With the Institute for Career Advancement Needs 30-plus years old now and its annual Women’s Leadership Conference celebrating 20 years April 3, the not-for-profit has entered the ranks of established Omaha institutions.
ICAN’s reputation as an effective leadership accelerator has led the organization to expand its coaching, mentoring and training into new geographic areas, including Denver, Colo. and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The organization’s goal of developing inspired business leaders and equipping them with the tools to transform the communities they serve is carried out in many ways, including Defining Leadership programs.
ICANs biggest splash is the all-day women’s conference held at the CenturyLink Center, where attendees from around the nation hear national and international thought leaders and innovators. This year’s keynote speakers come from vastly different backgrounds but have in common lives and careers built around self-improvement and empowerment. Model-turned-CEO Kathy Ireland has become a design mogul, best-selling author and philanthropist. Muslim studies consultant Dalia Mogahed is a White House advisor and the author of the best selling book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Humanitarian Tererai Trent is the founder of Tinogona, which builds and repairs schools in her native rural Zimbabwe, and she’s a staunch advocate for education and women’s rights as empowering tools to lift people out of poverty and oppression.
More than 2,000 attendees are expected at what is one of the region’s largest women’s conferences. There’s been a surge of partners and sponsors.
ICAN board member Katrina Becker says the conference gathers globally connected individuals representing a diversity of thought, behaviors and locations. Participants share a desire to grow and serve. ICAN president and CEO Mary Prefontaine says her organization’s leadership programs invite participants “to engage with others regardless of place or space or credentials,” adding, “That’s a really important principle ICAN stands on. It offers an opportunity to be engaged regardless of career level. It’s more about the level of curiosity and interest to evolve one’s self.”
ICAN’s curriculum of emotional intelligence and behavioral science is the framework that guides participants on a self-reflective journey of discovery. Prefontaine says those discoveries are enhanced when participants interact with each other.
“What we’re doing is allowing people to connect in the most meaningful way around the things most important to them – their values, their life’s purpose, their ability to succeed in their organization or career or family or community.”
The curriculum draws on the latest neuroscience and behavioral findings.
“Science has provided us more and more tools we use in our programs that help people assess their emotional intelligence and understand where they’re strong and where there are opportunities for growth. Through that we create programs where graduates can step more fully into their own wisdom to impact the results for their company, for the people they lead and for their community,” says ICAN board president Scott Focht.
ICAN encourages participants to share their self-inventories with their peers.
Prefontaine says, “The opportunity to have a meaningful conversation within a safe context of peers is a really unusual things for most leaders in business today.”
“The curriculum really provides the structure for the dialogue to happen around the networking and the connection. The most important thing that happens is the actual dialogue,” says Focht.
“Because you learn from that dialogue,” says Becker. “You have to talk and dig deep on yourself but you also learn from other people talking and digging deep around themselves. There’s a two-way symbiosis of learning. Our learning programs teach you how you react, what you value, what’s important to you and how to become better at recognizing that in other people,
“As important as it is to learn about yourself you have to learn how to pull that out in other people. For people to grow in an organization they need to build to inspire and motivate and align people around common goals and objectives. It can’t be all about you. You have to know where other people are coming from. That becomes important if you’re going to take an organization to the next level because you have to help people come together to achieve those objectives.”
The emotional intelligence ICAN teaches strives for harmony.
“The work of ICAN gets participants to look at things from the heart and head levels,” Becker says.
“Emotional intelligence is where fact and emotion come together to create something that’s real and truthful,” says Focht. “So let’s say there’s an economic issue a company is facing. There are the facts surrounding that economic issue. There’s also the emotions triggered by having to take some action. Well, there’s this space where it’s not just about the fact or the emotion, but where the two blend together beautifully, where you come up with the right direction to go that is a good balance between the two and that represents and respects both sides.
“When you’re pursuing the most wise thing, the results are going to be optimized.”
Focht says it’s all about finding balance.
“If I say for example it’s just and only exclusively about the bottom line there could be some downstream consequences that are more negative and far reaching than you had anticipated that actually could have a longer term negative effect on the bottom line if you don’t pay attention to the emotional side. But if you just go with the emotion you might not be able to manage your way through the financial part of it.”
Prefontaine shares a testimonial by a recent graduate that perfectly sums up for her what the organization seeks to do:
“You hold a mirror up for me to see who I truly am and who I hope to become.”
