We have written a number of times about why we are adopting a more network centric approach and what that looks like. This month we want to talk more about the expansive LLC team (a team that includes our staff and many of you, members of the network.) Over this past year we have contracted with a dozen folks from the network who are engaged with us on consulting projects. We consider our consulting work, the applied research arm of the organization because it is where we get closest to the ground and apply our ideas. For this work we source the network. There are many reasons for doing this and many advantages we want to highlight.
Expanding Capacity: There are well over a hundred consultants in LLC’s network who bring a broad range of skills and expertise that enables us to create the best possible match with the distinct needs of consulting projects. If we were to limit applied research opportunities to the skills of the staff we would not have the same agility in competing for super interesting projects that we feel can accelerate learning for the field.
Capacity Building: Early on we were inspired to create consulting teams to provide opportunities for consultants who are often competitors with proprietary tools to be on teams together that promote collaborative learning and resource generation.
Creating Opportunity: We also see our consulting services as opportunity for people in the network to access meaningful projects and gain visibility. We have committed to making sure that 50% of consulting opportunities go to people of color, and we are doing much better than that. We raise this because consulting can open doors for people of color or obscure discriminatory practices.
In short we like to say that instead of staffing an organization we staff the work. Now we would like to introduce you to the folks that have been helping us to do the work over the past year!
We decided to launch a search for a co-executive director of Leadership Learning Community for a few reasons. For one, as an advocate of thinking beyond the narrow limitations of hierarchical leadership models, we wanted to practice what we were preaching and invest in the possibilities of shared leadership, which decreases burnout and brings more voices to decision-making tables. Secondly, and equally important, we really wanted to center equity in leadership work and make space for leadership of color to thrive in an atmosphere that, quite frankly, is overwhelmingly white. So, when we met Ericka Stallings, an engaging, curious and experienced organizer from Queens, New York, we instantly knew that she might be the perfect person to help propel LLC into the future.
Some of you may be familiar with Ericka who shared a blog post and led a workshop of ours last summer entitled “6 Lessons forCultivating Leadership of Color in the Community Organizing Movement,” which Ericka says was an accumulation of knowledge gained from years of doing social justice work as an “organizer of organizers.” As LLC’s communications consultant, I spoke with Ericka about her experiences, inspirations and perspectives on leadership. Dig into our conversation below and join us in welcoming Ericka to the team!
I spoke to Ericka for the first time on a phone call in late January and was intrigued by how naturally our conversation went. Of course I expected her to be qualified and eager to enter the next phase of her career, but I soon became enamored by her effervescent spirit and cheerful nature. On our call, I learned quite a bit about Ericka, which is that she has a very unique and relatable story.
Ericka came to organizing by chance, hoping to become involved in “change-making work” after college, but didn’t really know what that meant. It wasn’t until Ericka began working with the New York Immigration Coalition, which advocates for the rights of immigrants across New York state, did her path in advocacy crystalize. “That’s when I got to explore thinking about issues from the root causes and also directly engage people who are dealing with the issues. Through that process I was able to learn about the different ways groups and institutions organize. Each group had a different community, issue and model. I got to see the different ways that things turned out.”
Being a part of New York Immigration Coalition provided Ericka with a perspective about organizing that she realized other people weren’t privy to. She talks about how critical engaging with people on a person-to-person basis is in order to build movements and take action. Still, to those outside of the organizing world, there is a lack of appreciation for the on-the-ground work. “Everywhere in the advocacy field where I’ve worked, our people said they need support for organizing. So that’s how the program I wrote about in that blog came to be. In direct response for groups who came to us saying ‘we’re trying to recruit and retain directly impacted organizers.’ We saw that people know how to organize. There isn’t a lack of talent, but there maybe a lack of systems and structures that are being utilized.”
Conversations like these led to the creation of an apprenticeship program at the Center for Neighborhood Leadership, Ericka’s most recent organization, and a proactive guide that directly challenges the assumption that communities of color, poor, immigrant and other marginalized communities need external actors to organize them. Read more on that tool here.
