Emerging Leaders: A program I didn’t even know I needed

Jesse Bassett
Jesse Bassett (center), with Program Leader Margaret Crotty (L) and AlumniCorps Board President Kef Kasdin (R).

Jesse Bassett is the Director of Education & Learning at Good Grief, a nonprofit organization in Princeton, NJ that provides free peer support programs, education, and advocacy to grieving children, teens, young adults, and their families after the death of a parent or sibling. He was a member of the Emerging Leaders 2016-17 cohort in NYC. Jesse spoke at the closing celebration on February 23, 2017. An excerpt of his reflection follows.

This past week I completed the final session and graduated from the Emerging Leaders program, capping off a journey that started over a year ago when I frantically submitted the application just prior to the deadline. I am one of sixteen graduates in the New York cohort, and all of us came into the program for a variety of reasons. I would like to say that self-drive and motivation is what prompted me to join. The honest answer is that my boss told me he wanted me to apply. I remember feeling only slightly excited at the prospect of joining. To be clear, my lack of enthusiasm didn’t stem from inflated self-confidence. In retrospect, I realize that I didn’t know I needed a program like this to be an effective leader, and I had a hard time imagining fitting this into an already busy work schedule. Yet, in spite of myself and thanks to the support and encouragement of my organization, I committed myself to eight sessions over nine months.

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When I reflect on the past nine months in Emerging Leaders, the primary response is gratitude for the privilege of participating in a program I didn’t even know I needed.

There are many ways the program will have a lasting impact on me, but perhaps the most significant is self-awareness. We did a lot of work to identify the ways personality, emotional intelligence, habits, and biases impact leadership. I was given direction and encouraged to explore my strengths and growing edges, which ultimately put me in a position to understand how to leverage this knowledge into being a more effective leader. Within the first 6 months of the program, and as a direct result of this self-reflective work, I was moved into a new position in my organization that more fully aligns with my strengths. I had no idea nine months ago that was even a possibility.

I could continue to share all the ways that Emerging Leaders has benefited me in terms of self-awareness, managing others, team dynamics, public speaking, leadership styles, board management, financial management, and on and on ad infinitum. Boiled down to one theme, Emerging Leaders taught me how to leverage all of myself to be a more conscious, effective leader. I was pushed to evolve, ask challenging questions, and identify concrete areas for change and growth. Like the kind of friends who knows you better than you know yourself, Emerging Leaders spoke truth into the ways that I was functioning ineffectively. It was a nine-month-long look into the mirror to discover all the obstacles (big and small) blocking my success.

So, a year has gone by, and I now get to refer to myself as a fully “emerged” leader. I learned more than I knew I needed, and was exposed to new concepts and strategies that I now use daily. A year ago I didn’t know I needed this program, and now I can’t imagine life without it. The organization I work for, Good Grief, is a children’s bereavement center. As an organization that does a lot of work with children, we love Mister Rogers and quote him often. He once said, “The greatest gift you can give is your honest self.” A year ago I didn’t know how to be my honest self as a leader. For me, graduation this past week doesn’t represent arrival at a destination, but rather the next chapter of a journey in continuing to discover how to be the most authentic and honest version of myself in all areas of my life. I cannot thank everyone enough at Princeton AlumniCorps, our incredible facilitator, Yael Sivi, and my fifteen peers for all they have done for me.

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