Generating ideas, connections, and action

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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2014 Funders and Evaluators Circle: Preliminary Insights and Reaction

“It was clear that the meeting planners had a high intention of making the meeting useful to all and very applicable to our respective work agendas.”  (Meeting Participant)

Last week, the Leadership Learning Community and the Annie E. Casey Foundation joined forces to host the Funders and Evaluators Learning Circle in Baltimore, MD with the support of the W.K.K Foundation, American Express and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  As someone new to this particular LLC event I am thrilled to report that, as I told my colleagues last week, this was one of my favorite LLC convenings – and I have been to quite a few over the last 5 years! What made this particular event for me so powerful was a combination of several factors:
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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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Practicing with Design Thinking at the d-school

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to visit the d-school at Stanford and participate in a Design Lab hosted by LLC and facilitated by Heather McLeod Grant, independent consultant, and Justin Ferrell, from the d-school. Together with a group of 25 leadership development stakeholders we spent a whole day learning –and practicing– how we can apply design thinking methodology to create innovations in our work.  For this particular convening we had a specific task to accomplish – developing ideas for modules, and tools and exercises that can help leadership development practitioners incorporate a network mindset. We will be working with June Holley, network weaver, to translate our ideas and insights into a modules guide over the next few weeks so stay tuned for more information. For now though, I wanted to share some of my take-aways from the day:
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  • The power of your environment.  I have been exploring design thinking for a few years now and have had the opportunity to practice with the methodology in different contexts.  However, being at the d-school and experiencing the environment that facilitates this kind of learning and experimentation every day was really powerful.  First of all, everyone who signs up to take classes at the d-school from Stanford is volunteering to do so – i.e. it is not a requirement for any kind of coursework.  So everyone in the school has great enthusiasm for the work and is eager to learn.  The rooms are set up with moveable white boards, chairs, tables, binders with tools, so that the room can be arranged and rearranged based on the work. The chairs are not very comfortable, which is done purposely so that participants are always standing up and moving around.  The front of the room has two black boards that close the room, but that can be easily moved if the room needs to be more open.  All in all, the place in itself encourages movement, fluidity and adaptability.

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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2014 Webinar: Cultivating Results-Driven Leadership for Meaningful Change | Dr. Michael McAfee

On Thursday, September 11, 2014, Dr. Michael McAfee led the group in a discussion around the challenges of leading collective impact initiatives that aim to challenge and dismantle our nation's inequities. 
During the discussion, he engaged the group to consider the ways in which results-driven systems can be used by leaders to focus and accelerate sustainable change. He also described the system of technical assistance that he and his team employ in their work, and its impact within the Promise Neighborhoods movement.
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2014 Webinar | 10 Lessons about Virtual Network Leadership Development | Panelist: June Holley

In August 2014, June Holley presented 10 Lessons about virtual network leadership development based on principles of learning and behavior change. This webinar was relevant to leadership programs and networks that want to augment face to face time with virtual learning opportunities that can address the geographic, time, and cost challenges of working only through face to face connections. One of the lessons learned was the importance of "having the capacity to have breakout group capacity to increase engagement around content."


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What The Loss of Michael Brown Means to The Leadership Development Field

Once again, the US finds itself facing a tragedy that is a result of the systemic racism and the implicit bias of those in power. In fact, the names of the victims of racial profiling have piled up so many of them happening after the death of Trayvon Martin. The recurring dehumanization of brown bodies has haunted Americans since before slavery and has devolved and been injected into all aspects of society. And as the divide widens among different groups, there is no doubt that in this moment courageous, collective leadership is needed most.
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