She says that sentiment is not an isolated experience but expresses “really what occurs for many if not all of our participants in these programs.” She adds that many graduates tell her “that without ICAN their career and life trajectory would perhaps have been much more narrow.”
Focht says ICAN has proven its worth again and again.
“Thirty years ago a conversation began because a couple of community leaders really saw a need for the leadership dialogue here to shift and to change to really become something about authenticity in leadership and moving away from some older models of leadership.
“And I think the fact the conversation has lasted for so long tells us we have the right conversation going and that is – How do we as leaders show up authentically to make a contribution to impact the communities we serve? People keep showing up and participating in the conversation. It’s something people clearly want to have.”
Prefontaine terms ICAN’s evolution and growth, especially its recent expansion of services outside Omaha and the adoption of its programs within companies, “gratifying and exciting.” She fully expects the organization to continue adding value for existing and new customers.
Focht suggests the most fundamental impact ICAN will continue making is the personal and professional transformation its graduates experience.
“I’ve seen people transformed in terms of not only how they’re showing up at work but also how they’re showing up in their families and communities and in whatever groups they’re serving. It makes them more effective all-around. They understand what they can bring to the table and how they can make a contribution.”
For ICAN program and conference details, visit http://www.icanglobal.net.
- Linking Emotional Intelligence to Neuroscience (neurocapability.wordpress.com)
- A Supplement to Dealing with Obsessive Thoughts and Racing Thoughts (violalilacindue.wordpress.com)
- Business Leader Richard Zahn Says “Emotional Intelligence” is Critical to Leadership (virtual-strategy.com)
Mary Prefontaine and the Institute for Career Advancement Needs: A Leader and Organization in Alignment
Energy. Vision. Passion. Focus. Leadership. Institute for Career Advancement Needs CEO Mary Prefontaine embodies the very qualities that her not-for-profit helps emerging leaders maximize. ICAN is that rare animal – a career or professional advancement organization based in the Midwest and founded and headed by women but serving both women and men. Over its 31 year history the Omaha-based organization has helped advance the careers of many an individual now working in the top executive ranks of Fortune 1000 companies. Its self-development programs may have seemed far-out or fringe in these parts decades ago but have long since entered the mainstream. An annual women’s leadership conference it hosts has become a big deal. The 2012 conference is April 4 in Omaha. My story below profiles Prefontaine and why she’s found the perfect fit for herself at ICAN. The piece will appear in an upcoming issue of Metro Magazine.
Mary Prefontaine and the Institute for Career Advancement Needs: A Leader and Organization in Alignment
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Metro Magazine
Institute for Career Advancement Needs president-CEO Mary Prefontaine hails from the Great Northern reaches of the Canadian Rockies. There, the roots of her ever-searching, forward-thinking personal brand were nurtured.
She hails from a British Columbia family line that includes big game hunters and outfitters on her mother’s side and railroad men on her father’s side. Opening up the vast Canadian wilderness to the world is a family tradition.
Growing up amid diversity in Vancouver, she embraced a wide open view of life.
“I lived in a very multicultural community and then worked in a diverse cultural environment, so I’m drawn to that. My parents were always inclusive of people uniquely different than them and it made me curious about the world and to want to go explore,” says Prefontaine, who’s traveled to 14 countries.
“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t see the world as totally connected, and I often can find connection and reasons for collaboration with the most diverse of ideas, people, situations, communities.”
This executive, wife and mother of two says in today’s hyper-connected world “the most challenging thing for us in business and for we as parents is to be discerning about what it is you want to be connected with.” That same discernment gets to the heart of what ICAN helps emerging business leaders do by helping participants find purpose and meaning in their work.
“One of the things the work of ICAN assists people with is addressing their values by having them ask, What’s the most important thing to me at this time in my life? It’s about becoming more selective about the things that have meaning to you and making sure you’re living them, connecting with them, fostering them, inviting them in and being curious about them rather than just letting the waves of social media or the demands of the every day hit you,” says Prefontaine.
“Our inquiry with people who go through our Defining Leadership program always begins with, Why should anyone be led by you? Why should anyone follow you? What is it you’re going to inspire in others that’s going to want them to give their absolute best?”
She says in today’s demanding environment of workplace efficiencies one needs to be the kind of leader that inspires people to do good work and still produces bottom line results. She says ICAN takes participants out of their towers and cubicles to learn alongside others in cohorts.
