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Deborah Meehan's blog

Leadership and How We Talk About Stuff: Three Lessons from Paulo Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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.

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Standing for Love

I was at the closing session at the International Leadership Association (ILA) when the speaker who took the stage told us she had just heard there had been a mass shooting. Phones lit up as together we all learned the horrifying news that 11 people had been killed at the Tree of Life Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh. We stood in stunned silence honoring the lives of those who had died, and as an expression of deep sympathy for their families and neighbors, and for all of those reliving the loss of hate killings in their communities. I speak for all of us at LLC in expressing our love and support to the familes of those lost in Pittsburgh, the synagogue and the city, and to the families of Maurice Stallard and Vicki Jones, two African American who were killed by a white man in Kentuck who first attempted to barge into a Black Church.

 

I was filled with sadness, outrage, and overwhelmed by the tidal wave of attacks on people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, women, and LGBTQIA communities occuring against a back drop of hateful language that incites and condones these actions. I am fired up with anger about everything I am against. Over the last couple of day, I have been reflecting about what it means to be in a perpetual fighting posture defined by what I am against. Clearly I am against hate, and I don’t want the haters to be the ones defining where my energy is going, to the extent that I am losing touch what it means to be for love.

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Continuing the Co-Director Search: Additional Updates

We have been thinking long and hard about how to conduct the search for a Co-Director in a way that is equity driven, networked and collective i.e. aligned with all of our values. After all, there are some unavoidable power dynamics in the interview process that we can’t eliminate, but we do want to address and be transparent about them. We hope to get better at this, and for now, this is our best thinking about the process. So a huge shout out to all of the candidates who are being very patient with our process, which we hope reflects relationality, transparency and equity.

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Update on the Co-Directorship

We have received applications from a number of exciting candidates. We have interviewed people who are still of interest to us, and are keeping the position open a bit longer to meet additional candidates.  We are learning as we go, and have a great team of folks from the LLC board and network who are actively engaging alongside us in this learning. Here are some of our early lessons:

 

We are a relationale network and that goes for recruitment too:  I was in a hurry to recruit a co-director because we were holding off on hiring a FT Operations and Program Manager after Miriam left so that the new person could be involved. We also were holding off on board recruitment for the same reason. This was creating a sense of urgency about an important decision for LLC.  We need to create time to get to know potential candidates, and for them to get to know us. This will require more than two interviews. Getting to know more candidates is an important process for understanding what will contribute most to the future we hope to see. So, we are slowing it down so that we can engage with more people, and talk more with interested candidates.

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Designing Leadership Support/Development Approaches that are Race Conscious and Contribute to Racial Equity

Appreciation and update: First of all, a huge appreciation to the many folks who have been contributing to our collaborative work to create a useful and rich racial equity resource for folks who provide and fund leadership development. We are definitely smarter together as those of you who have watched and supported the development of this will have seen.  We would like to propose some next steps to current and new contributors (it's definitely not too late to help.)

 

Creating diagnostics: Ultimately, what we would like to do with this document is create a supporting online diagnostic tool to help programs understand where they may need to double down in their efforts to offer race conscious leadership supports that contribute to racial equity. The diagnostic tool could also serve to provide a snapshot of how strong a specific approach will be in contributing to racial equity for potential funders. You will see in each section we are now creating a checklist to lay the groundwork for a tool. Ultimately, we would like to organize the recommendations/resources we are aggregating and link them to the major areas of the diagnostics. For example, a low score on designing and delivering leadership supports would direct you to specific design recommendations and models.

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What would it look like to bring a Racial Equity Lens to Leadership Development?

What would it look like to bring a Racial Equity Lens to Leadership Development?

You can help us to answer this question!

 

A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a funder who asked me about tools and resources that would be useful to grantmakers and people designing leadership programs; people who want to ensure that programs contributing to racial equity are supported. I shared some of the resources that I knew of, and then it occurred to me….there are tons of smart people doing great work at the intersection of leadership and racial equity.

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Practicing What We Preach: The Co-Executive Director Model

I am excited to announce that we are beginning the search for a Co-Executive Director. It’s an idea that has been percolating in me for some time now, and for many reasons. As you may have noticed, the tagline for much of what we write is…”promoting equity-based, networked and collective leadership.” Obviously, if we want to debunk the heroic individualist model of leader in favor of more collectivist models of leadership as a process, it does not make sense to embody the ‘go it alone’ individual ED model, even though we are also trying to flatten out the hierarchy which also has to happen. We have been following the move by well respected colleagues in our field who have already made this move, MAG, Movement Building Project, Center for Movement Strategy, the Whitman Center and also coming on board CompassPoint. We have had a lot of conversations about this, and we are jumping into it with our eyes wide open about all that can be great, and all that could be challenging, so ... before going into the details, I want to spend more time on why this is so important.

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Vision, Hope and Liberation: Some Thoughts and Exercises for Visioning

Oddly, I don’t think I have written much about my own leadership development experience, which was profound on many levels. As I sat down to write about vision I found myself remembering two experiences as a participant in the Kellogg National Leadership Program that shaped my thinking and beliefs. The first was a week long, small seminar for 12 lucky fellows, self included, with Paulo Freire. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was sacred text to me. I could write dozens of blog posts about that experience, but for the sake of focus I will go straight to one of many punchlines. On about day three, he walked over to me and kindly put his hand on my shoulder as he said, “Your problem is that you don’t dream.” He went on to explain that while power might change hands in the fight for justice, we will recreate systems oppressions without imagining a society in which we are able to reach our full humanity by liberating ourselves from oppressive relationships (either as oppressor or oppressed). read more »

Blind Spots (Part 3)

At Creating Space, Elissa Perry shared a framework on White Supremacy Culture from Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones as she invited us to reflect on the ways in which this culture shows up in our organizations. Since then, I have been thinking about how these characteristics are often the default in our leadership development practice as well. Today, I wanted to discuss the remaining characteristics which fall into two areas: how we value what we do, and how we address power and conflict.

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