Survive and Thrive at the Women’s Executive Leadership Retreat

Recently I attended the first annual Women’s Executive Retreat, created by Kathleen Paris and held at Dillman’s Bay Resort, in Lac du Flambeau (about a four-hour drive due north from Madison.) The attendees were executive women, each a lead manager of a company or organization.

The lodge was a real find. Not only were the cabin suites clean and spacious (two double beds, kitchenette, air conditioner, and Jacuzzi tub), but they also were “pet friendly.” The forested site is surrounded on three sides by White Sand Lake, offering wildlife sightings in natural habitats.

Owners Dennis and Sue Robertson greeted us with a wine-and-goodies reception and gave us an overview of the offerings. They keep a free library of CDs and books for guest use, and coffee was available 24/7. There was free access to bicycles, kayaks, paddleboats, canoes and fire pits — all on the honor system.

Kathleen Paris scored a “great decision” pat on the back for having the retreat there. We had most meals outside by the water, and our workshops were in a large classroom facing the lake.

The only glitch (and it turned out to be a blessing) was spotty cell phone reception. It’s necessary to go to the main lodge to access wireless internet. Actually we didn’t miss it — all participants reported feeling grateful not to have their attention pulled away from the conference.

[The resort is such a family-friendly place, I extended my stay and later invited my family, including Bailey, our dog, to join me.]

Dinnertime. We always ate together as a group.

The catch of the day was a closer friendship for Melinda and Carol.

The sunsets from the lake, with loons and ducks and canoes, were amazing.

Kathleen Paris, founder of Executive Women’s Retreat, helped all of us “Survive and Thrive”.

We learned and we led, each in turn. This happens to be Suzanne’s turn.

We brought nature into the classroom, as Elizabeth shows, using a branch to make a point to the group.

Cyndi Fine helped us all realize the importance of reflection; for ourselves and for those we lead.

We took breaks to play, too, including this round of Catch Phrase with the two Carols.

Kathleen Paris, Ph.D., our facilitator, was assisted by mind-body coach Cyndy Fine, who offered group guided meditations and individual cranial-sacral massage. Also helping out were chefs Matthew Cullen, Sr. (who also captained a boat) and Catherine Cullen.

Elizabeth Fadell, The Enterprise Group; Suzanne Drennan, The Psychology Center; Melinda Heinritz, Wisconsin Historical Foundation; Carol McChesney Johnson, Taliesin Preservations, Inc., Carol Koby, Koby Communication Services, LLC (and host of a WTDY radio program); and me.

The retreat required pre-work and homework. Each woman brought copies of emails and power point presentations they have given, and the strategic plan for their area of responsibility at their organization. Once assembled, the focus was on creating a personal as well as professional strategic plan to “survive and thrive,” the focus of the retreat. Paris provided a lot of tools from different management models, including an assessment of each woman’s management style.

Rule 1 of a learning community: What was said in the group stays within the confidence of the group.

But… I don’t think anyone would mind if I share that after our first dinner together, we enjoyed guided meditation outside, sitting in chairs by the lake, listening to its peaceful waves lapping against the shoreline. Picture Cyndi working to relax us with her studied “breath in deeply, good, now breath out,” — when suddenly on the lodge’s upper deck, a group of wedding reception partiers opened balcony doors and spilled out into the night singing and dancing. We dutifully kept our minds open, eyes closed and continued to listen to Cyndi, but truthfully, I was doing a mental Macarena with the wedding party.

Over the subsequent days we spent together, an early-morning walking group and late-night fishing group formed, but we all came together for every meal, every class, and also to go boating together in the evenings. We lit sparklers and danced. We glued and lectured and petted stray dogs and worked (lots of work) and laughed (lots of laughter), and even cried together. Most importantly, we bonded sufficiently to become trusted advisers, and in that setting, we felt heard. We felt safe to ask for help and empowered to offer our expertise to others.

Mostly, the Women’s Executive Retreat offered unexpected benefits beyond the lemon-steamed towels and steak-and-Maine-lobster entree. Beyond the management seminars and freshly baked cookies and sightings of bald eagles. The experience of being in that setting with those leaders, helpers, and colleague is one I will long cherish.

Was this launch a success? Kathleen’s already booked the dates for next year, and the attendees, by consensus, will continue to meet monthly. And we’ll be there next year to celebrate graduation of the next class.