Creative Leadership 101: UTSA Administrator Takes a Fresh Look at Leadership Concept

Note: This story originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of the Leon Springs Community News.

Story by Pamela Price

Most people don’t associate the words “yoga” and “dance” with conventional notions of leadership. For Gage Paine, however, effective leadership involves elements of both yoga and dance. After all, one must learn when to lead, when to follow, and when to stretch one’s self in order to build strength.

Paine, who received the John Jones Award for Outstanding Performance as a Senior Student Affairs Officer from the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region III in May, is UTSA’s vice president of student affairs. She currently supervises a staff of 450 professionals and an equal number of students in several departments, including athletics. Previously she served as vice president of student affairs at Trinity University and as dean of students at Southern Methodist University. As part of her duties as an administrator, Paine has spent many years looking at leadership and how to teach young people and seasoned professionals alike to be effective leaders.

For all her own success, Paine began looking for more creative forms of self-expression. During her stint at Trinity, she explored yoga and later worked her way through Julia Cameron’s acclaimed book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

“I’d always been someone who said that she wasn’t ‘creative’ because I can’t draw, can’t carry a tune,” said Paine with a chuckle. Her husband, a photographer, challenged her on this notion. “He said, ‘When you have a problem, you can come up with several solutions that might work. That’s being creative.’ I came to realize that we limit ourselves by how we define words and how we define them to ourselves.”

That realization lead to a five-year journey in which Paine began to tinker with integrating her knowledge of leadership development with what she was exploring in her yoga practice.

“I was teaching free yoga classes at Trinity and teaching a leadership class at the same time. I realized that the same words—flexibility, balance, developing strength—were coming up in both classes. This lead to my creating a workshop on ‘leadership yoga.’”

Paine began to see yoga as a metaphor for leadership. “When we lead, we try new things and try do things that are uncomfortable, challenging. That’s just like yoga.”

One summer as she worked her way through The Artist’s Way again, Paine visited the McNay Art Museum and had an epiphany. “I decided to do a fall workshop on ‘creative leadership’ targeting sophomores. In my profession, we’re always wondering how to reach out to that group, so I offered them a 12-week no credit course on that new topic. Twenty students signed up.”

Over time, Paine refined the workshop, bringing the program with her when she joined UTSA. She also took up ballroom dancing, integrating the notions of “lead” and “follow” into her leadership programming. Today she has three popular workshop titles–The Leadership Dance, The Heart of Leadership and Leadership Yoga—that she presents to various groups. She also tweets (@leadersdance) and writes about related topics at her blog, The Leadership Dance (TheLeadershipDance.Blogspot.com)

In moving her thoughts on the topic to the Internet, Paine is hopeful that she can take the creative leadership concept out into the wider world.

“I want to be a Johnny Appleseed,” said Paine. “We need other leadership models than the ones we’ve had, we need whole-person models. I hope that I can make that happen.”

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