A Leadership Testimony – Aideen

What is the difference between a Star and a Leader? A Star shines, while a Leader helps others to shine’ – Jean Hassett.

From my formative years my understanding of Leadership was the very superficial, but typical one. A leader to me was always a figure of authority leading ‘down from up there’. My father was a leader in his workplace, and the teacher in the classroom. Ours was an unconventional household, so as soon as my father came home from work, his leadership ceased and my mother, always the dominant one, took over the role from him. She planned, organised and made decisions, sometimes very successfully, for all of us including my father. This confused me even further as I resented the inequality it caused, particularly with regard to my father to whom I was very close. I was conditioned to be led. Consequently, in early adulthood I did not have the example of a definite role model to guide me towards maturity, leadership and taking responsibility for my life.

Learned attitudes can be unlearned

Suffering from an inferiority complex, with no personal value, or belief in my abilities, I accidently stumbled into a career in which, to my amazement, I was quickly promoted. My employers obviously saw some potential. One boss told me ‘Don’t sell yourself short’. That did not particularly mean a lot to someone with NIL personal value. I understood what he meant, the compliment it was, but believed that applying it to my life was impossible until GROW. They did indicate that I was good at managing and organising people and events and teamwork, and had the ability to remain calm in a very busy work environment. At least that was their assessment of me, and boy did it come as a surprise! I saw me somewhat differently. It seemed very much like they were talking about someone else. We were always given the definition: ‘management means getting things done by other people’. To do that I had to lead a team of people and get the work done. I never saw myself as a leader. I was programmed on several courses with the necessary knowledge to meet the requirements of the job, and like a machine, I went through the motions and delivered, keeping up a false front, not being my true self. Leading a meeting in GROW we have the full support of the people around us, in comparison with the situation I found myself in. I would return to work after a course, expected to implement what I had learned, with no support except my very limited initiative, notes or hand-outs to guide me. I knew no other way and it got me by. Ironically, for some of this time, I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals like a yo-yo, and instead of improving, my issues of inadequacy and maladjustment were increasing. Obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks, fears and imagined guilt had joined the never-ending list. My quest to be perfect all the time at everything was the worst maladjustment. I would keep striving for it, reinvent myself and start over, fail, become depressed as a result and end up back in hospital. I did not know that there was no such entity as the ‘Perfect Person’ until I found GROW.

The Person I am Changing is Me

Mary McCann in her Leadership Testimony said ‘I think that when we first come to GROW, Leadership is the last thing we are thinking of’. That is certainly true in my case. In the first few weeks I heard personal testimonies – stories of how others triumphed over failure. In retrospect I realize that what they were offering was leadership by example, inspiring me and giving me hope. Because of it I decided to continue going to the meetings – they gave me such hope and inspiration. If they could get well, then maybe I could too. I had very low self-esteem, and in a society where we are defined by who we are and what we do, I was surprised that they were so accepting of me – a complete stranger. It meant a lot that others believed in me. ‘Personal Value’ was the first piece I was given, and after that ‘Ordinariness’. After another few weeks I noticed that GROWers volunteered to bring the milk and biscuits each week, so I decided to volunteer. This was my first very tiny step towards leadership. I was now going the way and realising that I too had potential for leadership just by taking a simple step. Another step forward was to help with the washing-up after the meeting. This was done in another room away from the meeting. The GROWers who were helping chatted away and were very friendly. For the first time ever I was interacting with other people easily and willingly.

Always an avid reader, I was hoping to be asked to read the yellow book during the Middle routine. If truth be known, I was actually more into the Yellow book first, and then the Blue book. I could identify with so much in the Yellow book, so much of it seemed to be about me, how negatively I had thought and acted in the past, all my resistance attitudes, and bluffing too! Anyway I was not asked, I accepted they had their reasons, and overcame my disappointment. The group was quite big and I was only going to it for a few weeks, so I suppose they were just showing caring towards the newcomer, – a form of leadership for them. Helping with Problem Solving I found difficult until I became more familiar with the Program. I had been so messed up for years and was now finding myself. I was terrified at the Testing of Knowledge, even though I would have learned a piece of the Program, and was hoping I would not be asked. I was usually a nervous wreck until it was over! I was also afraid to suggest a solution, – another form of leadership, but that improved, as my personal value improved. I had been afraid I might upset anyone by what I would say, afraid of the reaction I would get. I felt challenged, and started to believe in myself when others believed in me. Loved the idea of a challenge and still do. I was in a group with strong leadership – they didn’t let you off lightly. I started to become genuinely interested in other people, in what they had to say, and caring about them. I was okay with newcomers because I encountered strangers in my work, and after all they were only strangers. There was safety in the knowledge at the time that they were not aware of my inadequacies. I did not come from a tactile background, so froze when Growers hugged me, but I got in on it after a while, got to like it, and now I hug everyone, because I want to! I had lived for many years in a world of my own with my problems, and gradually I was embraced by the spirit of the caring and sharing community I had joined. Nowhere else in today’s society except in GROW would I get the same unconditional love, affirmation and credit for progress, because that is how I first came to develop my own leadership. I made a lot of changes, and as my meeting was on a Monday night, I was busy all week trying to accomplish my task. I was being shown the way, learning to use the Program and putting it into practice in my life, and also discovering the different kinds of leadership at work in a GROW group.