Knowing that Ericka had a deep appreciation for community-oriented solutions was only one of the many draws that made her the ideal team member for LLC. She also has cultivated a relationship with the organization over the past year, exemplifying the power of the network leadership model. Deborah Meehan, current LLC ED, and Ericka connected around community leadership, and a rousing game of Taboo, at the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation retreat for current grantees. Ericka notes that the relationship she cultivated with Deborah was a key motivator in encouraging her to consider the role. “I think if I had not met Deborah, and seen the kind spirit that she had and the way she embodied the values of the organization, I might not have applied.”
It’s clear that Ericka is a values-driven kind of person, and what’s most striking about her many ways of thinking is how naturally in line they are with ours at LLC. For example, her relationship with “leadership” itself has evolved into a place that challenges the traditional model and is inclusive of the various ways that people show up in the world. “I’m not necessarily the loudest person. It kinda relates to my understanding of leadership. Through helping others I have discovered my own model in leadership. You can take up space in a way that makes up more space. That’s a different model. It’s the kind of leadership that resonates and makes sense to me.”
We ended our conversation with Ericka reflecting on some of the biggest lessons she’s learned in her career, which revolve around openness and curiosity. “Being open and being curious are lessons that I take with me. Having worked in so many different organizations over the course of my career, I’ve learned from all the people I worked with. I feel like I’m a sponge absorbing lessons from all of those really smart and helpful people I’ve worked with. In that way being open has served me well over the years.”
What a powerful perspective to live by, and we can’t wait to see where this curiosity leads Ericka in this next chapter.
For those who are leading complex issues, using network approaches can increase reach, and activate and mobilize more people and resources to advance work on critical social issues.
Leadership programs have an opportunity to build the network competency of the individuals and groups they support. In2018, in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Leadership Learning Community began to support an emerging meta network of people working across a range of social factors like housing, transportation, food systems, etc., that can enhance or limit health. The purpose of this network was to create the conditions for everyone to live the healthiest life possible, in addition to connecting work across multiple issues.
We’re excited to share a set of Network Leadership modules with our leadership development practitioner community.
LLC’s approach to supporting this network, (now called the WEB Network) was two prong:
To conduct a series of basic and intermediate network leadership trainings that engage and train potential network participants to adopt network principles and the behaviors needed for leading in networks
To convene of Community of Practice composed of self-identifying people and organizations who see the potential value of this network, want to learn more about networks and were willing to experiment with network activation strategies
The Basic and Intermediate Network Leadership trainings, which were offered three times in 90 minute virtual sessions by the LLC team (Deborah Meehan, June Holley, Beth Kanter, Kiara Nagel, Monica Tzeng and Ari Sahagun), have been refined to produce Basic and Intermediate Network Leadership Training modules.
There are a number of ways you can use these modules:
You will find a deck for the Basic Training and the Intermediate Training along with a training plan that includes activities with instructions about technology if you are offering the session virtually.
The deck and training can be delivered virtually or in person.
There is also a recording of both the basic and intermediate trainings that can be used if you prefer not to deliver the content yourself.
Thanks to RWJF there is not cost for these modules. If you have questions contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If enough people are interested we will hold a webinar about using the modules or create a Community of Practice for leadership practitioners using these resources.
The WEB Network Community of Practice has supported, funded and connected a number of projects across the country working on food security, behavioral health and equity. If you are interested in learning about how your work to create equity in the conditions that affect health could advance and be advanced by the WEB network contact Kyle@leadershiplearning.org to get connected.
We are excited to share this big news with you, but before we get to the introduction of Ericka Stallings, we first want to take a minute to thank members of the LLC network, the board and many candidates who have been on this important journey with us, and shaped our learning and decision making. The entire process has been a win because all of the candidates we spoke with had many talents to bring to LLC’s work, and as a network we are confident that we will find other opportunities to tap their wisdom and expertise! Next month we will share an article of lessons learned about how we anchored this process in our values, kept equity front and center, engaged the network and, slowed down to benefit from collaborative learning and reflection.
