#90 – Aspen Institute Reflections
Written by Greg Schermbeck, Founder & Principal
“If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
I first heard about the Aspen Institute opportunity through an email from the Teach For America North Carolina (TFA NC) office. A strategic partnership between the Aspen Institute and TFA NC was formed due to a generous donation from a funder. This partnership allows select TFA NC alums to have access to the Aspen Institute’s leadership seminars, resources, and community. I completed a quick application and received the good news a few weeks later. Aspen – here we come.
- The seminar focused on leadership, values, and the good society. As such, we were sent a wide-ranging list of readings to complete before arriving to fully engage in the discussions. The readings ranged from Plato to Bell Hooks and spanned over 400+ pages. Shout out to ChatGPT for some support.
- Most of our days began with a block of four-hour seminars. We reviewed the prescribed readings and explored their meanings and reflections on our current reality. Further, these discussions allowed me to learn more from each of my cohort members, their perspectives, and how these readings aligned with their leadership journeys.
- The readings and discussions provided a helpful decision-making framework for me as a leader at SchermCo and for everyday life. Many of the readings, aligning with the seminar’s scope, laid out the nuances of leadership decisions and actions that could be grouped under one of the following pillars: Liberty, Efficiency, Community, and Equality. We know leadership decisions are rarely binary, and often moments can be fluid with several variables to consider at any given time, yet; the scenarios and discussions were helpful exercises that I’ll carry with me in future situations.
- Once the daily seminars concluded, the afternoons were mostly spent exploring Aspen, hiking Maroon Bells (BEAUTIFUL), having dinner at a local nature reserve, and much more. I was grateful for these moments to further connect with my cohort members and take advantage of all Aspen offers.
- Our cohort comprised 19 leaders from across the country representing several industries: Healthcare, Business, Military, and Education. Each human brought a unique and diverse perspective to the seminar and discussions. Further, I appreciated their willingness to share reflections from their leadership journeys and push my thinking.
- I spend most of my time in city limits, but the nature and scenery in Aspen are unreal. I don’t have the proper words to describe the picturesque mountains, the fresh air, or the unbothered deer. Something about taking the time to be in nature allowed me to clear my head and contemplate on a deep level. I’m committing to creating more daily space to make this a habit.
- The experience gave me tools to analyze my leadership decisions and the decisions we make as an organization.
- Are we making this decision to benefit ourselves or the community?
- Is this decision being made in the name of equality or efficiency?
- Are we doing enough?
- The readings and the seminar experience will allow me to reflect on these questions and utilize the frameworks to make better decisions moving forward.
- One of the most impactful readings from this experience was Letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve previously read the piece, but revisiting it during this moment brought on a different level of meaning. I’d encourage everyone to visit/review the piece as it illuminates several key points related to the fight for racial equity. For me, the section on White Moderates resonated the most. As a white man often working in the social impact and education spaces, I’m constantly working to ensure I’m going enough to work towards racial equity. As a business owner, leader, and human, I feel obligated to provide the systems, practices, and habits in place to operate an equitable organization and advocate for the equitable society we and our clients hope to achieve. This reading served as a helpful reminder to avoid the perils of the White Moderate. As Dr. King states in this piece, racial equity isn’t just good for the Black community; it’s good for all communities.
I’m grateful to the Teach For America North Carolina team (extra thanks to the generous donor that made this partnership possible), the Aspen Institute, and my cohort for the experience.
I’m also grateful to the entire SchermCo team for stepping up and supporting our clients and partners while I was away.
I’m returning more clear, more calm, and hopefully a better leader.
More to do. More to come®
- Send me any thoughts or questions. I’d love to know your reaction to the post and answer any questions you have about my experience in Aspen.
- Read your emails and stay connected to your community/networks. You don’t want to miss these opportunities.