Maria Ramos-Chertok a consultant, trainer, writer and mediator with over 20 years of experience in conflict resolution, team building, managing change, and cultural competency. She earned her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, and her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. A Rockwood trainer since 2008, Maria sat down with me to share her thoughts on leadership, motivation, her most important teachers, writing, and more.
What was your path to leadership development, and to Rockwood?
I got into leadership development through my work as an organizational development consultant and trainer. I started working with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in 1995 and, over time, developed an expertise in communication, conflict resolution, managing change, and effective supervision. All of those areas are critically important for leaders. So when I thought about the opportunity to impact leaders on a large scale and help people embrace their strengths, Rockwood seemed like a natural progression and a great compliment to the work I was already doing.
My path to Rockwood was through Akaya. In 2002, she and I were asked to co-mediate a community conflict. We had never worked together before, so we met in Oakland at Jack London Square just to talk and get to know one another, and we had a really wonderful connection. Sometime after our mediation, she transitioned into the Director of Training position at Rockwood, and she said to me, “I’d like to talk to you about the possibility of being a trainer.” The rest is herstory.
When I walk into the training room, I am surrounded by people who inspire me and they keep me relevant.
What are some resources you use to refresh and or reconnect to your leadership?
I’ve used the Social Transformation Project, which I think is an important way for me as a Rockwood trainer to stay connected to co-founder Robert Gass, and also to the 6 Rockwood practices. I also reconnect every time I do an Art of Leadership − or any training − with Rockwood, because I step into my role as a leader of leaders. Also, being connected to so many of the inspiring people I meet through Rockwood keeps me energized and refreshed. Lastly, in my work as a writer I use my voice to reflect my values and what’s important to me, which I see as an important part of my leadership.
What’s a leadership challenge that you’ve experienced?
I am currently working to get my debut novel Rosie’s Blues published. The leadership challenge I’m facing is how not to lose sight of my vision for the book and the book’s message, and how to stay resilient in the face of a publishing industry that is challenging to navigate. This experience is putting a mirror up to my deepest insecurities – am I good enough? Will they like me? And I’m noticing how attached I am to the outcome – which I am using to define whether or not I consider myself “successful”. In my better moments I can laugh at all this – in my very scared and insecure moments – I find myself doubting my abilities as a writer. What I’m working hard to do is to stay clear and not lose sight of the magic that happens when there is no fear.
Can you tell me a little more about your book?
Yes! When I was growing up in Hackensack, NJ, my mother opened our home as a shelter for battered women and children, so I grew up in a grassroots organization surrounded by activists. Many people wanted me to tell the story as a memoir or an autobiography, but the book came out in fiction. The book is called Rosie’s Blues, and I finished it last year. It’s a story about an interracial friendship between a homeless woman and feminist who runs a shelter, and the journey they take together from hopelessness to hope. I also write poetry and nonfiction. Here is a poem that I wrote about what I see as the greatest gift of the Art of Leadership:
Remnants When I become one with me
I embrace the words I hear but haven’t listened to I embrace the truth I don’t want to know
I come alive in this moment with a heart full of whatever holds me back no more
I enter life as I am meant to live it fearless on purpose in love
and I am never the same again Nor will anyone Or anything I touch Ever be
How do you stay motivated to write every day?
It’s interesting… it took me eight years to write the novel, and I started it when my children were very little. I started a writing group with two women because I was just so desperate to find a place for just me. I was giving so much, taking care of my children, and it was a hard time for me, having had my first son at 40 and my second son at 42. I felt like there was no forum for me to even identify myself or my voice. So through this monthly writers’ group, my voice started to emerge, and that eventually turned into a book.
I committed to writing every Friday and dedicating that one day of the week to helping me connect with my soul – which for me happens when I write. That’s been a big part of my own leadership because it required me to believe in myself and believe in my ability to be a writer, which was hard because I had defined myself in many different ways – advocate, lawyer, trainer, consultant, coach. But I had to believe I could create the vision of myself that I wanted.
Now I’m actually making a second part of that transition. I started a workshop called The Butterfly Series. It’s a writing and creative arts workshop for women that want to explore what’s next in their life journey. I’ve piloted it with six women and I’m opening it up to the public in July 2015. I’m trying to make my life much more involved in creative expression, in addition to continuing my work in leadership development and nonprofit social justice. I want to do more work with the right side of my brain because it’s an important way to access creativity.
Who have been your most important teachers?
There’s been several interventions that I’ve had that have brought me to where I am today, but in terms of teachers, I’d say that Gary Friedman from the Center for Understanding in Conflict was an important trainer for me in the world of meditation and conflict resolution. Ryūmon Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín was very important to my understanding of anti-racist work. Robert Gass has also been an important teacher of the heart, and of Rockwood teachings. And Akaya Windwood. When I met her, it was clear to me that she was able to see something in me that I was not honoring in myself, and I think that’s one of the many gifts of her leadership.
I would also include my mother, who opened a shelter in our home and lives her purpose and her vision every day, as she is a teacher who formed the foundation for my values. Also, my grandmother, who was the first person I have a strong memory of really loving me. I think that’s at the heart of leadership as well.
Learn to cultivate the inner wisdom that comes from a place of deep truth.
What’s your favorite thing about being a Rockwood trainer?
My favorite thing about being a trainer is definitely the people I meet. As the primary caretaker of two young children, it is very hard for me to be away from the house for five days at a time. The only reason that I do it for Rockwood is because, when I walk into the training room, I am surrounded by people who inspire me and they keep me relevant. I get to see what younger folks are doing, and how brilliant and beautiful and smart they are. I also get to be around my contemporaries and to be inspired by their amazing work and commitment. I also love the racial diversity that we strive to bring into each group.
The other thing that I love about training is the ability to create opportunities for transformation because, in my life, those have been important moments. So it’s powerful, and I value being a part of a change process.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give other leaders?
I would say that it is important to both find your voice, and to listen to your inner voice. The internal dialogue can be filled with lots of “shoulds.” Unfortunately, many of the things we tell ourselves we “should do” don’t always lend themselves to the best outcome. My advice is to learn to cultivate the inner wisdom that comes from a place of deep truth and to learn to honor that voice. It takes practice to really listen to your insides, but it’s the best investment I’ve ever made because it helps me show up with a greater degree of clarity in all my work and with all my relationships and, as a result, it allows me to be more effective in all the work I’m committed to doing. It begins with telling the truth to yourself.
Interested in working with Maria? Apply for Strengthening the Practice, a 2-day/1-night Art of Leadership refresher, September 24-25 at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma, CA. Learn more »
“Remnants” © 2015 by Maria Ramos-Chertok.