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Deborah Meehan's blog

Leadership Development Hiding in Plain Sight: Reflections on Creating Space X


In reading the survey responses from our national meeting, Creating Space X in Baltimore this past May, a funny thought crossed my mind.  Aren’t many of the things that people benefited from at CS elements of good leadership development?  A number of participants even talked about replicating some of these methodologies like open space, self-organizing, and the design challenge into their leadership programs.   Here are some examples of some of the major themes and what people said: read more »

  • Diversity: A lot of people talked about the value of connecting with others who share a passion for being change makers and meeting people who are different, “the wonderfully diverse mixture of researchers, consultants, program staff, funders and community organizers.”
  • Relationship Building and Peer Learning:  Small group interactions facilitated relationship building and peer exchange, “talking one on one with people about their program models and what they’re working on to exchange ideas and learn from each other.”
  • Deep Conversation: A number of people mentioned the importance of time and space for deep conversations, “Inviting people to come into the conversation with openness, without judgment and not forcing an outcome, especially on topics like race.”
  • Application to Real Problems/Issues: The design challenge harnessed the group’s creative energy around real time issues and problems and was very popular with survey respondents.  “The Design Challenge is something I have used several times with a lot of success.”

Transition Process: Early Wins from Leadership Transition Experiment


Natalia and Deborah strike 
"power poses" - Watch the TED Talk that inspired this practice around our office!

By Natalia Castañeda and Deborah Meehan


Over the past few months we have been sharing our experience of transitioning leadership and some of the external and internal trials of creating a new leadership formation within LLC.  We will continue to share these insights but thought it would be fun to share a couple of the wins. 


Improved Staff Development and Supervision:

We start with our basic assumption that the role of Executive Director is loaded up with responsibilities that are usually more than one person can sanely do.  However, most nonprofit organizations do not have COO, or Managing Director, types of positions common in the corporate sector unless they are pretty large.  For the last few years, the operations side was the area in our organization that took the biggest hit.  In trying to balance the programmatic work, fund development, and consulting work, operations got less attention.  It could also be a larger problem in the sector that we are not paying enough attention to the need of investing in senior operations staff that can help keep the work going within the organization. 

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LLC MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Community Vitality Advisor, Jane Leonard

Understanding, Measuring, and Leading Complex Community Change Work


Jane Leonard is a community vitality advisor currently in private practice based in St. Paul, Minnesota. We met Jane in 2011 when Jane contracted with LLC to conduct a scan of leadership development work in MN, SD, and ND.  We were excited about this work because we shared a passion about community leadership or how to build the leadership capacity of a community to tackle it issues and thrive.  Jane was able to be a great bridge between the leadership development and community development fields.  In fact, she’s the recent (this month) recipient of the Community Development Society’s Duane L. Gibson Distinguished Service Award for her long-standing and superior contributions to the field of community development and to CDS.


She’s quick to point out that CDS, an organization that believes in and promotes inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches to community development, has helped her as much as she has helped it.  “I’m someone who sees and acts on connections everywhere – connections that are necessary and helpful for people, communities, and organizations to be resilient and vital in an era of great complexity and constant change.”

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Consultative Sessions/Peer Assists: An Exercise in Collective Leadership

Over the years, as part of LLC’s consulting services we have from time to time conducted what we call consultative sessions. Other people call them peer assists. June Holley describes the process she uses in the Network Weavers Handbook. Regardless of the language I am sure we all share some similar premises: read more »

  • There is great learning value in digging into concrete examples to apply our best thinking on a question, problem or issue.
  • Our applied thinking is enriched by a diversity of perspectives, and not just the usual suspects. 
  • All participants benefit from the learning produced by an exchange among diverse peers, not just the subject of the consultative session. 
  • The group can generate thinking that goes beyond the ideas of any one participant in the process.
  • Despite the assumptions we make about busyness, people are very generous with their time when it comes to helping a project/program doing good work and the chance to hang out with cool people.

How Can Leadership Development Programs Make a Difference in the Challenges of Tackling Racism?

