“Discovering one’s self” September Feature: Jen Swearingen ’15

We all carry around mental images of a leader. For many of us, that image involves someone standing tall at the head of a boardroom or delegating responsibilities to a team of employees.

Quite rarely, however, do we imagine the leader outside a place of leadership. The minutes of anxiously reviewing agenda plans before that board meeting, or that sigh of relief after the team has dispersed.

Although Jen Swearingen could confidently call herself a leader after spending five years in leadership positions at State Farm, she still experienced those moments, those shaky steps in the otherwise brisk walk of a busy woman who couldn’t afford to trip up, not with a house to keep and a family to raise and a corporate ladder to climb.

“I had such a strong need for perfectionism,” Jen admits.

So when her boss suggested that she attend MCLP’s recruitment session in 2014, she wasn’t expecting anything she hadn’t already heard.

“I went into it kind of cynical, thinking ‘I already know how to be a leader, and I don’t know how this is going to benefit me. But, I’m willing to listen and learn.’”

So Jen sat and listened to the testimonies from MCLP graduates, those who touted the program as nothing short of a life-changing experience. Their stories sold Jen enough to get her to apply. And despite not having expected much from the program initially, the nine months that followed took Jen on a journey of discovering not just who she was as a leader, but who she was, period.

“I had gone through my life and hadn’t given much thought to ‘who am I?’” Jen recalls when describing the challenges she faced in the stressful months of preparation leading up to her inspirational story, in which each MCLP participant shares with the class what inspires them to develop as leaders. “’What inspires you?’ sounds like such an easy question, but when you think about getting in front of the whole class and talking about what inspires you, it’s so different.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Jen was learning how to be vulnerable.

“My boss at the time was always telling me don’t be afraid to show your emotion and let people know who you are.” Since graduating from MCLP, Jen has taken that message to heart, with visible results.

“I think my relationship with my team now is a whole lot stronger than it has been in the past because they know me, and not just a persona.”

For Jen, growing as a leader meant stepping out of her comfort zone to engage with people in new ways. One of those ways was by volunteering her time as a class

facilitator, an experience that challenged her to practice her public speaking and interpersonal skills.

“It was challenging, but it was very, very rewarding. I think being a facilitator, I grew as much if not more so than going through the program.”

Jen’s effort as a facilitator translated to the boardroom, too. “After being a facilitator for a year, I remember handling this big meeting at work from all these different departments. I got done with it, and I remember people who had known me from years before who hadn’t seen me in a while say, ‘Holy smokes, you seemed very confident. You seemed like a very different person.’”

When Jen began her MCLP journey, she was told it would be a life-changing experience. Now, having experienced it for herself, Jen couldn’t agree more.  

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