Sunday, May 01, 2011

Understanding The Leaders’ Retreat

"The Japanese word shibui summarizes all the best in life,

yet has no explanation and cannot be translated.

A person is said to be shibui when

he or she greatly contributes to others

without doing anything to draw attention to self.

The retreat is VERY shibui."

Derick Tagawa, DDS, Whittier, California

2003. On a drive up Highway 101 from Santa Clara, California, I receive a request to design a Leaders' Retreat and make it available to the public. The request is from George Hersh, Owner/CEO of the GMJ Companies. The idea - bring together a small mix of men and women from diverse backgrounds who understand that their lives impact the lives of others. Potential attendees need to make application on their own or be invited. Who to come? Business leaders, students, artists, moms and dads and grandparents, athletes, managers, academics, teachers, professionals, military and former military, retirees and young people: basically, cut across the spectrum of experience, skills, levels of income and educations, political and spiritual beliefs.

George’s motivation? He had just spent an exceptional weekend retreat with Dr. Kathleen Kane and me that we had put together for the University of San Francisco (USF) available to MBA candidates, alumni, staff, faculty and family – and guests. Our USF weekend included ample time for attendees to interact and relax, to study and play, to refresh and reflect – but MOST IMPORTANTLY to immerse themselves in The Dialogue Method – meaningful, purposeful talk and listening generated through experiential means.

Kathy was responsible for my introduction to The Dialogue Method. She was using it to enhance the core MBA Leadership Course at USF. Dialogue, as both art form and skill, requires keen attention and practice. It linguistically connects the right and left-brain functions. The word sounds simple, and it is. But by no means is the method accomplished without effort, focus and attention to mindful service to all involved. Dialogue empowers individuals, couples and teams to engage with each other in an effort to build understanding and deepen learning.

Persons often come together from polarized perspectives loaded with conflicting agenda. Therefore one’s attitude must be disciplined to listening and learning rather than convincing, cajoling, belittling or debating. Briefly stated, when I first encountered Kathy’s students in Dialogue, I saw, felt and experienced the same principles that are richly present in aikido. Yes, Dialogue is verbal, but it begs attention to individual and group reactions/responses experienced emotionally and physically.

George Hersh comes from a hectic service industry integrating multiple companies engaged with each other, the public, private businesses and government agencies across time zones in diverse transportation, moving/storage and records keeping businesses. He owns Sports Associated, Inc.; Topeka Transfer & Storage,; Capital City Distribution; Professional Records Management; O’Neil Relocation; etc. He entered our USF weekend filled with anticipation and a definite need to relax. His businesses demanded that he remain home and at work. Yet, he understood that the time for a retreat is often when it is least convenient to take the time to relax, i.e. when pressures are at their highest. What he found was exactly what he needed. Fresh ideas. New interpretations. Supportive communications. Rich experiences transporting him out of his norm. Positive and constructive perspectives and feedback. And a physical body (his) freed from tension and tightened muscles. He left refreshed and keenly more aware of what he could do to better problem solve, save time, energize, communicate and focus. On this basis came his request to me.

2004. The first Leaders’ Retreat – Scottsdale, Arizona. There were a handful of us. George, plus: a long-time friend of mine who owned a medical equipment company outside of Phoenix; an orthodontist from the Los Angeles area; the director of in-home services for two California counties (himself a paraplegic); a senior vice-president of a global construction firm; a fellow in the real estate development business. What to do? Dialogue, exercise our bodies, we play one constricted form of nine-hole golf that was quite revealing, Dialogue, take walks together and read, Dialogue, watch films, Dialogue, eat meals together, Dialogue, throw out ideas to assist our individual personal and professional lives, Dialogue and … Dialogue. At the end of three days we looked around and asked ourselves “Why stop?, When can we do this again?” So, a second Leaders’ Retreat was scheduled for the following year.

The second Leaders’ Retreat – Scottsdale. One year later. Some of the same people returned. Others joined in. What to do? - Dialogue, exercise our bodies (we integrated some aikido movements), Dialogue, eat meals together, Dialogue, take walks together, Dialogue, one person took time for a massage, Dialogue … get the picture? In other words – we kept things simple, purposeful and definitely in the Here & Now. At the end of three days the response - “Why stop?” Someone suggested, “This should be made available every six months, whether I can come or not. Give me a winter option and a summer option.” Another requested – “Scottsdale is great, but can you find somewhere out in nature, somewhere that we can get away from pavement and traffic and phones and restaurants and the stuff that’s normally in our lives?”

