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October 29, 2012

Why Leaders Should Take A Retreat

Leaders are in a position not only of great responsibility but also of great stress. Nothing can be more stressful than being in a leadership role. Leaders face many challenges every day, some of which are invisible to the others and are only explicit to the leaders themselves. Challenges can come from within, e.g. a struggle or conflict between personal core-values and the differing values of others and the world. Challenges can come from outside as well, such as the weight of the work, the lack of appreciation of others and even public criticism. Leaders run on motivation and passion but they don't function in a vacuum. Most often than not, leaders can experience burn outs, even frustrations and waning of passion and motivation.

It is important that leaders must find time to take care of themselves, to "step out of the office" and renew the passions and internal drive. If one is hungry, one goes to find food. If one is thirsty, one goes to find a drink. If one is tired and sleepy, one goes to bed and rest. Leaders should also find time to address the hunger and thirst and weariness of their spirit, the hunger and thirst and weariness of their passions.

Last week, I was given the task to run a leadership "spiritual" retreat with the mayors and municipal health officers of Cohort 2 of the Zuellig Family Foundation. It was in a sense in preparation for their "graduation", also referred to by ZFF as their Colloquium. Weeks before the retreat, the team that I was working with had to undergo drafts and drafts of the retreat designs. While I was writing the drafts of the retreat design, I could not help but recall the years when I was still a Campus Peer Minister in High School and we would run retreat and recollections for high school students. Going through every session and running it on my mind, I couldn't help but think that I too needed a retreat.

During the retreat, I told the "retreatants" that there would be two symbols or images that we would be constantly using in the next two days: the symbol of the circle, since the retreatants will be seated in a circle as a sign of equality and fraternity, and the symbol of the bell, also referred to as "Voice of God", since the retreatants will be called to assemble in the place by the sound of the bell.

It was an emotional and spiritual retreat for the retreatants. Fr. Karel San Juan of the Ateneo De Manila University clarified to the group the difference between "spiritual" retreat and "religious" retreat. Professor Ernesto Garilao, President of the ZFF, explained to the group why they were having the retreat.

The first day of the retreat was, as in the words of Prof. Garilao, a "balik-tanaw" (recollection) and a "balik-loob" (self-reflection)experience. Leaders were asked to remember their leadership journey, every high and every low, and learn the values and principles that were affirmed throughout their leadership journey. They were asked to share it with fellow retreatants. They were also asked to revisit the moments when they were not able to put into action a decision that they made and the challenges that hindered them or made them hesitate. The day was ended with a recollection of their mentors and role models who helped them transform as leaders.

The second day of the retreat was more of discernment. The day began with a reflection on Limitations and Possibilities, using the story of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. For some retreatants, it was an emotional moment especially when we played the prayer song which was actually my inspiration when designing this morning reflection.

They were then made to remember their challenges in the past and in the present. The afternoon was spent writing their Mission Statement and for many retreatants this exercise was the most liked session throughout the retreat. The late afternoon was spent with former Negros Occidental Governor Lito Coscolluela sharing his own leadership journey and his leadership challenges.

The retreat was closed with the famous prayer of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero and while I was playing the last two prayer songs (Yahweh I Know You Are Near and Here I am Lord), I could see many of the lady participants crying.

Retreats are important. In a fast-moving world, leaders must know when to pause and reflect and collect themselves. Recollection is more than just remembering or recalling. Recollection also means re-collect, to gather that which was scattered. Leadership requires the giving of one's self, piece by piece, to those that we serve and in the process of giving, we sometimes find ourselves empty and consumed. We cannot give what we do not have. Thus, it is time to "collect" that which we usually give so we can give it again.

Retreats, as explained by Fr. Karel, also mean to re-"treat", to take care of one's self. Leaders don't run on batteries. Even that, batteries need to be recharged from time to time. It is a perfect opportunity to be separated from the noisy world and just find time to think and examine one's life and actions and emerge with new insights and refilled passions and motivations.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have run (after a long time) a retreat for leaders. It is a first for me to run a retreat for adults, not to mention grown ups in leadership and powerful positions. I do hope that the seeds we plant shall be nurtured by each retreatant and shall be harvested by their constituents.

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