Friday, February 27, 2015

Requiem for the Focus Leadership Institute

I was over it.

I've been gone from there for a year and a half. And I was fine. Until I saw the comments on the FLI Facebook page under the announcement that the program is closing today. So now I'm grieving again.

Twenty years. More than 3000 students. Lives transformed. I was one of them.

When Institute founder Dr. Ken Ogden was dying last November, I wrote to him that I count it one of the great privileges of my life that I got to be associated with the Institute. I think I will always count it so, no matter what else God allows me to experience. It was that extraordinary.

When a good friend dies, you remember the ways you are different for having known that person. And so, appropriately...

Because of FLI

I was changed by love. 

My introduction to the Institute (aka Institute for Family Studies, aka Focus on the Family Institute, aka Focus Leadership Institute :)) came in the summer of 1999 when I attended as a student. In the middle of that semester, I flew to Chicago to stand up in the wedding of some wonderful friends from college. It was the strangest experience. 

I had only been at the Institute for 4 weeks, but—being back with the people who had been my life for the past 4 years—I could tell something was different. I was different. My only explanation was that I had, in just that short time, been loved with a special quality of love by classmates, faculty and staff. The effect only multiplied during my 11 years on staff, from 2002 to 2013. As so many others have said, the relationships are the most important thing I will take with me. 

I was rooted professionally. 

After being deftly launched by awesome editors at Plugged In (my first job out of college), I spent most of the formative years of my career at the Institute—from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties. Whatever I was going to learn that would shape the rest of my career was going to happen then. I'm so glad for the rich variety of experiences I was afforded, and I feel very, umm..., shapely.

I came to FLI in an entry-level residence life position and left with experience in event planning, crisis management, digital marketing, budget management, teaching, curriculum writing, strategic planning, and web content strategy.

I am NOT saying that I am an expert in all these things. Good Lord, I learned some of them through the train-wreck teaching method. And while they don't fit neatly on a resume, they sure give me a lot of tools in my box to take wherever I go.

Foremost in the list of things that shaped me were the Strengths concepts we used with both students and staff and the wealth of professional connections I gained—especially while supervising the internship program my last three years on staff.

I learned the value of whole-person leadership.

I got to meet more than 2000 of the 3200 students who passed through FLI. Observing them, I was convinced of this: the greatest leadership need in our world today is for leaders who live integrated lives. Those with a big heart, deep passion and humble faith. Who think critically and ask hard questions. Who understand what they're good at—and what they're not good at. Who are comfortable in their skin and represent themselves authentically. Who are willing to take risks and give themselves away serving those they lead. We don't just need managers. We need leaders. In every sphere.

At FLI I got to work with and under some of those leaders. And it was an honor to walk with students who were seeking that kind of whole-person growth. By God's grace, I'm closer to whole for having done so.

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