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Celebrating 10 Years of NEAL: In Conversation with Ernie Lam, NEAL Alumni

We had the opportunity to speak with Ernie Lam, NEAL alumni from the 2015/2016 cohort, active contributor to the CFD and NEAL program as a selection committee member, and this year as a Coach.
 
Q:  We are so thrilled to see you join this year as a Coach within the NEAL program.  What have you valued the most in your connection to the CFD through the NEAL program?
 
I think the thing I value the most is the feeling of being worthy enough to still be included in the conversation, be it as a member of the selection committee or as a coach!
 
Q:  In 2016, you completed the NEAL program.  NEAL celebrates its 10th year.  What do you think you are doing as a leader currently that you feel NEAL helped shape? What about NEAL made a difference for you?
 
I would say that there are two things I do as a leader that I would not have been able to do without my NEAL experience.  First, NEAL shaped my approach to having the “difficult conversation”.  For better or worse, I feel as if I have had a lot of these…  In these conversations, I have learned to take the time to understand how we have arrived at the conversation by asking questions to understand context.  Sometimes I feel I offer a bit of coaching as a way of moving the conversation forward, but I suppose I try hard to balance the impact of the conversation with my intent.  And I am always guided by a set of values that emphasizes fairness and equity.  By embracing this style, I think I have been able to make it through some very difficult conversations!
 
Second, NEAL has taught me the importance of developing a network.  For an introvert, this has not come naturally, so I have definitely had to work at it!  Over the last number of years, through a series of personal and professional interactions, I have grown my network, and this has allowed me to engage others in a variety of conversations that I may never have had.  Sometimes, conversations within my network have resulted in new ideas.  Some conversations have resulted in offerings of comfort or advice, and some even tangible assistance.  One thing is, however, for certain, and that is my network has given me a broader perspective, which has been invaluable.  So network, network, network!
 
Q: Is there anything that you learned from NEAL that you only understand now, several years later?
 
I think now more than ever, I have learned that leadership is a journey.  And a journey that is filled with lots of twists and unexpected turns.  When I was in NEAL, I guess I was naïve enough to think that the program was a means to an end; to get me to a final stop.  What I have realized in the years since, is that leadership is about the path and the experiences you collect along the way.  For me, leadership didn’t take me to the place I thought I was headed.  It has, however, taken me on a ride to some interesting places I had not expected to go, and those places have allowed me to grow and mature in a way I maybe hadn’t anticipated.
 
Q: You continue to give back to the CFD and the NEAL program as a valued selection committee member, and more recently as a coach.  Thank you!  What do you anticipate learning about your own leadership by coaching others?
 
I am flattered for having been asked to be a coach; even a novice coach!  I appreciate there are many styles of leadership, so by coaching, I am hoping to gain some additional insights about how leaders, including young leaders, lead and the questions they ask along the way.  Although I understand that some leadership styles may not work universally for everyone, I wonder if there are some that are more universally applicable than others.  And if this is the case, could I potentially adapt some of these to my own style to become a more effective leader?  So from a purely selfish standpoint, I imagine growing my own leadership a bit more through these experiences by gaining insight from new leaders as well as those who are more seasoned!
 
Q: What might you share with someone contemplating enrolling in the NEAL program for next year?
 
I would say that NEAL is a great first step along the leadership journey.  The knowledge you may learn, and the skills and abilities you may develop may form the basis for an evolving leadership tool chest.  Certainly, you won’t learn everything you need to know, but NEAL is a great jumping off point!


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