Courage: Another Tool in the LDAC Toolbox

By Johanna Ernst

As I prepare to teach another summer of LDAC classes, I find myself seeking inspiration from women leaders who embrace the strong spirited mindset.

A leader, according to University of Houston professor Brené Brown, is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and who has the courage to develop that potential.” The word that stands out to me in this definition is “courage.” It takes courage to cultivate a strong spirit.

This summer, the LDAC (Leadership Development & Advanced Canoeing) program will be at full capacity, welcoming 18 strong spirited young women across both sessions. As usual, we will add to a “leadership toolbox” of hard skills and soft skills.

The hard skills component—taught by Lindsay Wiebold and Sammi Armacost first session, and by Grace Gardner and Mara Timmeney second session—includes whitewater training, a break-in trip, ropes course elements and cooperative games.

During the soft skills training, I will encourage the LDACs to embrace vulnerability and step outside their comfort zone. Does this take courage? You bet. But it is in this space that genuine growth occurs.

We will also explore how to cultivate a true sense of belonging within ourselves, and as leaders. Every day, girls face exclusion and isolation as a result of social media, cliques in school, and a culture that tells them: be beautiful, be skinny, be quiet.

In researching the concept of belonging, I have learned that exclusion and isolation are shame-based. In the LDAC program, we will practice turning shame-based thought patterns into gratitude-based ones. More gratitude equals more joy; more joy equals more inclusion. The ability to create and model inclusivity equals strong leaders and happy campers.

The LDACs will also learn the importance of mindfulness, a powerful tool in becoming more present and engaged. This is harder than it sounds. We will begin each class with a guided mindfulness practice. And if it sounds like I’m being too “zen,” hold on a second!

Strong leaders are present. Strong leaders know when they’ve stopped being responsive and started being reactive. Strong leaders know how to get out of their reptilian brains and into their prefrontal cortex—on demand. We will practice these strategies and briefly examine the brain science behind it all.

I always look forward to my time with the LDACs: an insightful, courageous and strong spirited cohort of young women. At the end of each summer, I am never sure who has learned more from whom.

Thank you, girls, for giving me the opportunity to help you cultivate vulnerability, courage and a sense of belonging. I’ll see you on Rainy Lake!

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Songs of the Paddle.

Ogichi, StaffBen Woods