Generating ideas, connections, and action

Deborah Meehan's blog

Appreciating Eugene After 8 Years of Service

There are no words to express our gratitude to Eugene Kim but we are going to try…..

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A Fond Farewell To Natalia

It’s not easy to say goodbye to Natalia and those of you who know her understand why.  For months, Natalia has tried to prepare us for this day. Her family is in Orange County and she moved to Los Angeles to be close. Still, we miss her. 

Aside from being very funny and making us laugh, a lot, Natalia is leaving LLC with some impossibly large shoes to fill.  Natalia started with LLC in 2009 as our Marketing and Communications Director.  If since then you have been appreciating our monthly newsletter or webinar series you can thank Natalia.  You may have noticed our new look, the glossy publications and consulting materials…yes, thanks to Natalia.  Our learning community grew from 600 leadership funders, program staff and researchers to a network of over 4,000 people.  Natalia was so successful in helping people understand our consulting services that our business has flourished and then we had a new need, managing complex projects. 

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Early Insights About Leadership Development From the Amazing “Othering and Belonging Conference”

I am a huge fan of john powell and could not resist a conference that brought him together with other legends in social and racial justice like belle hooks, Naomi Klein, Manuel Pastor, Angela Blackwell and Joanna Macy.  I will be digesting the leadership implications of the frameworks, ideas, and statistics that were offered for many months and wanted to take a moment to share some of my early insights.

john powell opened by sharing a framework for understanding the process of ‘othering’ and described three basic separations: the separation from ourselves, from others, and from the earth; all of which deny our basic humanity.   Leadership programs have historically integrated some elements of personal mastery that focus on the realm of ‘self’.  In some programs, the work of ‘self’ may be focused on confidence, discovering one’s personal passions, or the power to influence others.    An increasing number of programs that seek to help individuals build relationships and connection with others, are bringing a different lens to the work someone has to do on their self and in relationship to others.


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LLC's Theory of Change and the Network Challenge

Over the past several months, we have been revisiting our Theory of Change as we plan on how to be most strategic in making progress as a small but mighty organization with a pretty lofty goal; changing how people understand what leadership is and how to develop it.  If you follow us, you know we have a point of view about needing to develop more inclusive, networked, and collective leadership.  As you will see in the image below we believe that in order to make progress on entangled complex problems, often referred to as “wicked problems,” we need to get much better at leading and learning together across complex systems.   We also believe that we have been too narrow in looking at leadership as the behavior of an individual without understanding leadership as a process by which many people take action in solving society’s issues.  In fact, we are up against some entrenched ideals about individuals that are deeply embedded in the dominant culture of the US and the ways that we think about leadership.   Clearly, it will take many of us working together to shift our current leadership consciousness, a shift referred to in the diagram below as a meta shift.

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Sneak Preview: Leadership Development and Large Scale Change

Over the past six months, LLC has taken a deep dive into the question of “leadership for what?”  For example, leadership development programs are often designed with the hope that participants will make more progress on tough social issues; like climate change or income disparities; and that the leadership development  support they have provided will have played some part in this progress on what we are referring to as large scale change.  We are challenging ourselves to raise our expectations; that in addition to individual growth and development we can and should understand the contribution of our leadership development work to changes in communities, improved outcomes for a population of people, or even changes in a system. 

The good news is that we have ample opportunity for learning about leadership and large scale change because we are seeing a shift in the desired results of leadership development and even in the results that are being monitored and evaluated.  During a meeting, where LLC brought together fifty funders and evaluators at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in October 2014, participants were asked to map the results they were seeking on a change continuum, pictured below, that indicated the following change levels from left to right: individual, organization, community, network, movement, field, culture, systems, and population level. The post-its above the line reflect desired results and are placed under the appropriate change level headings.  Post-its below the blue line indicate which of the results will be or are currently being measured.  

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Is your Leadership Development Approach Developing the Capacities that Contribute to Successful Collaboration?