Another year later. The third Leaders’ Retreat. We are now using Four Springs Retreat Center, Middletown, California Some of the same folks return. Others join in. Our schedule expands by a full day. What to do? Guess. You got it – Select topics for self-study, Dialogue, take walks in the forest, Dialogue, laugh together, Dialogue, integrate somatic work, Dialogue, etc. On the second day a real Type-A businessman who spends most of his time traveling the globe makes an odd request, “Can you get me some construction paper, some colored pencils and chalk?” We do. He spirits himself away for that day into the small art studio under pine trees on the property. That evening he returns grinning and whistling with a pile of drawings to take home, “I’ve been jamming at life so hard that I’d forgotten what it’s all about,” he says. “How young and alive I used to feel and how important my wife and kids are. These are for them.” The same guy cooks supper for us all on our last evening together– traditional homemade Japanese cooking - another art form that he had set aside that once kept his youthful juices flowing.

The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. Leaders’ Retreat (How many by now? I’m not counting anymore.) We’ve long since established (as requested) a six-month schedule with both winter and summer offerings. Four Springs Retreat Center is now our home for many years. What’s been added: walks through the forests to enhance situational awareness, centering practices, somatic education, Feldenkrais Method® classes, use of TED films to stimulate thought and understanding, music, creative cooking experiences, creative problem solving activities, a class to assist understanding the health benefits of herb and plants found in the forests we occupy – plus more. Yet, remaining consistent throughout is The Dialogue Method. Thank you Dr. Kathy Kane – who by now has attended The Leaders’ Retreat and is always an invited guest.

Who attends the Leaders’ Retreat? As the years have unfolded a number from our first two offerings held in Scottsdale continue to return, plus others: women and men from the broad spectrum of experiences, ages, beliefs and backgrounds. A retired school principal, a former professional baseball player, two young professionals both graduates from USF who (having remembered their days at the retreat Kathy and I created) jumped at their chance to come – and each more than once, a retired park ranger, a young man from Mexico who is into mixed martial arts, another from Mexico who delivers educational programs for children, a magazine publisher, a former Army Special Forces LT Colonel, a single mom raising two young boys, married couples attending together to get-away, an executive and a shift manager from a Native American casino, attorneys, a chef, financial planners, the former manager of a radio station, a consulting engineer key who played a key roll in cleaning up the mess that Boeing has made with their 757 aircraft, a retired military chief warrant officer, real estate brokers, a woman who owns and operates vacation rental properties in three states, and many other people.

Is the Leaders’ Retreat for you? It is certainly designed with you and your well being in mind. To understand its essence you need to grasp the notion that you are already a leader, i.e. that being a leader means you are indeed a person who in some way influences others to action. This fundamental and key principle was put strongly forth at West Point, the school I attended many years ago. It holds that being a leader is not dependent on rank or position or job title or level of education or the amount of money one has in the bank or gender or length of time on the planet or religious affiliation, etc. etc.

What The Leaders Retreat is NOT. It is not a “management” retreat, nor is it an “executive” retreat, nor a “bosses” retreat. It is NOT even a “leadership” retreat. And, it definitely is NOT a golf outing offered in disguise so that good old boys can sit around, chew the fat and tell each other worn out stories (and yes, as mentioned above, we did use golf at one retreat as a metaphor). This is The Leaders’ Retreat, i.e. a gathering of sincere individuals who understand their lives influence other lives, and who want to enhance their capacity to influence by taking time to rejuvenate, relax and exercise, deal with abstractions, think and play, study and serve themselves and others for the sake of creating a healthier and more constructive world – beginning with their own.

Our time together is simple and fulfilling, skill building and enriching, thought provoking and reflective. It is conducted in a most respectful, peaceful and pressure-free environment, void of criticism and “have to’s”. Moreover, the Leaders’ Retreat is a place where Dialogue is encouraged, studied, embodied and practiced.

To obtain an application for the Leaders’ Retreat download pdf document “Leaders’ Retreat Invitation” found at To register for the July 16-20 Summer 2011 Leaders’ Retreat call 707-769-0328 or email your completed application to or

It will be great to have you there.

“Very rewarding!

If your life makes a difference in the lives of others

then I highly recommend you attend

for yourself, your family, and your colleagues.”

Dr. Lulu Lopez, Former Principal

Mt Vernon Community Schools, Alexandria, Virginia


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