And without further delay, we are excited to introduce you to Ericka Stallings. Ericka comes to us from the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development where she was the Deputy Director for Capacity Building and Strategic Initiatives. In her role, Ericka ran and helped to develop the innovative Center for Community Leadership. If you read her blog post or attended the LLC webinar on “Important Lessons for Cultivating Leadership of Color in Community Organizing“ you know that she brings deep wisdom about supporting the leadership of people of color, and about supporting the leadership of people closest to the problems we are trying to solve. (If you missed the blog and webinar, it's not too late to check them out.) Through her work at the intersection of leadership, equity and advocacy, Ericka brings an important perspective on power. This wisdom, experience, and skill is critical to taking LLC’s work centering equity in leadership to the next level, so look out!
Are you starting to pick up on our enthusiasm yet? In addition to all of this, Ericka impressed us as someone who knows how to run with big ideas and get things done. She has been part of shared leadership models, values the ideal and knows what it takes in practice to make it work (as evident from talking to her former co-leads/co-conspirators:-)). When asked about supervision, which often elicits a groan, Ericka totally geeked out showing us that supporting and developing people is core to who she is. On top of all of this, Ericka is fun...and this is not to be underestimated. She was interviewed by a team of three board members and our staff, and the decision to hire her was unanimous. In fact, there was a spontaneous happy dance when she hopped off the call. To give you a flavor and add to the welcome, we have included a quote from each of the interview panel members.
“Ericka’s brings just the right balance of vision and pragmatism. She dreams big, but her dreams aren’t just talk – she’s a mover and a doer, and we are so excited to have her with Deborah at the helm of LLC.”
– Uma Viswanathan, LLC Board Chair
“Ericka brings a wonderful combination of smarts, experience, creativity, resilience and warmth to LLC. I’m so glad to have her in the fold.”
-Duchesne Drew, LLC Board Member
"Ericka appears to be such a natural fit with the values, style and approach of LLC. She has a demonstrated track record in relationship building, prioritizing equitable principles/practices and innovating and tinkering at the edges that is naturally and well integrated into her repertoire. Those qualities coupled with her knowledge and experience with networks and systems portends great synergy and new possibilities ahead."
-Lisa Leverette, LLC Board Member
"Beyond her stellar credentials and a well established presence in this space, I am in awe of the intentionality, thoughtfulness, and sincerity that Ericka brings to her work. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her!"
-Kyle Shimamoto, LLC Operations and Project Manager
As we said, we look forward to having you meet Ericka too. When she visits the Bay Area the first week of March there will be happy hour so stay tuned for details. We will also be hosting a virtual coffee (date) for our board chair to introduce you to Ericka and give you chance to meet her and chat. Ericka will be working virtually from New York so if you are in NY and would like to get together do reach out (but not before the big day, March 4th). If you would like to send a personal welcome feel free to send a message to Ericka@leadershiplearning.com.
On behalf of all of us, “Welcome Ericka! We are so happy to have you join our team and bring your amazing leadership to LLC’s important work to advance social and racial justice.!”
You are invited to a lively, interactive webinar with Juana Bordas, author of The Power of Latino Leadership and Salsa, Soul and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age.
Building on the legacy of Civil Rights Movement, Juana will share five leadership principles that have emerged from communities of color and have broad relevance and application to our increasingly diverse and divided world. Leadership in communities of color can revitalize communities as people to work together for justice and equity.
You won’t want to miss this webinar that will include small group discussion, activities and music.
Juana Bordas is the author of two award winning books The Power of Latino Leadership and Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age. She was founding president of The National Hispana Leadership Institute and a founder and director of Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver. Juana served as a trustee for the International Leadership Association and The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. She currently serves as president of Lideramos The National Alliance of Latino Leadership. Among her awards is Denver’s Martin Luther King Jr. Social Responsibility, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and selected as A Wise Woman by the National Center for Women’s Policy Studies.
If you’re reading this, you have likely worked with nonprofit board members in some capacity - perhaps as a coach, a nonprofit staff member or executive, a funder, or even as a board member yourself. Having the right board members engaged in useful ways can prove critical to the success of an organization, support its leadership to navigate challenges and transitions, to prioritize goals and to pivot when necessary.
