Gillian Power (EMBA’18) has always been open to new experiences, and this has served her well at a time when paths of progression in life and career are less certain and more varied than ever before.
Originally from South Africa, Power studied holistic medicine before moving to London, where she embarked on a new career path in information technology. This winding road eventually brought her to her current role as Chief Information Officer with Lathrop GPM LLP.
At each phase of her life’s journey, Power has sought an authentic, integrated life. To sustain her work, she has established a strong foundation by cultivating a rich inner life. Power welcomes each day with a morning meditation but emphasizes that meditation isn’t the only path. “With the right intention and practice, a fulfilling life can be cultivated through activities that enrich the mind and spirit such as art, music, running, gardening, service in the soup kitchen or an infinite number of other things. Just be sure to dedicate some time to check in with yourself.”
Power explains that this foundation supports greater leadership capability. “It is akin to a tree. The stronger the roots, the more grounded you become. The taller a tree grows, the stronger the roots need to be (or it falls over) and the same is true for people. As you progress professionally and have increased responsibility, you must be equally rooted in your inner life so that you will remain resilient through the storms that come your way.”
Continuing the analogy of the tree, Power explains that “the canopy of a large tree offers shade and a habitat for other—and people expect the same from leaders. People look to leaders to be assuring, even if leaders are quite anxious. Leaders are expected to be responsive without being reactionary. Through intentional practice, you can breakdown your reactivity and develop qualities essential to leadership such as patience, compassion, judiciousness, and equanimity,” Power explains.
Another benefit to intentional practice, Power remarks, is that “it can help you become more comfortable with yourself and, in turn, helps you become more comfortable in your work. Being real with yourself enables you to be real with issues.” As a Chief Information Officer, she has observed that people often search for technology to solve issues that stem from processes or people. Engaging in difficult conversations can be intimidating and technology can seem like the easy way around addressing people or process issues, but Power cautions, “Tech may help, but it won’t solve everything. You can spend a considerable amount of money without realizing the desired gains.” When issues arise, Power draws on her practice to identify the real challenge to be solved and to help others resolve conflict and work through challenges.
Expanding on the value intentional practice has brought to her leadership perspective, Power returns again to the example of the tree, “from an external vantage point, business pursues linear growth, but that’s only true in a spreadsheet. Growth isn’t predictably linear, and we must accept that businesses have their seasons and people do too. Good roots help us survive the bad seasons and adversity that comes because we have a place to draw from for innovation, inspiration, and renewal during the setbacks.”
Despite several years of practicing with intention, Power says she still encounters moments where she finds herself “caught in deep reactivity” and wanting to change or avoid a situation. As a result of her practice, Power can better recognize how these moments are opportunities for growth, and she works on learning the lessons they impart. Power explains that “it’s important to accept everything that comes instead of labeling things as adversity and trying to push them away. Getting to the point where we can accept everything takes practice, but without it, we can become quite lost.”
In addition to cultivating a deeply rooted inner life, Power, her wife Jessica, and their two daughters started cultivating tangible roots on their newly established farm, Moonlight Prairie Farm. They brought in their first big harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables last fall and are hopeful to add a high tunnel this year to extend the growing season. Power often extolls the virtues of tractor therapy and the pure joy that comes from the struggles and rewards of working the land. She incorporates these experiences into her daily practice, accepting the lessons that each day imparts. “After all,” Power says, “with the right attitude, everything is grist for the mill.”