Finding Balance in the Yin and Yang of Leadership

Day 1 of the annual Schlegel Villages leadership retreat

The annual Schlegel Villages Leadership retreat begins on the morning of April 27 with nearly 250 people from across the organization calmed into a meditative state. The topic, if it can distilled, is balance, as keynote speakers Nancy Fox and Jeff Jerebker share their insights into the “Yin and Yang of Leadership.” They bring their perspectives as key players in the movement to change the way seniors care providers work in our society, Jeff as an original pioneer of the psycho/social model of care and Nancy as a former Eden Alternative director and the current Chief Innovation Officer with Vivage Senior Living on Colorado.

Nancy and Jeff urge the audience to consider the notion that there is no separation between Yin and Yang, just as there is no separation between the people in the room or the teams and the residents they serve in the villages: everyone and everything is connected.

Jeff asks people to consider the transformative experiences that steered them down the path towards leadership. In his own story, he describes a sociology professor in the late-1960s who challenged students to think critically about every aspect of every ism that exists in the world. He systematically deconstructed capitalism, communism, Marxism and so many more, and in doing so, this influential professor emptied Jeff and many other students of their long-held, often cherished beliefs.

Nancy Fox and Jeff Jerebker keynotes
Keynote speakers Nancy Fox and Jeff
Jerebker at Annual Leadership Retreat.

Some may have viewed this with desolation, but Jeff found opportunity in the clean slate. Jeff’s life changed at that point and the professor became his advisor. To be filled with wisdom, he was taught, one must learn the value of humility and be open to every new idea.

“Leadership,” surmised Nancy reflecting on Jeff’s story, “means you have to let go of who you are to become who you could be.”

Throughout their presentation, Jeff and Nancy displayed the balance they described. The each shared personal stories while the other described how each reflection might pertain to the world of seniors living.

They spoke of the balance between such concepts as accountability and caring, the head and the heart, empowerment and control, ego and suspension; in each subject they circled back to how people easily misunderstand the conflict that can exist between each countering concept when considering leadership. They fail to see the unity that can be found in such conflict – the Yin within the Yang, so to speak, and vice versa.

The great irony of leadership, as Nancy suggested, is that the very thing that got you there, the ego, is the very thing you have to suspend in order to find success. Control is a myth, yet when a team is truly empowered they still must have the guidance of leadership.

“Leadership,” Nancy says, “is not about trying to change other people, it’s about changing yourself so that others are free to change.”

For more than an hour, Nancy and Jeff deftly drill philosophical and sociological balance into the room, providing each person with new tools to critically consider leadership in their own context.

They finish with the mesmerizing voice of Leonard Cohen, wrapping up a Zen-like discussion on the critical balance that is required of everyone to become the finest of leaders.

“Please make me empty,” wrote Cohen in his 1966 novel, Beautiful Losers, “if I'm empty then I can receive, if I can receive it means it comes from somewhere outside of me, if it comes from outside of me I'm not alone.”

Like the professor who offered him a fresh perspective 50 years ago, Jeff and his friend Nancy swept over the audience on Day 1, setting the stage for two days of education and conversation that will not only preserve but also enhance the culture at Schlegel Villages, ideally in perfect balance.