Breakfast of Champions: Alfonso Wenker
Permission, Pop songs, and Podcasts: How a consulting firm founder creates his own rules
May 29, 2018

Words by Nichelle Brunner | Photos by J Olson

The Minnesota Council of Foundations’ boardroom looks like most boardrooms: a 15 foot table stretched in the middle of the room, 25 chairs surrounding the long table, a whiteboard attached to a wall, a small table for coffee and refreshments, and floor to ceiling glass to enclose the space.

Despite the ordinary set up, on this particular Friday morning, the conversation in the boardroom created an extraordinary energy. Young professionals from all over Twin Cities gathered to meditate, learn, and chat with Alfonso Wenker.

Alfonso Wenker is the co-founder and principal at Team Dynamics LLC, a coaching and facilitation organization, specializing in nonprofit strategy creation, leadership development, and change management.

In the hour-long conversation, Alfonso highlighted the importance of identities, the search for permission and balance, and the process of starting his own organization.

Using identities to lead

To begin the conversation, Alfonso led a guided meditation. He and the participants placed their hands down on the table, eyes closed, breathing deeply, as Alfonso spoke:

“Take three deep powerful breaths to remind yourself—you are a whole person, with many identities. Notice where you are whole and what you hold.”

Once the meditation was complete, and an air of calm relaxation had settled in the room, Alfonso listed his own identities—ones that might not be obvious: third generation Mexican-American, raised on the west side of St. Paul, can’t speak Spanish, brother, caregiver, gay, queer, and a Catholic school kid.

“I share these things not be interesting or provocative, but because all of those inform who I am and how I am,” he said. 

Last June, Alfonso decided to leave his leadership position at Minnesota Council of Foundations and started the process to jump into consulting, after he realized he needed more to feel fulfilled at work. For the next several months, he and his business partner, Trina Olson, formed Team Dynamics.

Taking permission and boundary setting

After this truncated version of his professional journey, Alfonso paused to answer questions from the group—but quickly noted:

“I’m not into telling my resume arc anymore, so sorry—it’s all on LinkedIn.” As the laughter in the room subsided, a participant asked how meditation and Alfonso’s facilitation style work with older folks and with more traditional organizations.

“There is a permission we all are looking for,” he responded. “For most of my work, I was the youngest, queerest, Brownest person in the room. I kept looking for permission to shift practices, but the hard lesson I learned is that no one is going to give me permission. You have to take permission. The cool thing about being a consultant is people pay you to be different, so I have to bring my full self.”

After answering a few more questions in the room, Alfonso began a rapid-fire answer session of questions sent in by the young professionals before the breakfast.

On where he finds inspiration:

“I get inspiration from anyone who is hustling, who is getting dirty to get things done. I am also inspired by anyone who is in the arena—not in the cheap seats throwing popcorn, but getting messy.”

On work-life balance and taking control of your life:

“I had to get clear about boundaries. I had to stop saying yes to things that weren’t in line with my practices. Sundays are off limits—I have brunch on Sundays. I blow off steam by listening to a stand-up podcast or deconstructing a pop song. It’s all about practice.”

Kicking fear out of the guesthouse

To end the breakfast, Alfonso talked about courage, confidence, and confronting fear as he set out to create Team Dynamics.

“I just started calling myself a consultant, and no one asked,” he said. “I just bought a [website] domain, and then people started calling. People were coming to us with projects that were bigger than just a side hustle.”

“When the self doubt comes, I try to figure out where it comes from,” he added. “Caution is okay, caution makes us smart, caution helps us not take up space we shouldn’t. But self-doubt is not okay. If it’s in you, start saying it and claiming it.”

“There is a poem by Rumi about the guesthouse. In the poem, we have to acknowledge the negative feelings we have and understand they are just visitors. Self-doubt and fear and all of these negative feelings—you can stay for a cup of tea but then you have to go, because you showed up unannounced.”

 

Kirstin Burch, Director of Zoomhouse

“The biggest takeaway for me is as leaders we feel it in our entire bodies. We feel work that we do in our bones and it isn’t just a label. It’s about being courageous, having those conversations, and doing the work with your whole self.”

Clayton Jelinek, Gift Officer at the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts

“The biggest takeaway for me was around permission. People at your organization won’t give you permission to do things and you have to take measured bets. I think about how measured bets look and modeling how I want to be in a space.”

Patricia Santos Silva, Executive Assistant to the Director, Guthrie Theatre

“It’s always replenishing to hear about people who are doing work that means something in this world. It was very interesting to hear about Alfonso’s practices, because it resonated with me and setting my own practices.”

 

 

 

 

 

Nichelle Brunner, Writer

J Olson, Photographer

Posted by Pollen on May 29, 2018
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