Generating ideas, connections, and action

Deborah Meehan's blog

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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What are you learning about Network Leadership? Interview with June Holley

Introduction:  I had a sneak preview of June’s latest synthesis of research, “What we know about Network Leadership”, drawn from extensive reading and interviews with people leading networks.  I asked to interview her about some of the big ideas as a preview to the learning summary which will be published in the next couple of months.

 

Can you start by talking about what you mean by Network Leadership?

Take an example like the response to Hurricane Sandy.  A small group of people who had been part of Occupy Wall Street converged on the Rockaways, a strip of land devastated by the storm, and began to mobilize their networks to provide food, supplies and shelter for the many people in need. Over the next few months, more than 50,000 people volunteered and self-organized to provide meals, shelter, and medicine.  As time went on, increasing numbers of those involved were local residents.

These efforts were not organized by the Red Cross or FEMA, but by an ever-expanding group of network leaders who identified needs and then worked with small groups of others to meet those needs. As new volunteers arrived, they were encouraged to plug into an existing effort only until they saw an unmet need they could take responsibility for meeting. As a result, these network leaders were able to shift quickly from meeting basic survival needs in the communities to organizing local mold remediation crews and the YANA (You are Never Alone) Medical Clinic.

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Just a few slots left for the Network Leadership Action Research Project!

You may have been following our posts (and findings) from a Network Leadership Research and Development Project that the Leadership Learning Community launched in 2013 with support from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.  We set out to:

  1. Identify key leadership competencies and skills needed for utilizing network strategies and tools and leading effectively in networks.
  2. Scan the field to identify key practices and processes that leadership programs and successful networks are utilizing to develop network leadership capacity.

The Network Leadership Research Collaborative (NLRC)– composed of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC), June Holley (author of the Network Weaver Handbook) and the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) is excited to now be entering the second phase of our project, the Action Research Project.  

Having identified key structures and processes needed to develop network leadership, the NLRC will move to a phase of experimentation, innovation and collaborative learning.  In the Action Pesearch Phase the team will identify and match resources to the needs of participants, provide individualized coaching in the use and application of resources, offer web based trainings and facilitate peer learning through a community of practice.  Through the process Action Research Project participants will test and modify existing resources and prototype new tools and approaches through concrete application in both a networks and leadership program context.
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We Are Developing Modules on Network Leadership and We Hope You Will Help!


LLC is about to embark on a cool new project and we want to invite you to join us.  We are going to be convening a community of practice on network leadership to examine what has worked to develop network leadership capacity and develop/prototype tools as well as practice approaches that build the capacity of leadership programs to better equip their participants to effectively utilize network strategies and tools.  The focal point of the Community of Practice will be a one day Design Lab to be held in September in the Bay Area lead by Heather McLeod-Grant who is a well-recognized author who has written about network strategies, Transformer: How to build a network to change systems and Forces for Good.  We also hope to hold a Design Lab in Boston. Everyone is invited, that is until we reach the size limit for the group.  Watch for the announcement if you are interested or write to let us know you want to participate.

 

Why this project? There are hundreds of formal leadership development programs focused on developing or supporting the leadership of thousands of nonprofit leaders every year. At the same time, non-profits are beginning to explore ways in which network strategies could increase innovation, reach and influence.  However, the leadership needed to build networks and move them to action requires new behaviors and skills that are often the antithesis of what is considered good organization management. 

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Superpowers and Kryptonite: Practices for Cultivating a Mindset of Generosity

During Creating Space XI I initiated a design studio session during open space to take up the challenge of developing modules or practices that leadership development programs could use to cultivate a network mindset among the participants of their leadership development programs.  A group of 20 or so assembled over 75 minutes to see what we could develop.  We began by talking about what we meant by a network mindset.  We tried breaking it down into different mindsets, e.g. transparency, decentralized decision making, letting go of control, transparency, trust and generosity.   It was daunting but thankfully, Eugene Kim, LLC’s board chair, suggested that he was confident that this creative group of leadership development practitioners could develop some practices for supporting a mindset shift if we were to take 20 minutes to focus on one of these mindsets, he suggested ‘generosity”.   One of the things we had learned earlier from our design thinking orientation during the first day of the event is that you have to be willing to learn by trying some things out without over imagining you can think and talk your way into the perfect solution.  We quickly moved to our groups to see what we could come up with and we were all pleasantly surprised by the fun ideas that were generated in a short period of time.  In fact, we implemented two of the ideas with the participants at Creating Space. Here are some of the ideas that we surface:
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