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Deborah Meehan's blog

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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Celebrating Women

For 23 years I have been hosting an annual brunch for women and girls to celebrate International Women’s Day. Unlike in other parts of the world, International Women’s Day, March 8th, is not well known or celebrated in the US. There is some controversy about whether the day grew out of the labor organizing activities of women garment workers protesting for safer working conditions in New York, or to commemorate the women’s movement for universal suffrage. What is clear is that IWD is a celebration of the power of women organizing and a call to action. As I thought about writing this article after decades of honoring women, I wondered what prompted me way back then as a mother of young children. I thought perhaps world events were a call to action and there were events indeed that year, the Balkan war, the Oklahoma bombings and the OJ Simpson trial to name a few . . . . . afterall, what years have passed that have not called for our attention. Then I picked up the journal from that year where women had written about the theme and the topic of our first gathering.

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Leading with a Network Mindset: Training Opportunities

LLC is partnering with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to offer a series of trainings to people and organizations interested in understanding more about how networks can amplify collective efforts to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to lead the healthiest life possible. There will be a series of virtual 90-minute basic and intermediate Network Leadership trainings offered at no cost. If you run a leadership program for individuals or organizations that are addressing inequities that undermine health and well-being, you and your participants may be interested in these trainings, both to build your network competencies and connect with others who are working to create greater health equity. Trainings will be offered by master trainer Beth Kanter and other leadership network experts. Modules will be created from all of the sessions that you are welcome to use to provide network training in your own programs or work. To learn more or register for the trainings scroll below. If you have questions contact bella@leadershiplearning.org.

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A Shout Out to the WISE Women’s Network

It seemed appropriate during Women’s History Month to lift up the work of a very innovative leadership development strategy. They are new so the ‘history’ is a stretch but I do think they will make history. WISE Network is part of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance (BWWA), an organization focused on helping Black women generate wealth.

 

BWWA’s work is rooted in Black culture as a core resource and educational tool that facilitates cooperative economics through wealth literacy, homeownership, and cooperative business education. They believe that increasing Black women’s engagement with wealth may result in a shift outside of poverty since in many Black households, Black women are primary financial decision makers. That’s why BWWA equips women with the leadership skills and tools necessary to create generational prosperity.

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Blind Spots (Part 2): Are Leadership Development Programs Contributing to Greater Racial Equity or Inhibiting Our Progress?

Last November on the heels of our annual national convening, Creating Space, I felt compelled to sharpen the discussion about the ways in which leadership culture can work hand in hand with white supremacy to reinforce the status quo unless we are vigilant in our collective efforts of uncovering the blind spots in our thinking and behavior.

 

I was inspired by Elissa Perry and Susan Misra, from Management Assistance Group, who described this process (referenced in part 1 of the Blindspot Series, “White Supremacy Culture” by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones) of understanding how the 13 characteristics of white supremacist culture show up in their work. This is the rigor we need to upend white supremacy and enact equity across communities. In my last blog post, I took on Individualism, Paternalism and Urgency. This month I address perfectionism, objectivity and the worship of the written word.

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The Women’s March and #Metoo Reflections

I joined the Women’s March again this year in Oakland with 50,000 other women, children and men. I appreciated the call to action with a focus on midterm elections and... I think we need a much deeper conversation about leadership and democracy, who votes, who doesn’t and why (maybe next month). Being part of the march this year also caused me to reflect on an issue I have wanting to write about, #me too. It would probably be more accurate to say I have and haven’t wanted to write about it because it’s complex and emotionally triggering, as you can see from the machinations of my internal dialogue below.

 

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When Leadership Program Graduates Can’t Lead

More than once I have heard the complaint that leadership program graduates, excited to apply what they are learning, often find themselves thwarted by others back at work.  There are lots of reasons offered, bureaucracy, unsupportive supervisors, or lack of authority. There are also a number of remedies being tried...coaching, sessions on leading from the middle, and the recruitment of teams. These things may help, and yet until we address the most fundamental problem we are setting leadership graduates to fail, especially those from large institutions.

 

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Blind Spots: The Role of Leadership Development Programs in Inhibiting or Contributing to our Progress Towards Racial Equity

Since Creating Space, I have been doing a lot thinking about the ways in which leadership programs often promote leadership models that reinforce the dominant culture. At Creating Space, Design Team Member, Elissa Sloan Perry, Co-Director of Management Assistance Group, shared a presentation on how white supremacist culture shows up in our organizations based on an article by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones. We focused most of the discussion at Creating Space on organizational culture, which I later realized cannot be separated from leadership culture because after all, most leadership programs are preparing participants to lead in an organizational context.

 

I strongly recommend their article. They share thirteen characteristics of white supremacist culture, all of which resonated, and for the sake of this article and beginning this discussion, I chose three to share that I think are provocative and reveal leadership characteristics being cultivated in leadership programs that help to reinforce white supremacists culture. (In future articles I will share additional characteristics.)

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Reflections on Equitable Design

I felt honored to be part of the Creating Space Design Team with an amazing group of leadership development funders, delivery partners, network and movement builders and racial justice champions. I was eager to learn from the team about how to create an event that would deepen our learning about the ways in which our approaches to supporting leadership for racial justice need to shift.  I did not have to wait until me met in New Orleans to begin learning. I was struck by the fact that some of our conversations were filled with questions that people creating leadership development programs should also be asking, e.g. how would we honor the whole person and multiple ways of knowing; what does it mean to assume good intentions and look at impact; how do we hold space for courageous conversations; how are we thinking about power and whose knowledge is privileged; and how do we build authentic community?
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