Aundrea Paulk says no one should think they know everything about leadership.
Aundrea Paulk says many of her friends and colleagues call her a “sponge.” And she likes to use that phrase herself.
She believes it conveys what she considers to be a real and almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge and insight into how she can be a better leader, a better entrepreneur — and a better person.
“I like to learn … and I don’t think anyone gets to, or should get to, a place where they get comfortable and think they know it all when it comes to leadership,” said Paulk, director of Marketing & Communications for Caring Health Center in Springfield and owner of her own event-planning business called Soiree Mi. “Leadership is so expansive, and not only here at the Caring Health Center, but with my own business, I want to make sure that I’m constantly filling my well with knowledge so that, as a leader, I can show up in my best capacity, but also give those nuggets, as they call them, to others that are looking to grow their own leadership skills.”
It was this ongoing quest for knowledge — and desire to pass on those ‘nuggets’ — that prompted Paulk to put her name into consideration last fall when BusinessWest was gifting a slot at the two-day, immersive Dulye Leadership Experience (DLE) in the Berkshires.
Her self-nomination was one of many received by the magazine, and it certainly resonated with those deciding who would partake in this program of intense learning, networking, and professional development.
Paulk, a member of BusinessWest’s Forty Under 40 class of 2022, said she made the very most of her experience and came away with nuggets to share, a better appreciation of the need to sell herself and not just her company — or companies, in this case — and, overall, some solid takeaways on how to be a better, more effective leader.
“After completing the Dulye Leadership Experience immersion training, I learned how to better lead my department and, more importantly, how to recognize the strengths that I already have and better utilize them,” she said. “As the owner of Soiree Mi, it is important that I tap into those strengths to grow my business to develop relationships and gain partnerships that will enhance the overall community. These partnerships have allowed Soiree Mi to move from its infancy stage into an established, successful entity.”
Elaborating, Paulk said she and her staff recently conducted their own day-long retreat at Caring Health Center, and a good portion of the agenda focused on topics that were brought up at the DLE immersion training, including well-being, improved communication, and “networking with a purpose.”
Dive Right In
The DLE, as noted earlier, is a two-day, immersive program. It was conceived by Linda Dulye, founder of Dulye & Co., which helps leaders and their organizations cultivate magnetic cultures where employees want to stay and grow. During a painfully slow period for the company in the fall of 2008, their height of the Great Recession, she created the DLE, a nonprofit organization, to help recent college graduates be more workforce-ready and able to form relationships and sell themselves.
Over the years, the DLE evolved, and programming shifted to attract, develop, and retain young professionals in the Berkshires. The descriptions of the programs offered during the immersion provide real insight into how it helps attendees grow professionally and thrive in the modern workplace.
“The workplace has become more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic,” reads the summation for a program titled “Create Connections for Differences.” “These changes create opportunities for growth, learning, and creativity, but they also cause disconnection. This session reveals strategies for working across and with differences to increase effectiveness, belongingness, creativity, and communication.”
A program called “(Re)train Your Communication Muscle” was described this way: “The pandemic has atrophied our social muscles — so much so that many find it difficult to interact with others. We have to retrain ourselves to work better. Fortunately, these muscles are resilient.”
The session was led by Marc Williams, communications coach and author of the books Beyond Limitations and The Rules of Engagement for Public Speaking. Paulk said she found the session helpful, and Williams even more so, especially when it came to the broad assignment of branding herself and building that brand.
She said one assignment attendees were given was to evaluate and update their professional LinkedIn page, and to fully understand its importance when it comes to their ‘brand.’
“We had to assess what we thought other people did without asking them, by just looking at their profile,” she explained while recalling the exercise. “What we found is that most of us don’t use our LinkedIn pages unless we’re looking for a job — that’s the only time people really go in and update it.
“That’s not what we should be doing,” she went on. “We should be making sure our professional and personal brand are on point. He [Williams] assessed and provided great feedback and evaluation of my page and how I can improve it.”
But the session she found most compelling, and the one that probably yielded the most ‘nuggets,’ she said, was one titled “Create a Culture of Well-being Within Your Team,” led by Andrea Lein, a self-described “positive psychology expert.”
“More employees are citing well-being as a key factor in deciding where and how they choose to work,” reads the brief description. “Experts believe we are transitioning to the next global crisis: a mental-health pandemic. Are you and your organization ready?”
Paulk said the session gave her plenty to think about when it comes to being ready, and it is prompting her to be more proactive on this issue.
“I always thought of well-being as self-care and the physical side of the equation,” she told BusinessWest. “I forgot about the importance of social well-being, communication as well-being, how we talk to one another; is it positive?”
Elaborating, she said that, while she still asks her staff members how their weekend went, she now looks to go deeper and find out how people are doing with their physical health, their financial health, their mental health, and how they are faring as they try to balance life and work.
Knowledge Is Power
Overall, Paulk said her willingness to take part in the leadership immersion program is a logical expression of her desire to continue learning and refine and build upon her leadership skills, something she believes all young professionals — and even those not quite so young — should be doing.
“The importance of continuing to develop your skills is critical to you as a human being and to what you want to put out in the world, the legacy you want to leave behind,” she explained. “If I stay stuck in a way of thinking or in the way I show up, I’m doing a disservice to myself; I’m doing a disservice to those I’m supposed to be in charge of and help grow.
“That’s why I continue to learn,” she went on. “I feel like there’s never a time in my life — I don’t care if I’m 100 — that I want to stop learning, and learning in different ways.”
That’s why she wanted to be at the Dulye Leadership Experience in November, and that’s why she’s a sponge, always looking to fill her well with knowledge.