There was no business as usual at our first staff meeting since the Trayvon Martin verdict.  We all needed to talk about the issue that had weighed heavily on us through the week and process our sense of grief and outrage. We asked ourselves the question, “How can the work we do (leadership development) make a difference in something as persistent and ugly as racism? The staff had lots of thoughts about what we could do as individuals or even within LLC as a team and we decided to channel our despair into a call to action, a call to ourselves and our community. We will be reaching out to folks who do leadership development in the Bay Area to help us host a conversation about our roles as leadership development practitioners and funders in undoing racism. Please stay tuned for details of the meeting and additional blog posts from LLC team members who will be sharing perspectives on this important topic.

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Transition Process: Month 7 and Lessons about Collective Leadership and Transparency

By Deborah Meehan and Natalia Castañeda


Natalia has fully taken on the role of Managing Director with enthusiastic support of the community (thank you all for your heartfelt congratulations at Creating Space), the board, and the staff.   As part of the process we each rewrote our job descriptions to reflect how we would divide up the senior level leadership responsibilities.  We have included our job descriptions for anyone who might be interested in that level of detail.  The work we have been doing has given us a chance to think more about and experiment with how to tap the collective leadership of the team.  This work has taken several forms and generated some interesting issues and proposals.


Balancing individual and collective responsibility.  One of the issues that we have struggled with throughout our history of promoting shared leadership is understanding how all of our parts are contributing to the whole and especially, how the sum of the of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  To accomplish that, we have tried out different approaches: read more »

LLC Members Spotlight: A Special Shout Out to LLC’s Open Board Meeting Guests

Over the past year LLC has been experimenting with a networked board strategy by tapping members of the network to bring their expertise to open board meetings.  We wrote about this experience in an earlier blog post: Bringing a Network Mindset to our Nonprofit Board.  Over the past six months, the LLC board has been discussing our 3 year goals.  We see ourselves as part of a larger leadership development ecosystem of others doing leadership research, working at the intersection of leadership and networks, funders who are investing in leadership and believe that all of these perspectives are important as we assess our direction and goals for 2017.   In this spirit we invited a number of highly respected colleagues and partners to attend an open board meeting following our national meeting, Creating Space X.

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A New Leadership Development Mindset: Leadership Development Hiding in Plain Sight

New Collective Leadership Mindset

Over three years ago, LLC published an important thought piece, “A New Leadership Mindset.”  In the article, we point out that most of our thinking about leadership has focused almost exclusively on leadership as the behavior on an individual influencing others.  We believe that our culture of individualism has permeated our leadership thinking causing us to look for and elevate the role of individuals in the change process missing another important dimension of leadership, i.e. leadership as the process by which many people align their efforts to take collective action on behalf of a common purpose.  We don’t negate the role of individuals in the leadership process; in fact, we believe that even more is required of individuals to take successful action with others. read more »

LLC MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Stacy Kono, Rockwood Leadership Institute

LLC Member Spotlight: Stacy Kono, Rockwood Leadership Institute

We are excited this month to be highlighting our partnership work with Rockwood Leadership and in particular with Stacy Kono who is Rockwood's Fellowship Director. We have had a long standing relationship with Rockwood and more recently converged more through our work.  Through our partnership with Social Policy Research Associates, LLC had the opportunity to help evaluate the impact of the leadership development component of the Community Leadership Project.  Rockwood, one of the leadership providers for CLP ran leadership programs for people of color.  I was moved to sit in a circle with Stacy and a couple of Rockwood participants as they talked about the power of the experience.  One woman who talked about doing work in a community where tritip, football and Jesus are the background went on to say, “To have a space in beautiful place to talk about feelings was beautiful.  I am hurt and need to heal and want to heal others.  It was a gift.”  We are huge fans of Rockwood and all of the folks over there and are happy to have the opportunity to appreciate Stacy.

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Breaking New Ground in Leadership Development: What’s Money Got To Do With It?

In keeping with the theme of Creating Space X it seemed only appropriate to be on the lookout for innovations in approaches to supporting and developing leadership.  Linetta Gilbert of The Declaration Institute, called a session on how to reach people who are being left behind.  I was intrigued and moved to attend.  I believe that everyone has leadership potential but I am not sure that we have begun to wrap our minds around what it would mean to reach everyone who wants to lead (or maybe in their words, “make a difference in their community” and provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed.  I am very carefully avoiding the terminology of “leadership development” which for good reason always sparks some good controversy, but which is a topic for another blog. 

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