Yet high levels of board engagement - where board members go above and beyond - can be difficult for many executive directors to foster. As members of Leadership Learning Community’s board, we saw our 2018 retreat as an opportunity to reshape our board culture. LLC grounds leadership for social change in shared responsibility that arises out of trusting relationships, authenticity, and generosity. With four new members and a new Board Chair transitioning in over the past 18 months, it was the perfect opportunity to intentionally build a board culture that leaned further into LLC’s values and approaches.
Learn about the four ways we designed our retreat to equitably engage our board
We Hosted Ourselves, at Home. We want our executive director, Deborah Meehan, to know that every one of us is all in and that she can rely on us to work. This required we build in our Board members a strong sense of individual and collective ownership over LLC’s future.To put this idea into action, we took total ownership of designing and facilitating our own two-day board retreat, rather than putting that responsibility on our executive director.
How we did it. Three board members volunteered to plan the retreat - two newer members (including the new Board Chair) and one longtime member. While checking in with Deborah along the way, we held ourselves fully responsible for setting the goals, designing sessions, and recruiting other Board members to co-lead sessions. And we hosted the meeting at a Board member’s home in Philadelphia. This setting proved to be a defining feature of the retreat. Sitting at ease on comfortable chairs, couches or pillows on the floor, rather than in chairs spread around a conference room table, created a more relaxed vibe.
We Built Relationships As the Foundation for our Leadership. Even though we know that relationships are the foundation of healthy network leadership, we often don’t put relationship-building at the center Board meetings. Our eight-member Board is a mix of longtime and relatively new members living all over the country. Most of our meetings are held via video conferences, rather than face-to-face. This time around, we put an emphasis on getting to know and care about each other as authentic and whole people, beyond our current roles and organizations. And we did not consider relationship-building as separate from strategy-building. We did not “do team-building” then get to the “real work.” Rather, our personal purpose and mission were woven into our life stories, which led to how we could support LLC with our talents, curiosities, relationships, and ideas. And from there, strategy blossomed.
How we did it: We devoted the entire first day of the retreat on building relationships. Each session of sharing stories and spending time together opened us up more and more with each other. Oriented by a few prompts, people were given space to share what and for however long they wanted to. After addressing logistics and introducing a new staff member, we began our storytelling by looking inward, tapping into our creativity. We took about 20 minutes to free write, then shared about the people, places and forces that shaped us, using the Where I’m From approach created by George Ella Lyon. What we discovered is that we each had rich, funny, painful, hopeful, inspiring stories of resilience. And we realized we were quite willing to be honest and vulnerable with each other.
We then went a little deeper in our next session, talking about the people and communities that shaped us and our life journeys. We linked our personal stories to the American story, and discovered how our differing paths have led us to this work of tying racial equity and leadership together. We could see rich diversity of life experiences unfold layer by layer as we sat in a circle and told our stories. By doing so, we built understanding, respect and connections that would be the foundation for the strategic work to come.
We Experienced Something Together. We know that relationships are built through shared experiences. We also know that understanding how leadership for racial equity happens is contextual. It is tied to where we are. It is about people who are engaging, and people who are setting the conversation. Yet so often, we find ourselves sitting in a conference room, abstractly discussing ideas that are deeply about people and places.
How we did it. We wanted to see how each of us sees and engages around leadership and racial equity in the world. (We also needed to stop eating snacks and get off our bums). So a newer Board member and long-time Philly resident planned and guided us through a field trip down the street to the Museum of the American Revolution. Our guiding questions going into the museum were: “How is the story of leadership told? Who is at the center? Who is absent or misrepresented?”
The museum’s installations, struck each of us in different ways. Some of us were eager to see how the museum, which opened in the fall of 2017, curated this slice of American history using modern storytelling tools. Some of us were distressed by what we saw as yet another framing of the American story from a white, male perspective. One of us needed to leave the museum because being in the space was too painful. So another board member left with her and they got into a deep conversation about the power of story, the victors’ version of history and the absent narratives that continue to shape how we see ourselves and the people around us. As all of us sat together afterwards over drinks, sharing how we’d experienced the exhibits, we learned quite a bit about how we each move in the world. And we were heartened by our ability to have an honest, respectful conversation when we approached a sensitive topic from different perspectives.
