Generating ideas, connections, and action


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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Invest in Leadership for the Future: Opportunities to Engage with LLC this Giving Season

For many, November is the beginning of the holiday season.  This is the time of year that we travel, eat and celebrate.  If you are like me, you are also receiving lots of invites to events and appeal letters from an array of nonprofit organizations who share my values of equity, justice and social transformation.  This is an opportunity to support the causes near to our hearts and minds while contributing to the change needed in our communities.  LLC is proud to offer opportunities to engage our community in advancing a more just and equitable society through leadership development that is more inclusive networked and connected.   


The Foundation Partnership Program was designed for the philanthropic organizations that focus on leadership development.  Through this program, organizations have access to the expertise of LLC’s senior staff, with opportunities tailored to the needs of your leadership programs.  Members of the program are included on our website, have exposure to our extensive network of nearly 4,000 organizations throughout the country, and have priority for high-quality consulting services such as evaluation of leadership programs, network development and strategic research.  Annual membership rates are based on the amount of grant funds your organization awarded in the most recent fiscal year.  For full information, please visit the LLC website

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What If?!!! Thinking outside of the box about leadership program delivery


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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Reflections on LLC’s 2014 Funders & Evaluators Circle

Language, Metrics and Equity

It was dark when we landed in Baltimore; the city seemed to hum, waiting enthusiastically for our arrival.  I hadn’t been back to Baltimore for several years following a very short stint between college semesters; all I remembered was the streets paved in asphalt with recycled glass.  When I set out on Monday to complete a few last-minute tasks for the 2014 Funders & Evaluators meeting, I found myself pausing to snap pictures of the historic buildings, the bronze statues and churches that shadowed my path.  I felt the city’s bones and could see that time had helped shape this place.  I knew this was going to be a meeting that would change me - as a development professional, as a community organizer – and I was eager to jump into dialogue.   

Over the course of a day and a half, LLC in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation brought together 52 folks representing philanthropy and the evaluation fields.  With the support of American Express, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, a rich environment for learning and exploration was cultivated.  Let me paint the picture by providing you with the following framing questions: read more »

  1. What are key elements to leadership development approaches that are effectively contributing to measure progress on significant social problems?
  2. What evaluation approaches are being utilized or developed to successfully measure and document the impact of leadership development that results in large-scale change?
  3. What opportunities exist to replicate, spread, adapt or apply lessons from these models to increase the impact of leadership development programming and investments?

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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In Response to Darren Walker’s Message on September 2nd: Taking Stock, Looking Ahead

In September, the Ford Foundation’s President, Darren Walker, sent an email reflecting on his experience in the first year of his role at the Foundation. It was refreshing to read and was, for me, an experience in breaking down walls to reveal the relationships that are at the heart of philanthropy and social change work.  We’ve all been in a situation where we go to the front lines to experience firsthand the challenges of a community.  As leaders and movement builders, often we come with a lens of “how can I help improve these conditions so people have opportunity.”  Walker’s experiences gave him a look both backward, to the early investments from the Ford Foundation, and forward as the Foundation continues its bold vision of human dignity and social justice. 


I was humbled in reading Walker’s reflection and inspired by his notion of intellectual curiosity.  In conversations with program officers, board meetings, presentations, and workshops, everyone seems to be grappling with the same question of what’s next.  For the nonprofit sector, the challenges are more complex, our communities have evolved and in general our world is much different than it was even 10 years ago.  Technology is a factor in this as we continue to be more and more connected, constantly and inundated with more messages than our brains can actually process, or so I’ve read somewhere in the social media atmosphere.  It is clear that courageous leadership and innovative risk taking will be a driver in the changes we seek for our communities and our world. 

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