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ICAN: Nurturing Leadership

 

With the Institute for Career Advancement Needs 30-plus years old now and its annual Women's Leadership Conference celebrating 20 years April 3, the not-for-profit has entered the ranks of established Omaha institutions.

ICAN's footprint

ICAN's reputation as an effective leadership accelerator has led the organization to expand its coaching, mentoring and training into new geographic areas, including Denver, Colo. and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The organization's goal of developing inspired business leaders and equipping them with the tools to transform the communities they serve is carried out in many ways, including Defining Leadership programs.

ICANs biggest splash is the all-day women's conference held at the CenturyLink Center, where attendees from around the nation hear national and international thought leaders and innovators. This year's keynote speakers come from vastly different backgrounds but have in common lives and careers built around self-improvement and empowerment. Model-turned-CEO Kathy Ireland has become a design mogul, best-selling author and philanthropist. Muslim studies consultant Dalia Mogahed is a White House advisor and the author of the best selling book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Humanitarian Tererai Trent is the founder of Tinogona, which builds and repairs schools in her native rural Zimbabwe, and she's a staunch advocate for education and women's rights as empowering tools to lift people out of poverty and oppression.

More than 2,000 attendees are expected at what is one of the region's largest women's conferences. There's been a surge of partners and sponsors.

ICAN board member Katrina Becker says the conference gathers globally connected individuals representing a diversity of thought, behaviors and locations. Participants share a desire to grow and serve. ICAN president and CEO Mary Prefontaine says her organization's leadership programs invite participants "to engage with others regardless of place or space or credentials," adding, "That's a really important principle ICAN stands on. It offers an opportunity to be engaged regardless of career level. It's more about the level of curiosity and interest to evolve one's self."

Core values

ICAN's curriculum of emotional intelligence and behavioral science is the framework that guides participants on a self-reflective journey of discovery. Prefontaine says those discoveries are enhanced when participants interact with each other.

"What we're doing is allowing people to connect in the most meaningful way around the things most important to them – their values, their life's purpose, their ability to succeed in their organization or career or family or community."

The curriculum draws on the latest neuroscience and behavioral findings.

"Science has provided us more and more tools we use in our programs that help people assess their emotional intelligence and understand where they're strong and where there are opportunities for growth. Through that we create programs where graduates can step more fully into their own wisdom to impact the results for their company, for the people they lead and for their community," says ICAN board president Scott Focht.

ICAN encourages participants to share their self-inventories with their peers.

Prefontaine says, "The opportunity to have a meaningful conversation within a safe context of peers is a really unusual things for most leaders in business today."

"The curriculum really provides the structure for the dialogue to happen around the networking and the connection. The most important thing that happens is the actual dialogue," says Focht.

Why?

"Because you learn from that dialogue," says Becker. "You have to talk and dig deep on yourself but you also learn from other people talking and digging deep around themselves. There's a two-way symbiosis of learning. Our learning programs teach you how you react, what you value, what's important to you and how to become better at recognizing that in other people,

"As important as it is to learn about yourself you have to learn how to pull that out in other people. For people to grow in an organization they need to build to inspire and motivate and align people around common goals and objectives. It can't be all about you. You have to know where other people are coming from. That becomes important if you're going to take an organization to the next level because you have to help people come together to achieve those objectives."

Emotional Intelligence

The emotional intelligence ICAN teaches strives for harmony.

"The work of ICAN gets participants to look at things from the heart and head levels," Becker says.

"Emotional intelligence is where fact and emotion come together to create something that's real and truthful," says Focht. "So let's say there's an economic issue a company is facing. There are the facts surrounding that economic issue. There's also the emotions triggered by having to take some action. Well, there's this space where it's not just about the fact or the emotion, but where the two blend together beautifully, where you come up with the right direction to go that is a good balance between the two and that represents and respects both sides.

"When you're pursuing the most wise thing, the results are going to be optimized."

Focht says it's all about finding balance.

"If I say for example it's just and only exclusively about the bottom line there could be some downstream consequences that are more negative and far reaching than you had anticipated that actually could have a longer term negative effect on the bottom line if you don't pay attention to the emotional side. But if you just go with the emotion you might not be able to manage your way through the financial part of it."

Maximizing potential

Prefontaine shares a testimonial by a recent graduate that perfectly sums up for her what the organization seeks to do:

"You hold a mirror up for me to see who I truly am and who I hope to become."

She says that sentiment is not an isolated experience but expresses "really what occurs for many if not all of our participants in these programs." She adds that many graduates tell her "that without ICAN their career and life trajectory would perhaps have been much more narrow."

Focht says ICAN has proven its worth again and again.

"Thirty years ago a conversation began because a couple of community leaders really saw a need for the leadership dialogue here to shift and to change to really become something about authenticity in leadership and moving away from some older models of leadership.

"And I think the fact the conversation has lasted for so long tells us we have the right conversation going and that is – How do we as leaders show up authentically to make a contribution to impact the communities we serve? People keep showing up and participating in the conversation. It's something people clearly want to have."

Prefontaine terms ICAN's evolution and growth, especially its recent expansion of services outside Omaha and the adoption of its programs within companies, "gratifying and exciting." She fully expects the organization to continue adding value for existing and new customers.

Focht suggests the most fundamental impact ICAN will continue making is the personal and professional transformation its graduates experience.

"I've seen people transformed in terms of not only how they're showing up at work but also how they're showing up in their families and communities and in whatever groups they're serving. It makes them more effective all-around. They understand what they can bring to the table and how they can make a contribution."

For ICAN program and conference details, visit www.icanglobal.net.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.
 

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