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Catalyze 2021: Kelly Kirschner of Eckerd College

Margie Manning

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.

The times we live in remind Kelly Kirschner, a vice president at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, of A Tale of Two Cities.

“It’s the best of times and worst of times,” said Kirschner, dean of the Division of Executive and Continuing Education at Eckerd. “We’ve got vaccines but we also have the highest number of Covid cases. We have an election that some people say was the most transparent election ever and others say it was the biggest steal and robbery ever. We have a crisis of trust. We have a crisis of polarization, and we have a national conversation on what does equity look like and what is the evolution of what this American experiment going to look like.”

To stem the conflicts, each of us must first look inside ourselves and increase self-awareness, Kirschner said. While “know thyself” is time-tested advice, it takes on new meaning with the growth of social media and the artificial intelligence technology driving it.

“If we  don’t know ourselves and have that level of self-awareness, we know enough now that the machines will know us. They will know us much better than we know ourselves and they will increasingly manipulate us,” Kirschner said. “I’m hopeful all of us can recognize there should be a baseline of how we better engage in the world, and that really starts with self-awareness. From self-awareness comes a greater empathy that all these conversations require.”

There are tools that can help individuals gain self-awareness, including two tools Eckerd has developed. One is a conflict dimensions profile that measures how an individual responds to conflict. The other is an entrepreneurial mindset profile that identifies 14 traits of an entrepreneurial mindset, and benchmarks individuals against managers and founders.

“You can’t have success in life if you don’t know how to manage conflict, and we’re at a point as a country and as a community where we don’t know how to manage conflict well. And you can’t get innovation if you can’t manage conflict well. You have to have a shared understanding about how to have a conversation about conflict, as opposed to walking away and saying I’m done. If you can’t do those things, you will never build a resilient, innovative organization,” Kirschner said.

Improved self-awareness and greater understanding about who each of us is as an individual allows each person to step back and see how they are impacting others, he said.

“Frequently that impact might not be our intention and we start better aligning our intentions with outcomes. So that’s the magic wand for me, for the community, for the county, state and nation. If all of us did a better job at that, I think we would start to be in a much better place,” he said. “We really need these tools. Our companies need it, our governments need it, our civic commons need it, and we need it in our homes too, to have happier, better families and better relationships.”

In addition to his job at Eckerd, Kirschner is a member of the St. Petersburg Citizen Advisory Commission for the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

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