Generating ideas, connections, and action

Deborah Meehan's blog

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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How a Social Network Analysis (SNA) can help leadership development programs

Over the past several months the Leadership Learning Community has had the opportunity to partner with the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York to conduct a Social Network Analysis of their Health Leadership Fellows Program graduate network.   Since many leadership programs could benefit from an SNA, we wanted to share examples about how the HLFP will be able to use social network maps:

  1. The SNA will compliment an evaluation by providing a visual representation of the ways in which relationships cultivated through the program are continuing as a source of peer learning, mutual support and collaborations that are seeking to produce better health outcomes.
  2. The SNA will provide the network with a better understanding of its strengths and opportunities for activating learning and action.

About the program: The goal of the Health Leadership Fellows (HLF) program is to expand a network of skilled leaders that will learn to lead collaboratively from both within and outside of their organizations and become advocates for improved health care delivery, particularly for the elderly and children from communities of poverty.   The program graduated 99 Health Leadership Fellows in its first 3 cohorts, is currently operating its fourth cohort of 40 fellows and will soon launch a fifth cohort.  Collaboration is a hallmark of the program and an SNA can be particularly effective at creating a picture of the extent of collaboration in a network.

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Announcing the Catalysts

Creating Space XI 2014 | Design Challenge Catalysts

Heather McLeod Grant
Creating Space XI Contribution
The Design Challenge Session:  Heather will share a design opportunity presented to her when she was invited to help create the New Leadership Network for the James Irvine Foundation.  After participants have their hand at designing with the same parameters and expectations Heather will reveal the program design she and her colleagues created. From McLeod-Grant Advisors, Heather is a well-known author, speaker, and was most recently a Global Account Manager at Monitor Institute, where her work focused on scaling impact, leveraging networks for social change, and transforming large-scale nonprofits. 

Michael Mcafee 
Creating Space XI Contribution
Program Design Challenge: Michael will share a design opportunity he had to develop a leadership program for the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink.  After participants work in teams to make design recommendations in line with the desired results for the Promise Neighborhoods leadership program, Michael will share the elements of the program that he helped to design. As Senior Director at PolicyLink and Director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute also at PolicyLink, Michael oversees the Institute’s strategic direction and implementation of strategies that mobilize neighborhood leaders to build communities of opportunity.



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Can leadership strategies catalyze innovation, networks, and radical change and if so, how are they doing it?

In 2013 LLC published “Leadership and Collective Impact”, a guide for strengthening the impact of leadership development work.  The publication highlights leadership strategies that contribute to more tangible progress on tough issues like health access or school readiness or neighborhood safety. Recommending that programs consider introducing a systems thinking module or that they help participants become more comfortable with social media will require new tools, models and resources.  This year, LLC’s national meeting, Creating Space XI, (CSXI) will focus on introducing and developing resources that can help leadership programs retool and experiment with new strategies.  In preparation for CS XI we will be highlighting the exciting and innovative work of this year’s participants.  This is just a teaser of more to come at CSXI so don’t forget to register.

As we scouted the field we found one program that is implementing many of the ideas that LLC has been recommending to promote leadership that is more inclusive, networked and collective.  And, the program is getting impressive results, even as a new program.  We are enthusiastic about sharing some highlights from this program now and we are especially excited about what they will bring to Creating Space.  In 2011 the James Irvine Foundation invested in a regionally based leadership network in the San Joaquin Valley based on feedback solicited from focus groups with young leaders.  I had a brief chance to speak with Heather McLeod-Grant, of McLeod-Grant Advisors who is the Managing Director for the James Irvine Foundation New Leadership Network in San Joaquin Valley.
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Design Meetings that Foster Innovation: Learn from a Hands on Peer Assist

Are you a little bit of a facilitation geek?  We are looking for you - anyone who loves the idea of bringing a fresh perspective to the questions of how to design a gathering that engages participants in creative work, e.g. ingenious problem solving or innovative development and prototyping.  

What we are asking:  We are looking for 8-12 people to participate in a peer assist to review and provide feedback to the Leadership Learning Community about the optimal design for this year’s Creating Space gathering, “Tools for Transformation: Supporting Leadership that is Inclusive, Networked and Collective.”   CSXI this year hopes to achieve two ambitious results:

  • A set of practical tools and resources that support breakthroughs in leadership development practice
  • An engaged network to continue innovating and learning around the breakthroughs and their application in creating transformative change

This is our design challenge.
We have been conducting interviews to identify fresh resources and interesting methodologies.  We will engage participants in the peer assist in learning from our own experiences about approaches that support application, working in teams on a mock up design, and offering recommendations about processes and an integrated design that unleashes creativity and makes risk taking fun, even normative.
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