Generating ideas, connections, and action

Deborah Meehan's blog

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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The Racial Equity Leadership Network Has Been Launched!

An amazing group of people came together on November 18th to launch the Racial Equity Leadership Network, the brainchild of Claudia Paredes, Patrick Brown and Uma Viswanathan  of the Greenlining Institute and Urban Habitat.  The vision grew out of conversations with LLC over the past year about the value of building community among people bringing a racial justice lens to leadership work, a community that could be a source of learning, moral support and collaboration.   We were happy to serve as humble host for the tremendous planning work (a real labor of love) by Claudia, Patrick and Uma.  The response was strong testament to the need as we were full to capacity.  The close quarters did nothing to diminish the energy. 
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What If?!!! Thinking outside of the box about leadership program delivery

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There are so many benefits to individuals who attend leadership programs, some might wonder why we should consider different approaches…if it’s not broken why fix it?  After all, people who attend traditional leadership programs report increased self-confidence and new skills that they believe enable them to perform more effectively in their leadership roles, often within organizations.   As times change so are our ideas about leadership.  Complex problems need a new level of connection and collaboration across organizations and work on single issues.

 

Ten years ago the benefits of relationships developing among the participants of a leadership program were often unintended Now, leadership programs see the opportunity for leadership programs to connecting diverse individuals across their organizations, especially in programs that are recruiting participants who work in the same region or share a common focus on school readiness or the health of seniors. The peer learning and collaborations that occur among program participants often benefits their individual and collective work, their communities long after the program’s completion.
 

LLC recently interviewed over 30 funders with a rich history of investing in leadership development and the theme of supporting people and groups in the context of actual work was prevalent. This is an approach that tailors leadership supports to the real time needs of people engaged in working with others on issues they care most about. 
 

This was also a strong focus of LLC’s publication on Leadership and Collective Impact.  In the publication we suggest thinking strategically about who to recruit to a leadership program.  A leadership program can be a container for seeding new relationships among individuals, groups and organizations who share a common concern or vision and for supporting their learning and work together. While we have explored how to bring people to a program to help build their capacity to work effectively together, we haven’t explored what it could look like to bring leadership supports to ongoing work instead.
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You’re Invited: October 9th Peer Assist – “How Power, Privilege and Race Show Up in Networks”

When LLC conducted a recent survey of leadership development programs about the relevance of networks for those leading social change over 80% of the respondents felt that being able to use network strategies and tools was an important leadership competency. Interest in networks is growing and often with the belief that networks are flatter, more democratic and inclusive.  Networks do have different dynamics and are not devoid of power.  These issues came up in sessions at our national meeting elevating the conversation to an important and needed level.  For example, networks are based on cultivating trust, and as you develop exercises for encouraging trust how do you consider the issue of expecting people who are not part of (or beneficiaries of) the dominant culture to extend trust in the same way that people in the dominant culture might?  We need more of these types of conversations and investigations of how power, privilege and race play out in networks. 

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Guest Article by Stacey Millett: Libraries as Networked Health Equity Leaders

Over the past several years we have begun to realize that some of the most innovative approaches to leadership development are happening under our radar because they are embedded in the day to day work taking place in organizations, communities and initiatives.  I recently found myself marveling over the impact of a grants program that supported and connected library leaders committed to strengthening public health in their cities and counties. I am on the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield MN and was first inspired by this grants program as a creative strategy for furthering health equity when it was introduced by Stacey Millett, Senior Program Officer for Health Equity.  Recently I have become impressed by the leadership achievements of this program, a network of library leaders engaged in peer learning, reaching out to connect with networks in their respective communities and collaborating on a toolkit to for other public libraries leaders to help them bring a health and equity lens to their work.  I asked Stacey to share the story of this work and I invite you to listen with a leadership lens and imagine what we might borrow from this story in our own leadership thinking and practice.


“Libraries as Networked Health Equity Leaders”

 “What do libraries have to do with health?” a colleague queried when I suggested making grants to public libraries in Minnesota.  “Everything” I replied, “libraries are more than just a great place to get books.”  When joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation as Senior Program Officer for Health Equity I envisioned cultivating a network of local public library staff committed to strengthening local community health.  As trusted institutions they often have strong community ties.

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