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Leadership programs are often asked the question, “leadership to what end?” In other words, is the purpose of a leadership strategy to help individuals be better leaders in general or is it a strategy for achieving a community benefit, like helping to reduce the number of young people smoking or to increase the number of children staying in school?  There are some interesting examples of leadership programs that are evaluating the contributions of their programs to these larger social purposes, but unfortunately they are the exception.   However, there has been a significant body of research about collaborations that are having a measurable impact on community changes, like school improvements. For example, the White House Council on Community Solutions supported research by Bridgespan on what can be learned from community collaboratives that achieved a 10% plus improvement on indicators.  OMG Center for Collaborative Learning conducted research on investments made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve postsecondary education systems and The California Endowment has sponsored a number of studies of their investment in the Building Healthy Communities Initiatives. This research can help leadership programs learn about the collaborative capacities they could develop to increase the likelihood that their participants will contribute successfully to the larger social purpose the programs seeks to advance. 

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Tips on Leadership Program Alumni Network Efforts

Many leadership programs would like to see the graduates of their programs remain connected after they complete their program.  A leadership program’s graduate network can be a source of peer learning, continuing education, collaboration, joint action, career advancement or a resource for the program itself.  I am excited to see programs experimenting with how to support these networks and wanted to spark a conversation about what groups are learning and share three early tips and cautions on network purpose, the difference between a service approach and network approach and when inclusion becomes exclusive.

Be clear on purpose:  The most important place to start is with the purpose of the network.  As I mentioned there are many potential benefits of being connected and a leadership network may have multiple purposes.  For example, people may want to remain connected because they are all working on a specific issue, like early education or in a particular geography like Fresno, and they see the value in being able to collaborate or mobilize the network to take action.  Of course they will likely also share information and resources but the clear motivation for connecting is that participants believe that through this network they will be learning and acting more effectively on the common issue they care about.  It may be helpful to ask if the purpose of the network is aligned with the purpose of the leadership program.  A common refrain of leadership programs is “leadership for what?” and this applies to networks as well.  

When programs staff alumni initiatives and the network’s purpose is not front and center, building the network itself can become the goal rather than the approach through which a group is working to achieve its purpose of mobilizing action on affordable housing or producing innovation in alternative energy financing.  This can be a fuzzy difference that shows up in a couple of ways: working at the lowest common denominator, drifting from a network to a service approach and inclusion that becomes exclusive.
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Gratitude and Abundance

There has been a deluge of quotes this past week about thankfulness and gratitude.  While some are kind of corny, I wholeheartedly believe in the practice of gratitude (I keep a gratitude journal) and find myself attracted to quotes that talk about abundance and spirit.  When the Leadership Learning Community launched almost 15 years ago we were testing what at the time seemed like a radical notion…that it is our nature to seek connection and that we can nurture this impulse with an intentional commitment to a spirit of abundance and generosity.  A number of people told us that this would not work because people who work in the same field are natural competitors.  What is natural about feeling the highest level of competition with people who are doing the same work you are fueled by the same passion and values?  Before going all “Polyannish” I do have to acknowledge that this is not always easy.  Sometimes we believe that there is a very small pie and not enough to go around, especially when we are talking about philanthropic dollars (currently only at 1%) for leadership development. 

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Leadership Curriculum: The Pandora’s Box of Leadership Development What does it take to change behavior?

A number of years ago when we did a survey of the per participant costs of leadership development programs the two highest costs were travel for programs that were not place based and curriculum delivery.  I consider this curriculum piece the Pandora’s Box of leadership development because it’s a bit charged being one of the biggest expenses of leadership programming and it can be hard to measure the successful application of ideas or a framework and the value of related changes in the specific context in which a program participant is working.  In post program surveys participants will often give a value of “helpful” or “very helpful” when asked to rate curriculum models on things like communications tools, using data, leadership models, etc.  Most programs however, do not have the evaluation resources to dig deeper into the stories about what was actually changed in the way the participant did things, what in their experience helped them to change their practice and behavior and of course, what difference these changes made in the lives of others.  The lack of significant and longitudinal investment in many leadership evaluations makes it hard for us to learn more rigorously about how people integrate new mindsets and skills to change behavior. 

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