We Created Space for Emergence. While we as a Board believe in the emergence that LLC network strategies have relied upon - how could our retreat agenda “plan” for it? More than what we did - it’s how we showed up. Our agenda provided guidance, but did not bind us. We were flexible with time, not rushing anyone, which allowed us to fully express ourselves and connect more deeply. We drew connections between LLC’s mission, our professional roles and our personal values. We got a deeper understanding of the motivations and talents within the group as well as a better sense of how we fit together. We considered the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. And as we moved from getting to know each other to what we saw as possible for LLC, our sharpest thinking was ignited from an internal sense of inspiration.
How we did it. We began Day 2 aligning ourselves around LLC’s mission, each responding to the questions: How is being on LLC Board part of your personal/professional mission? How could being on the Board can you find greater alignment between your work/org and equity? We put a stake in our commitment to the organization. And then we got practical. Deborah laid out for us the emerging opportunities and challenges on LLC’s horizons. We gave ourselves time to dig in, which allowed us to see what LLC needed and could do from fresh eyes. Then, rapid-fire, we each shared the particular contributions we each wanted to make to support LLC’s in this moment. What was amazing what how our diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise led us to stakeout complementary roles - from strategic planning, hiring a co-executive director and conference planning to fundraising, evaluation and communications.
We found ourselves giving serious thought to our edge work on racial trauma and healing, the ecosystem in which we operate and how we talk about our work. This led to us to spontaneously mapping out the ecosystem in which we operate, listing about three dozen organizations that work in racial equity, leadership development and/or networking. It was a powerful exercise. Identifying current and potential partners in the work made the enormity of the challenges before us feel manageable. It underscored the fact that we are just one star in a constellation of organizations seeking to build a more just and better connected society. And we knew that the list would continue to grow as we took more time to study the landscape. Our framing for this assessment was one of collaboration, not competition. This process underscored for us what we had been experiencing the entire retreat - we want to understand, support and work with others who are committed alongside us, and who each have something unique to contribute to the larger whole.
Dig into our Board Agenda, make it your own, and tell us how it goes!
So now what?
We’re off and running and we invite you to run alongside us, learning and sharing as we go about how we can lead and be on Boards in ways that foster co-ownership, a authentic relationships, and emergence. We will continue to share the progress and setbacks we experience as well as the course corrections we make. And we hope you will do the same.
Test out our agenda with your own Board. Make them better. Comment on this blog. Reach out to us directly.
There is no single, right way to approach this work. We trust our journey will be richer and more impactful because we’ve intentionally put authentic relationships at the center of our work together. We know that the bonds we’re building will help us dream big, create, take risks, reflect and repeat. And we take heart in knowing we’re not alone in this work.
LLC hit the jackpot with our latest hire, Kyle Shimamoto who is joining our small but mighty team as the new Operations and Project Manager. Like many of us in the non-profit sector, Kyle has had a multifaceted and fascinating career. He spent more than 10 years as a Montessori educator and co-director before transitioning to project management work in a variety of industries. He also enjoys nonprofit governance and has served on the boards of a number of organizations. We will be tapping all of these experiences.
At LLC Kyle will ensure that our many internal pieces are operating smoothly while providing management and oversight to a number of simultaneous complex projects. Did I mention, that these many project include more than a dozen consultants sourced for the work from our network. When asked by our interview panel what he would like to bring to LLC , Kyle had this to say, “I hope to be able to use my skills at building and implementing systems to help increase the operational efficiency of LLC. In doing so, I believe we can greatly increase our organizational capacity. I believe very strongly in the work that LLC is doing and am thrilled to be in a position to help increase our capacity, reach and visibility!”
We were uniformly impressed with Kyle and had no doubt that he would be able to use his skills to accomplish all of his hopes for LLC. He has already jumped right in, designed new tools, appears to be unflappable and eager to learn. You know that you will enjoy Kyle when you have chances to connect, and you will because Kyle is our first point of contact with LLC.
A little more about Kyle, so you won’t feel like strangers when you meet, Kyle grew up in the South Bay (CA), but spent most of his life living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife recently move back to CA and have settled into the East Bay where they are enjoying an increased exposure to sunlight.
