The COVID-19 pandemic presents the leadership field with the challenge of both responding to the crisis in our communities while learning to operate in fundamentally different ways. It also offers us the opportunity to reimagine how leadership in a Post-COVID-19 world could look. The “new” normal doesn’t have to just replicate the imperfect and inequitable old normal. It would be a missed opportunity, and a disservice to our communities to just go back to business as usual.
In the midst of all of the fear, anger, and anxiety I, like perhaps many of you, am experiencing right now, I’ve been pushing myself to focus on appreciation for areas of abundance in my life. I’m thankful to have my health, a safe and healthy family, meaningful employment and an amazing network of friends, colleagues, and friend-colleagues (frigues?), who have reached out to connect with me during this scary time. I’ve felt fortunate to be in relationship with them, to share virtual space with them, and to have the opportunity to continue to learn from them. Every webinar, conversation, internal LLC conversation, virtual coffee or brunch I’ve joined in the last few weeks has really helped me think about how leadership can adapt to the new reality precipitated by COVID-19. What has struck me is how generous folks are with their amazing ideas, rather than proprietary.
Given the fundamental shake-up COVID-19 has done to the world, one of my amazing friend-colleagues, Stephanie Yazgi, has been encouraging folks to consider “reckless reimagination” as a way to think about what our work and world could be like. This has inspired me to begin recklessly reimagining leadership. As I have been talking with folks and thinking about what leadership could look like, three questions arose:
During this morning’s staff check-in I confessed to having Super Tuesday jitters. I can say, without expressing specific political views, that I felt it was a ‘high stakes’ primary and I have been sitting with that for hours, and really the irony of it. For many years now I have been haranguing against the ways in which individualistic culture has corrupted our understanding of leadership and how change occurs…. and it’s not through the ‘heroic, white male leader’ out front leading the charge!
I have been reminded of several things by my discomfort! Oftentimes, in my movement work I have been more motivated by what I was against, what I loath, and not nearly enough by a clear vision of what I am standing for. This is not to say that the season has not raised important issues, and indeed, I am for free quality health care and free education for everyone; and when I say everyone, it’s with recognition of who is denied these things in this country and why. So, yes, the fight is bigger and way more expansive than what is happening this year.
Networks come in all shapes and sizes. However, if you want to be a system shifting network you will need to put in place scaffolding so that transformation can emerge easily and quickly.
On Sunday, I hosted a reunion brunch with a handful of folks who had participated in a program called “What’s Next.” It’s a program for EDs, and as the name suggests, it’s for EDs who think that they may want to leave their organization in the next 5 years to help them think about managing that transition. I participated in What’s Next for a number of reasons: I did imagine leaving LLC within 5 years, not necessarily because I am done with leadership work or really going to retire, but because I know that LLC needs to be led by people of color to solidly center equity in the field; I also wondered if I might be able to inject a point of view that the transition of leadership provides an opportunity to bring an equity lens to diversifying leadership of the non-profit section (and I tried); and truth be told, it was being held at Chaminade with gorgeous views of the pacific and yummy food.
The program provided some interesting materials on transitions that were both philosophical and practical. I know that folks in more traditional organizations found the materials useful. One of the folks at our brunch mentioned that he has shared them with his board and staff. There was a lot of talk about ‘when’ and ‘how’ you tell your board, your staff, and your community. I found myself feeling especially grateful to be part of an organization like LLC where we are able to have transparent conversations about leadership and who needs to be leading.
As an organization, we believe deeply in the power and importance of network and shared leadership. LLC is made up not only of dynamic staff members, but also hundreds of folks collaborating across state lines and issues to share skills, co-create projects, and learn from one another. In our LLC Network Spotlights series, we interview active members of our network and make space for them to share their own experiences engaging in the practices of network leadership.
This month, we interview Ari Sahagún, a movement network ecologist who supports social and climate justice movements through network building and open-source technologies. Ari is a part of the WEB Network, having designed its website, and has a deep commitment to using the innovation of networks to support cultural shifts. We hope that you learn something new from Ari’s story, and share it with your networks as well!
As an organization, we believe deeply in the power and importance of networks and shared leadership. LLC is made up not only of dynamic staff members, but also hundreds of folks collaborating across state lines and issues to share skills, co-create projects, and learn from one another. That’s why we’ve begun this new series of LLC Network Spotlights, where we interview active members of our network and make space for them to share their own experiences engaging in the practices of network leadership.
We’re excited to share our first interview with Kiara Nagel, a strategist and trainer, who is also a facilitator in the WEB Network. We hope that you learn something new from her story, and we encourage you to share it with your networks as well!
LLC has been providing network building support to a number of emerging networks, and we ourselves are on a journey to be more network centric in our own work. Ericka, our fabulous new Co-Director, recently asked a great question, “How are we applying (or not) what we are learning from our work with other networks to ourselves?” Time to take a look in the mirror. Hopefully these three lessons and the strategies that suggest will be helpful to you as well.
Realistically, we are still a spoke and hub network, not where we would like to be at all. In the diagram below, notice the network image that looks like a bicycle wheel where most communications occur between the center (staff) and members of the network, rather than among members of the network. This image is a fair characterization of LLC at this point because most of our work is still directed by our staff with some experiments in supporting network driven initiatives intended to help move us along this spectrum to become a stronger multi-hub network with the ultimate goal of being a systems shifting network contributing to justice and equity.
Perhaps because my background is in organizing and advocacy, for me the purpose of my work supporting leadership is to shift power. Looking at who has power and who doesn’t and then shifting that balance.
I think we accomplish shifting power by actually creating opportunities for people with less power, marginalized and directly impacted people, to have real power over the conditions which impact their lives, not just “a voice” which power-holders can choose to hear or not. If we are to build leadership support structures that value equity we must intentionally assess and question how power and authority are distributed, in our society and in our institutions.