Friendship is the Key to Mental Health

My next exercise in Leadership was to do Twelfth Step work. I took the task of phoning someone I did not know so well in the group, and succeeded. I experienced the true spirit of community by taking part in social outings etc., made friends with many GROWers. I am still in contact with most of them, but sadly some have since died. The weeks turned to months and approximately one year later, I went to my first Leader’s meeting. I was learning how to use my own personal resources, finding my way on the journey toward Truth, Character and Friendship, and getting a clearer idea of GROW’s idea of Leadership. Having an understanding of one kind of leader from my work, it was interesting to find that in GROW anyone can be a leader, not just Organisers, Recorders or Fieldworkers. Leaders in GROW are not the people “up there” telling the rest of us “down here” what to do.

We must never become so much a leader that we cease to be a companion

Leading my first meeting was not quite as daunting for me, as I would have had some experience of chairing meetings, and attending meetings where problems were shared, in my workplace. My main worry at the first meeting I led was that I would not have sufficient time to get around to everyone at Group Interaction, but the caring and support shown me helped me relax and I got through it. As my personal value improved, I found I was able to affirm others in the group when they were making progress, ‘Seeing the person rather than the problem’. In my work meetings there was usually a set agenda format, so I adapted easily to the Group Method. I began to recognise the different types of leadership in a GROW meeting. As time went on I took the role of P.R. on the Regional team, gave my Personal Testimony on local radio, and to the Southern Health Board, spoke at a GROW seminar in Australia, helped out on flagdays, and gave talks with our fieldworker in hospitals and places interested in starting groups. I was actively participating in GROW leadership.

On a personal level, Leadership has helped me in many ways. It has helped me to get to know ME, to change many things about myself that needed changing. I have Personal Value, and developed confidence. I know what it is to be ordinary, and through work on the Program have overcome my negative thinking and feelings. The negative person I was now seems so distant, I have taken on a positive identity, aiming to value the good and positive in life. I have accepted that ‘However I came to be sick, it is my responsibility to get well’, – I am staying well and taking responsibility for myself and my life. I went back to college as a mature student and successfully completed Diplomas in Social studies, Community Development and Counselling, and a computer course, and took on a complete change of career. I had always been afraid to take up this challenge, lacking the courage to make the necessary change, even though I believed from voluntary work I did, that I would be more effective working in a caring profession. I had fears about a lot of ordinary, everyday things which I have overcome. I still have a problem with heights, but continue to work on it. I am no longer out of touch with reality and am taking my ‘responsible and caring place in society’.

A few months after I started as Fieldworker, I was asked to give my Personal Testimony at a Training day in the North-West region. Singing a song at a GROW weekend would have been unthinkable for me a few years ago, but I did it last year in Limerick and again in Kerdiffstown. I really enjoyed every week of the Fieldwork Training, and missed it when I finished. The affirmation and ongoing support of colleagues whether I am happy or sad is very special to me. People sometimes remark, “you must feel very isolated working alone”, but they don’t know GROW! I attend a group for my own needs, and strive to lead by example activating the GROW Program in all aspects of my life, both personal and work. Working on my own needs, I think my confidence and listening skills have improved. I am more patient now, as my previous career was in a very busy environment where people were always rushing around. I have a more relaxed approach to life as I was always worrying and anxious. Other Growers have helped me look at areas within myself I need to work on. Friendship and Leadership go together. I find that I care more about people because I had been so inward-looking in the past, and this is apparent to me visiting groups when Growers share their problems. ‘I have grown out of maladjustment, and have become concerned for and helping others’. I have really got to like people, even though I was working with people previously, but unfortunately then it was in a very superficial environment.

The most difficult challenge I have had to face as a leader in GROW was when I had to ask a person to leave a group. I knew it was necessary for the benefit of the group. The group Organiser supported me on it, but I was still both emotionally and physically drained afterwards. Another area I continue to work on is setting and maintaining boundaries in my work, particularly with regard to time management. Leadership example is not just in the group meetings, but in maintaining a balance between work and personal life. In my first year as a fieldworker I learned that you cannot work without some boundaries. A workaholic is no example of GROW leadership. It is the right and healthy thing for me, but I find it difficult at times, so at the moment I am trying to prioritise work, turn off the mobile at mealtimes, and reclaim the weekends to spend time with my family, and my little dog. I am a member of Amnesty International and the Galway Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, both are great interests for my leisure time. Other current challenges to my leadership would be to mind my health, exercise more, and enjoy getting older.

Galway has it’s own Leader’s meeting since August 2003 and there is a good regular attendance. Growers are getting to learn about Leadership and are hungry for more, as each meeting deepens their understanding of the GROW Program. Two have completed the Personal Growth through Leadership course, and six are doing it this year. In my role as a fieldworker I believe it is very important to be aware that we are responsible for recognising the potential for, and encouraging the development of leadership in our groups. I continue to try and inspire leadership in others, in the groups, at Leader’s meetings, and by my own example as a GROWer and a fieldworker living the GROW Program.

‘A Leader takes people where they want to go.
A Great Leader takes people where they
don’t necessarily want to go, But ought to be.’
(Rosalynn Carter: wife of US President Jimmy Carter)