“What you end up having is a very powerful shared experience, and it’s very often a deep experience because it’s self-reflective and you’re with a group of peers,” she says. “You’re not being taught something by a facilitator, you’re actually learning from each other. This is a learning journey they begin and it never ends. If we can poise you to go out and say, ‘My whole life is a learning journey,’ then you will always be evolving and bring something new to the table because you’re coming from that place of curiosity.”
Finding congruence, being a hurricane
Her own life as a seeker is an example of meshing core principles with work. After pursuing a passion for dance as a producer, choreographer and studio owner, she became a destination marketing and development professional promoting Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada to the world. She worked on the team that helped Canada land the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
When she joined her then-partner, now husband Rob Hallam here in 2006 after he accepted the Omaha Symphony CEO post, she couldn’t know that a year later she’d find a job perfectly aligned with her values. First though she served as the symphony’s interim vice president of marketing. Then she was hired as an ICAN consultant – she’s done much senior leader executive consulting. It wasn’t long before she assumed leadership of the not-for-profit. As a dynamic transplant brimming with new ideas, she took ICAN by storm and to new heights.
“I was invited in to the strategic planning circle of ICAN and became what I call a hurricane factor. and I think that has stuck a little bit even in the leadership role I now have. I am an entrepreneur, I am of the creative class, I do see outside the box, and the work of ICAN has expanded as a result of that.
“We have in less than five years doubled the size of our business. We’ve been successful at listening to what customers say they need to evolve their business and people to be fabulous leaders and delivering new products and services to that, such as our Defining Leadership and Coaching programs. It’s been a really terrific journey of innovation.”
Conference and program growth
She says ICAN’s annual Women’s Leadership Conference April 4 at CenturyLink Center “has grown to be one of the largest women’s leadership conferences in this region.” The event features heavy-hitter speakers, this year led by Arianna Huffington, breakout sessions and exhibitor booths. Past guest headliners have included Deepak Chopra and Suze Orman.
Prefontaine anticipates hosting 2,000 women, including top executive from across the U.S. and Canada. “We have a global conversation,” she says.
Presenters are selected, she says “because there’s something about their work in the world that aligns with our philosophy and work in leadership.” The message of ICAN, she says, “is really straightforward but it’s a big one: to develop inspired business leaders to transform the communities they serve. We’re very clear and specific about that and we have a long term strategic plan that supports that mission.”
ICAN counts among its leadership development program graduates Fortune 1000 executives. Some graduates making a difference in Omaha include Jim Young at Union Pacific, Mike Foutch at First National Bank and Pamela Hernandez at Woodmen.
“We’re in our 25th year with those programs,” she says. “We see people from across the country from a diverse set of industries. We have 30 to 60 graduates annually and these people are now all over the world. If you’re a leader in an organization of any size among the most significant challenges you face are, How do I engage my people? How do I instill loyalty? How do I value their contributions? And if you really want help with these questions, then ICAN is the place to come to because we provide a platform of leadership training and collaboration with other community leaders and by the time you’ve finished transformation will have occurred.
“If you’re an individual entrepreneur or middle manager and you want to accelerate your learning and network then ICAN is the place to come learn, be inspired and connect with others.”
As organizations increasingly embrace creative thinkers who demonstrate initiative and add value, she says ICAN’s work “is more valuable than ever,” adding, “The demand for our work is growing, and it’s growing in other geographic locations and in different modalities of service. We just launched our first defining leadership pilot program in Denver last fall.”
Heal thy self
She marvels that ICAN’s founders made self-development the crux of its philosophy when launching the organization in 1981. She says the notion of taking responsibility for how you show up, the opportunities you create and the connections you make were considered “woo-woo or new agey” in business but now these same tools of self-reflection, journaling and peer-to-peer mentoring circles are mainstream.
“It’s interesting to me because my turning point in looking at the evolution of consciousness came in the ’80s. I fell in love with the idea that as human beings we are powerful intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally. That we can create positive change in our communities and in business if we only pay attention and take responsibility to move ourselves forward.
“So when I learned about the mission of ICAN it just seemed like the most beautiful, amazing, fantastic organization that I could have ever stumbled across. It’s got purpose and meaning to me at my very core.”
For more info on ICAN programs and the conference, visit http://www.icanomaha.org.
- Ownership versus Leadership (techentrepreneurship.com)
- Are You Feeling the Love? (vistage.com)
- Leadership styles – are you the leader for all seasons? (wisewolftalking.com)
- Good Leadership Habits Start Early (sbkandassociates.com)