A Conversation with WholeHeart's Executive Director: Holly Wilkinson

Q. What do you mean by your organization’s vision statement, “we envision a world with a global operating system based on love?"

A. At this time in our world, so much is driven by fear.  We envision love as an essential element needed for us all to survive and thrive on the individual, community and global levels. We are not talking easy, shiny love, but the real, raw and tenaciousness love it takes to care in the face of disagreement and disappointment.  Love requires discipline, practice and commitment to weave us together rather than apart.  We are in this together – the light and the shadow. This is personal and organizational. How can we reach beyond our protective walls to really know one another?  Love calls us to the task and to grow.

Q. In part, WholeHeart now serves as the home for Parker Palmer’s Circle of Trust work in Vermont. How are WholeHeart and Courage & Renewal work aligned?

A. At the root of both partner organizations is care for the core (heart) and care for the whole.  Our desire is to bring reflective practices and relational trust into individual lives and organizations. WholeHeart provides the foundation to expand opportunities for open-hearted exchange.  Courage work began in Vermont 17 years ago, thanks to the late Ken Bergstrom, David Leo-Nyquist and Carol Egan. Originally focused on teachers in school settings, it has been a word-of-mouth community.  It is time to open the doors and extend welcome.  We need all our hearts in the game – personally and professionally. Just recently, we met with Korean colleagues who call Courage work: “Gardening People’s Hearts.” That is a wonderful translation of what we are doing at WholeHeart - cultivating the soil of community and nourishing capacity to lead lives with clarity, care and connection.

Q. WholeHeart recently hosted its second Intergenerational Leadership Exchange. What were a few of takeaways from the day for participants?

A.  Twenty people, ages 17-80, came together in April at the Green Mt. Monastery in Greensboro, Vt. to share and consider aspects of leadership and community.  We explored language, mentors, creative expression, values, and reflective practices.  One participant reflected on an activity to create a mandala that depicted their leadership: “it opened up our eyes to the differences and similarities we have in leadership that allows us all to see our part in the whole.”  Another participant shared that they had never before connected leadership with love.  And among the words of wisdom they exchanged, here are a few nuggets:

  • Time spent in reflection in community allows me to hear myself, my own words more clearly.  I cannot lead in isolation.

  • Being an authentic leader is not pushing my agenda, but helping others to use their strengths and be encouraged to be themselves.

  • Leading comes from within with kindness and generosity.  Leading from the heart is as playful as it is wise.  

Q. Why are Leadership Exchanges like this important to the work of WholeHeart, Inc.?

A. An exchange honors that each party has something to offer.  It is time to acknowledge, foster, and celebrate the leader in all of us.  We need to both claim the experience we bring and continue to emerge and learn with others.  These Leadership Exchanges, based on the work of the Berrett-Koehler Foundation, provide spaciousness for conversations to move beyond tasks and titles - and into the heart.

Recently, Millennials surpassed Boomers as the largest generation in America; they’ve also surpassed Generation X, now comprising the highest percentage of this country’s workforce. We’re interested in new paradigms of leadership that support everyone regardless of age and experience.

An exciting aspect of these Leadership Exchanges is that the intergenerational design team changes each time.  Last summer, the team (Trish Alley, Terrie Keppel, Natanya Bittman and Tara Reynolds) focused on emerging and experienced leaders. This spring the intergenerational team was Tara Reynolds and two past participants, myself and Kathryn Lovinsky, Executive Director of  the Hardwick arts nonprofit, GRACE.  Kathryn integrated creativity into the day moving us from theory into expression with mandalas and circles of care.  Our next Exchange is September 30th  in Greensboro, Vt.  A new intergenerational team will collaborate to create a day that connects and inspires from a yet another vantage point.

Q. As Executive Director of WholeHeart, what is your vision for the organization and the people it serves?

A. My vision is a wholehearted community of practice where people find ways to connect heart-to-heart.  We build walls of personal protection every day. Relational trust takes time and takes risk. Creating space and spaciousness to listen, practice and speak what we know to be true at our core, we are better able to respond to life authentically.   

Organizationally, my vision is a living, flourishing container that offers space, inspiration and connection. Our logo of the nautilus speaks to this.  As an ancient living creature, it regulates the oxygen and water in its chambers to either buoy itself or dive into deeper waters.  The nautilus grows a new chamber each month. I envision WholeHeart growing new chambers to expand opportunities for people to dive deep into their inner and community work, while finding ways and connections that buoy their spirits and wellness in challenging times.

Q. What question related to living wholeheartedly are you personally mulling over today?

A. I have a daily practice I call “Living Courage.” It invites me daily to act with integrity and attentiveness. Each day, my core question is: “What is my courageous act today?” It brings me out of my comfort zone and invites me into larger conversations. This is what brings me to WholeHeart - the commitment to listen and love. Wholeness is not a solo job but is interconnected into the fabric of community. Being courageous and wholehearted is risky, alive, and has the capacity to work us open each day. So much is at stake, the time for us all to act on what we love is here now.