As a true community builder, Kyle loves delicious food and drink, either at home or one of the many fabulous establishments the Bay Area has to offer. He also enjoys running on the trails near his house, crossword puzzles, science documentaries and tending to their chickens and cats. Please join us in welcoming Kyle!
LLC is thrilled to be introducing our newest board members. We would like extend a big welcome and thank you to Duchesne Drew and
Lisa Leverette. They will both contribute greatly to furthering the mission and work of LLC.
Meet Our Newest Board Members:
Duchesne Drew joined the LLC board in April 2018 and literally hit the ground running! Duchesne is the Community Network Vice President for the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, MN where he lives with his wife and two children.
His work at the foundation, integrating communications, innovation, leadership and networks, aligns strongly with LLC’s mission and work. In fact, he does all of this with an equity lens. Duchesne is also a veteran reporter, editor and manager, who before joining the Bush Foundation worked at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Dallas Morning News. We look forward to Duchesne’s contributions to our communications, so keep an eye out for his first blog post.
Since joining the board, Duchesne rolled up his sleeves and dove right into our recruitment process for both the Co-Director and our Operations and Project Manager positions where he was able to bring his years of management experience and wisdom to our process and hiring approach. Duchesne also helped to plan and facilitate the first board retreat he joined, to which he brought a strongly relational and equity centered approach. Under his leadership, along with board chair Uma Viswanathan and board member Kelly Hannum, we built strong relationships, got deep into equity, made big commitments to the work, and had fun!
Lisa Leverette describes herself as a Detroit based Change Orchestrator. She brings a relationship building and equity lens to everything she does: identifying and eliminating barriers to success, and managing and changing systems to improve conditions and opportunities for marginalized people. She manages Community Connections Grant Program, regranting funds and shifting power and resources to help grassroots groups who have been pushed to the furthest margins of society achieve transformational change.
Many of you may already know her because Lisa helped host Creating Space Detroit where she invited all of us to challenge our leadership assumptions and learn from non-traditional community leaders about community and systems change. True to her word she got us into the community, learning from people leading locally - yes she brought field trips to Creating Space. If you missed her at Creating Space, you might have attended one of Lisa’s webinars, and if you didn’t, it’s not too late to catch the recording for Leadership in Community on our site.
Already, Lisa has brought her laser focus on equity, asking the tough questions about how equity is in everything we do. When we first met Lisa in 2013, she kept asking if she could bring even more folks from Community Connections to Creating Space, we couldn’t say no to Lisa and in response she called herself “Lucky Lisa.” The name stuck because we are the ones who feel lucky to have her in this work with us and now on our board!
At a recent LLC board meeting, members were eagerly pitching ideas about how they could help.. Our newest member, Lisa Leverette, who in her own words is a Detroit based Change Orchestrator had a unique offer, “I want to help LLC figure out how to talk about stuff.” This sounds simple on the surface... but it’s actually quite deep. For the past couple of months, everytime I turn around, I have been running smack into the idea of how we talk about our work. At a retreat hosted by the Whitman Institute in October, “A Future We Can Trust,” we were facilitated in several sessions by Culture Strike that focused on tapping arts and creativity to shape a positive narrative. Not long after a valued colleague, Milano Harden, sent me an article by Marshall Ganz, “Public Narrative, Collective Action and Power” from 2011, that is resurfacing right now for a reason. And, a few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend Facing Race which was launched with a plenary session on narrative and arts among the culture wars. I am hooked. I have been thinking about this a lot, well kind of non-stop, and talking about it with anyone who will listen, so here were are.
In LLC’s 2015 publication, Leadership and Large Scale Change, when we talked about the kind of leadership that we believe is needed to advance social justice, the first thing we lifted up, based on lessons from Manuel Pastor’s work with the Building Healthy Communities sites, and especially the input of young people, was the importance of creating a frame that provides a way for people to make sense of their experience and unify around a common vision. We also gave a shout out to Sonia Ospina (another former board member) from the Wagner School of Leadership for her work on the importance of cognitive shifts that create a shared sense of interest.
