of leadership. Authentic Leadership soon defined itself as the courage to be self-aware, to engage with others in a credible trusting manner and to be wise and effective in my actions, hopefully yielding good results. Being my best “me” and always learning. Lofty, doable — and difficult. My earlier questions surrounding my experience at Rudi’ s Organic Bakery were beginning to be answered. My passion for people, organizations and their stories emerged. Seeking meaning and making a difference became clearer.
My journey has only just begun.
Sheldon Romer is the co-founder and former CEO of Rudi’s Organic Bakery, who led the company to become the leading and largest organic bread baker in the United States. Sheldon is currently a consultant and certified professional coach who works with some of the country’s most respected companies and nonprofits in leadership development and strategic planning.
Authentic Leadership for Naturals
June 27-28, 2019 | Boulder, CO
Drawing on principles and practices from ancient wisdom as well as contemporary approaches to leadership and organizational learning, we create a collaborative learning lab that fosters deep personal insights, enhances interpersonal skills, and increases overall leadership effectiveness.
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