By Janice Fry, Class XIX


I was recently out to dinner with friends on a lovely warm, summer evening. The sun was just setting and the vivid sounds of a typical day were becoming more subdued. We were all glad to be there spending an evening together, enjoying each other’s’ company and catching up. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to our current political environment and it quickly became an animated, running commentary on various leaders who are very much in the public eye. At times it was a series of sequential monologues and at other times a verbal wrestling match. There were many and varied opinions expressed about which leaders were doing a good job and why and which were not and why.  Some opinions were expressed calmly and some not so calmly. After all, it is so easy to judge when sitting just outside of that very hot spotlight of the public eye. We filled the rest of the evening with our commentary.

Over the next couple of days I found myself reflecting on the conversation we had over dinner. I realized that I was one of the people at the table whose opinions were not always expressed so calmly or respectfully. We discussed several topics that I feel SO strongly about and I found myself feeling intolerant of some of the opinions being expressed, talking over others at times and simply “shutting down” in frustration at others.

With my emotions still running high and still feeling some frustration, I decided to talk things over with a friend. She asked great questions and helped me clarify why I was not feeling good about that evening. In short, she “walked the talk” of some of the core principles of the ALF approach – she engaged in active listening, she asked great questions to understand more fully even when she didn’t agree with me, she engaged in real dialogue, she was leaderful yet left room for me. I walked away from that talk thanking her for reminding me of the kind of leader I want to be.

As it turns out, walking the ALF talk is easy when the topic is safe, or neutral. It is so much harder when the stakes are high or convictions are strong and deep. And whether we like it or not, all leaders are “in the public eye” to some extent. We are being watched – by our colleagues, our families and kids, those we lead, those we coach, and those we don’t know and who do not know us.  What do they see?  Do ALF leaders look any different?  Can others see the ALF values in the way we lead, the way we talk, the way we act?

By reflecting on that evening of conversation over dinner, I am now very clear about two things.  First, I do believe in the ALF approach involving actively listening, being a champion of dialogue, being leaderful. And second, especially when a topic is heated or one where I have deep passion and conviction, I will hold up a mirror and ask “do others see any ALF in my approach? am I walking the ALF talk?”.

It seems to me that especially now, when so many conversations have the potential for being so emotionally charged, walking the ALF talk is one small thing each of us can do to try to understand each other a little better, to move just a little bit closer to finding common ground and potentially attending to the common good.  It is one small thing that can make a BIG difference, just walking the ALF talk…are you?