These are not new ideas. Paulo Freire, the most influential person in my life, put forward these ideas in his seminal publication, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, fifty some years ago. For folks who have not read him, what he describes as popular education offers a lot of wisdom about what it means to cultivate leadership. There is no way to do justice to Paulo Freire, so I will start with the disclaimer that I will do my humble best to describe what resonates and is timeless about his work that I am returning to again. Freire talks about cultivating critical consciousness through the process of collective meaning making to unveil the nature of the system that creates and maintains elites and inequitable societies. He proposes a rigorous process of dialogue, pedagogy, grounded in an examination of individual and collective daily life, experiences of power relationships and the beliefs and fears that motivate behaviors. This co-creation of knowledge about reality reveals assumptions at the base of social systems and creates new awareness needed to transform these conditions in pursuit of justice and our full humanity. All pedagogy, according to Freire, is a call to action and freedom.
So what does this have to do with leadership development?
Collective meaning making or the banking system? Leadership programs can provide opportunities for participants to make meaning of their life experiences looking for patterns in order to unveil how our current system, creates and maintains elites and oppressed. This is the foundation for social justice action. Alternately, Freire criticizes the ‘banking method’ of education which treats students as empty accounts and passive repositories for the reality of the educator who ends up recreating the power dynamics of the current social systems. Understanding this continuum can be a useful lens for leadership development practitioners.
Who will lead liberation? Who understands most clearly based on daily life experiences, the assumptions and subtle workings of structural racism reinforced by a culture of white supremacy? It’s hard to disagree with Paulo Freire that people most directly oppressed by the system have an arsenal of experience from which to co-create deep knowledge and undeniable motivation for action. It is safe to say that people who have been marginalized are not the primary beneficiaries of leadership programs that could provide opportunities for learning and acting together. It raises a question of not only who is served by leadership programs but one of who is leading leadership development work. In my own personal case as a white woman, this is a significant part of why I think it’s time for LLC to promote new leadership.
Leadership for what? We have come a long way from the idea that leadership development should be for the purpose of making an individual a better leader, well, at least as the primary purpose of a leadership development program. In the evolution of thinking about this in the past decade, we talk more about leadership as a strategy that needs to be linked to on the ground results. I think it’s definitely a good thing that leadership programs want to address health inequities or increase access to healthy foods. The next stretch will be for us to address the root causes of these problems and talk more vividly about the future we are trying to create.
Developing the narrative about the world we are trying to create is both daunting and exciting, especially given the perils of the current narrative. It’s absolutely clear to me that this work is happening in all of the places I mentioned within a larger ecosystem. Facing Race is moving the conversation and calling out the conditions, culture, and policies that bolster White Supremacy. People in leadership development cannot play our role in a different future in isolation from these interrogations of our current reality happening in racial justice and social justice venues. I humbly recognized at both the Whitman Institute retreat and Facing Race the role of artists in helping with the cultural work of creating a narrative in which all of us who work for justice can see the world we are trying to create. I am so glad that we will have some help with this important work from our amazing new board member, Lisa Leverette, and I look forward to learning from and with all of you.
Wow, I didn’t even get to the Marshall Ganz piece but who wants to follow Paulo Freire, so I am saving that for next time.
Uplifting innovative leadership in and with community is about identifying the levers to realign power. This includes shifting who receives and makes decisions about money and other critical resources.
Come hear from Lisa Leverette and team members from Community Connections Grant Program about their revolutionary approach to supporting and edifying leadership for grassroots residents and youth in Detroit. They are challenging conventional ideas about ‘capacity building’ which assumes a deficit in specific skills when it’s often a question of access to resources and, instead figuring out with community what kinds of supports enable transformational community-driven change.
Join us as they explore questions like
What Community Connections has learned about how grassroots leaders conceptualize leadership and how the program responds to their identified needs.
Values, related to equity that drive the programs support of resident leaders
The most important ingredient they employ to build and support youth leadership
The relationship between youth self-advocacy and equity.
Lisa Leverette A dedicated passionate Change Agent, Lisa Leverette has over 25 years of experience managing people, systems and dynamics in order to achieve superior outcomes for organizations, individuals, government, foundations/funders and communities. Lisa employs a variety of strategies to "democratize change". They include building alliances, developing trust and authentic relationships, managing networks toward a greater good, inclusive program and project design, strategic grassroots grant-making, capacity building, individual and group coaching, collaboration