Allison Shapira is the Coordinator of the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. She can be reached at:

At the beginning of this year, I participated in a week-long personal leadership development program in northern California called the Hoffman Process. The program came highly recommended by my colleagues and classmates at the Harvard Kennedy School who had attended over the past five years. Feeling curious and adventurous, I signed up with no idea of what to expect, only knowing that I would feel more empowered and, perhaps, more purposeful, at the end of the experience. Rather than relaxing on a warm beach in the Caribbean during my winter vacation, I opted instead for a chilly, misty resort among the redwoods of Napa Valley.

One week later, I felt both 10 years older and 10 years younger at the same time. Older, because I had engaged in some very intense soul-searching, looking deeper into myself than I ever thought possible. Younger, because I felt liberated from any negative patterns or behaviors that could hold me back from exploring my leadership potential.

The Hoffman Process helps participants trace negative behaviors back to our childhood in order to identify and then rid ourselves of those behaviors – or learn how to choose them instead of letting them control us. The process also teaches tools for connecting with different aspects of our self: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. And in doing so, we are able to listen to and advise ourselves through important decisions in our life.

Perhaps the most powerful force of the process was turning off my cell phone – indeed, putting it away – for over a week. It allowed me to focus on the present and to set my own agenda, defining my priorities instead of letting a ringing cell phone set those priorities for me. 

How is this related to leadership? I think that leaders need a deep understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. I think they need to learn how to rid themselves of any potentially destructive behaviors that could lead themselves and others down the wrong path. And when leadership feels lonely, it’s reassuring to know that you can consult within, in addition to consulting with advisors or mentors.

Re-integrating back into “real life,” I definitely feel more purposeful, calmer, and more empowered. I feel more connected to myself, yet I also feel more connected to the world around me. On the last day of the program, as I stood inside a grove of redwood trees in the woods, looking up at the treetops over 100 feet above me, I felt both humbled and inspired by the world around me. For me, the trees symbolized G-d and they symbolized my community: ever-present, providing shade and protection and a place to belong.

Lighting Shabbat candles for the first time after the program ended, I felt my connection with Judaism as never before, and I experienced a feeling of spiritual warmth and wholeness that I hope to nurture and grow.