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Class Notes: Outside the “Bubble”: What Does It Take to Sustain LDS as a Work-Style Change?
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Katherine Darke Schmitt and Jon Gatti (LDS 436)

Everything about Leadership for a Democratic Society is geared toward creating change: the month-long immersion at the FEI campus, the rigorous schedule, the focus on the whole person, the self-reflection through a variety of assessments and tools, and the dynamic curriculum. It is a heady experience intended to hone your focus on opportunities for growth and change without the usual distractions. What can you do to sustain that personal growth trajectory after leaving the FEI “bubble”? Like LDS itself, it requires discipline to maintain focus on looking for transformative opportunities and chances to act on the edge of your authority, and to “make no small plans.” Following is one road map for this, based on our postgraduation year.

The first step was crafting how we showed up at work. At FEI, we used the 360 assessment, the 
Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and associated peer coaching to explore how we present ourselves and are received by others. By the end of Week 4, we identified changes we wanted to make. For Jon, this centered on active listening, employing WAIT (“Why Am I Talking?”), and being fully present. Katherine focused on taking a more active, forward-leaning approach in her interactions with people and assuming a less risk-averse posture. These little changes have yielded meaningful results for us.

The second step was to cultivate new habits to strengthen our leadership posture. Jon adopted meditation, journaling, and daily walking after a compelling experience in “Leading North of Zero” during Week 2. Katherine adopted a practice of reading more about leadership. Both of us have embraced the practice of writing gratitude notes. Each time we revisit one of these new, post-LDS habits, we are reminded of how powerful the FEI experience was and recommit ourselves to finding the energy to keep working on the bigger picture.

The third step has been the most rewarding and the most time consuming—our commitment to an ongoing peer coaching relationship. We’ve both had professional coaches, including the post-FEI sessions offered to recent graduates, which were a key part of the LDS experience. But being coached by a fellow LDS alum is different. We share the same vocabulary. We have the same foundational knowledge of leadership and change, thanks to our shared course work. We have the same campus experiences to look back on for inspiration. We covered a lot of territory with our LDS peers—our ambitions for change, plans for growth, our “stretch” goals—and we are determined to leverage that to continue leaning forward with the work.

LDS was a complex, strategically layered set of peak experiences intended to bring about change. It was crafted to be the foundation, a jumping-off point, for professional and personal growth to follow. Through routinized, purposeful application, we can sustain and grow that energy for change for years after graduation.

Things we wonder about …

  • What’s in your FEI journal about what changes you planned to make? Which changes did you make? Which changes have you not made? Why?
  • Do you have the necessary accountability structure around you to make changes?
  • Do you have a learning community in place to foster continued learning? What were your steps for sustaining LDS as a work-style change?
About the Authors
Katherine Darke Schmitt is associate director in the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice. She was a member of LDS 436 in August 2017. She has 20 years of Federal service. Since FEI Darke Schmitt has become an avid reader of the literature on effective leadership, which she endeavors to practice in her “day job” and in the fitness studios where she teaches at night.
Jon Gatti joined the Senior Executive Service as the deputy chief financial officer of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation in fall 2016. He served at FHWA in a number of roles prior to his SES appointment and has also worked in the private sector. He was a member of LDS 436 in August 2017. Gatti is pleased to find, through leadership studies, an outlet for his natural curiosity about what makes things and people work.

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