Last week, I spent five days at a leadership retreat in Northern California. I was in Petaluma, which is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. 50,000 people, 175 restaurants and hundreds of cows. Interesting place.

I attended this retreat with 11 other company CEOs who are a part of my CEO group. I was the only woman. (Find out more about this worldwide CEO organization at www.vistage.com.)

Why did I go to a leadership retreat for five days? That is a long time to be away from my family and my office. Interestingly, I actually did not know anything about the content of this retreat, but believed the Chair of my CEO group when he said, “Just trust me. You need to go.”

Ultimately, I decided to attend this retreat because it was time to refresh myself. The opportunity to completely disconnect from work and my daily life was so inviting. Plus, I sensed that I would learn new things about myself, would learn some new skills and because I am a lifelong learner, I was intrigued.

Over these five days (three of which I had complete laryngitis, which gave me a great opportunity to hone my listening skills), I received assessments from the three group leaders, and my fellow CEO teammates. I shared my assessments of them as well.

As a company CEO, I do not often get honest feedback. That is frustrating to me. But for five days, I got some fantastic feedback about my management style and how I am perceived.

This particular leadership retreat was called “Leadership Dojo” and is part of the program at the Strozzi Institute (www.strozziinstitute.com). Our classes were actually held in a dojo, where we learned some Aikido skills while we had lots of open discussions and went through the curriculum. I never imagined myself doing any kind of martial art, but I can say that I now have a great deal of respect for the discipline and beauty of Aikido.

I think it’s important for every one of us to continue to learn new skills. Just like any professional athlete, I must practice my skills. I benefit from having a coach. I need to make adjustments to my “game,” so that I continue to be ready for the new challenges I will face on a daily basis.

One of the most remarkable things I learned at Strozzi, was the importance of “being centered.” Always making sure I take a moment or two to gather my thoughts, and adjust my breathing and my stance, before responding to requests, before entering a meeting, or dealing with a conflict.

That may sound kind of crazy, but try it sometime.

Directly following my five days at Strozzi, I flew to New Orleans for my industry’s annual trade show. The keynote speaker on the first day was Archie Manning, famed football great (who played at Old Miss) and is father to Payton and Eli Manning.

Archie Manning spoke about leadership. Two of his many quotes stood out to me.

“Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to tell people that you are one, then you probably aren’t.”

“Leadership is an action word. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do.”

I encourage you to be a leader, and do something to sharpen the tools you have in your leadership toolkit.