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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reflections on Being an Emerging Leader

I have had the privilege of being able to witness some of the most interesting and inspiring speakers as part of the Emerging Leaders program. Della Britton Baeza’s journey was inspiring to me and made me excited to strive to become a leader in the nonprofit sector. Margaret Crotty showed us that it’s ok to fail, something which I’ve been deathly afraid of. To hear her say that one of the best decisions she’s ever made felt like a failure, was comforting and made me realize the value of stepping outside of my comfort zone. As someone who likes to have everything figured out and feel 100% prepared before taking any steps, she challenged the way I thought.

Coming into the program, I had heard about the great speakers and the growth that it enables, and that was true right from the start. Having professionally administered Myer’s-Briggs Type Indicator personality test allowed me to gain insight into how I processed information and understand how others do the same. For example, I better understood that i can be resistant to change. The 360 feedback report was another useful tool that allowed me to identify resistance to conflict as something I needed to improve. It also challenged the assumptions I had about the ways other perceived me. I learned that my colleagues felt heard and trusted me to make decisions. This was eye-opening for me because I realized that I had the freedom to make decisions without constantly seeking consensus.

The entire program is facilitated by an expert, Yael Sivi, who is very in touch with her feelings side, as she would say. She made sure we were actually absorbing the material and constantly checked in with us if anything felt off. She was very gracious in listening to all of our feedback whether it was information presented in the Powerpoint slides or the way she ran our sessions. Unlike many other workshops I’ve been to, Yael’s goal was to make sure we’re taking something away from the sessions rather than simply serving us information.

As I look back, I know I’ve grown a lot and will continue to grow as I digest and incorporate the many skills I’ve learned during the course of the program, skills that I have no doubt are what allowed me to get promoted to the manager level this past January.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Network: Fifteen Emerging Leaders Stronger

“Who’s in your network?” It’s a question we ask our Fellows, the social entrepreneurs my organization funds, fairly often when we’re helping them approach a challenge or seize an opportunity for their fledging organizations. And I’ve noticed that when we talk about the value-add of our Fellowship program to the 3,000 social entrepreneurs vying to be one of the 1% named a Fellow of our organization, my colleagues and I pretty quickly gloss over the stipend and technical assistance. Our informal and formal pitches alike emphasize the value of our community.

So tomorrow is our last Emerging Leaders NYC 2013-2014 cohort session, and it’s a good time to take stock: Eight sessions later, who’s in my network, my community?

Earlier this week, I received an email from an award committee asking my organization to nominate our Fellows their social innovation prize, referencing that they got my contact information from a member of my EL cohort.

Two months ago, I was hitting a wall in an outside-of-work project that involved developing a curriculum for middle school students about self care and mental health. I explained my challenge to a member of my EL cohort and within a week, I had two examples of culturally sensitive, thoughtful, and engaging curricula in my inbox.

For the past month, I’ve been in close contact with a member of my EL cohort looking to transition to a role within my organization. I sent in a brief note of recommendation that accelerated her phone interview with our search consultant, which, of course, she aced. We met for drinks to talk about the exciting and the challenging of the job—and what personality quirks she could expect from athe second phase: an in-person interview with two of my close colleagues. And after that interview, when the key decision-maker in the hiring process asked how well I knew the candidate, I said heard her perspectives on effective habits of leadership, witnessed and benefitted from her peer coaching, watched her excel with public speaking, learned about how she approaches problem solving and internal politics at her current job—with humility, maturity, and no ego.  I was soccer-mom proud when I learned she had made it to the assignment phase of the process. Fingers crossed for the next few steps!

As I look forward to the next phase of my own career, I’m both excited and comforted by the knowledge I’ll be able to continue to draw on the most valuable part of this program: fifteen amazing nonprofit leaders—now a little more “emerged” than we were eight sessions ago—in my network.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Looking back and ahead

Tomorrow is our last session of the 8-month Emerging Leaders program, and it has really flown by. When I first heard about Emerging Leaders, I was excited for the opportunity -- which I really hadn't had since college -- to reflect on the individual and group dynamics I'm immersed in every day at work. And the program has provided space for that, as well as a lot more.

I work for a technically-focused non-profit, and on a day-to-day basis am often shoulder-deep in the engineering-heavy world of energy efficiency. Early on, when co-workers asked what I did at training that one day a month, I would sometimes struggle to pull myself out of the technical world to explain how important and useful I found these monthly discussions diving into leadership styles, or examining what factors might trigger various responses from myself or a colleague. But over these 8 months that has become easier and easier to do, as every month I've found instant real-world applications of the theories and scenarios we'd been discussing.

Thinking back now on these sessions, which have given me the space to reflect on work at my non-profit organization and the unique challenges and opportunities that provides, brings to mind the conclusion of a 1-month backpacking course I undertook in college. On the last night, we read an essay titled "Briefing for Entry Into a More Harsh Environment" by Morgan Hite -- and though the wilderness aspects do not translate, the overall lessons certainly do. The tools, skills, and insights I'm taking with me from my time with this Emerging Leaders cohort over the last few months make me better prepared for my career in the non-profit sector -- and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's All In Your Head

Recently, we were asked to prepare a short presentation to develop our public speaking skills. While I knew we only had to speak for 3 minutes, I imagined that brief amount of time stretching into eternity--especially because we would be videotaped for posterity.

Thankfully, we were fortunate to have some prep by a wonderful expert on public speaking who joined us that day, Jezra Kaye. She supplied us with endless tips and tricks, such as the “instant speech” and a refreshing opinion that we keep our key message as simple and redundant as possible (otherwise it’s guaranteed no one will remember). Everything Jezra shared has already become so useful at my workplace.

As a perfect complement, an earlier Emerging Leaders session touched on cognitive distortions. These are the negative, habitual thought patterns that masquerade in our minds as average thoughts, yet cause us to see ourselves and the world imperfectly. It’s interesting to see how these impact both my professional and personal life. In hindsight, I can now see that two cognitive distortions caused me to unreasonably loathe the thought of public speaking. First, I experienced the distortion of All-or-Nothing Thinking (seeing things in black-or-white categories rather than in shades of grey), by immediately assuming I wouldn’t be as articulate as I hoped. Yet instead the feedback from the group showed that I was actually quite clear, and that I only needed to tweak one or two points. As a second example, after I watched video footage of myself from the comfort of home, I wrote to our incredible facilitator Yael Sivi to acknowledge that while I had feared the worst, it wasn’t as if I turned into a completely different version of myself.  The cognitive distortion at play there is Emotional Reasoning (assuming that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are). My takeaway was that I didn’t appear to others as uneasy as I felt inside. It’s a bit of a relief to know I should just focus more on my message and not my appearance.

Learning about cognitive distortions may seem distantly related to public speaking or becoming a great leader. But because of Emerging Leaders, I’m coming to understand in new ways just how greatly concepts like these can strengthen my approach to professional life. There’s nothing more powerful than knowledge - especially the kind that describes the daily mental habits that may assist or hamper the best of intentions, whether in myself or those I work with. As we’ve learned in the article “What Makes a Leader” by Daniel Goleman, it is emotional intelligence and not job skills that has everything to do with leading and managing well.

I am so appreciative of the opportunity to learn and practice these lessons which will follow me back to my own work in community programs at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, and stay with me as I contribute to the world of arts, social change and service. I feel very fortunate for these incisive tools provided by the program, and rich conversations led by Yael with my amazing peer group in Emerging Leaders.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Paying it Forward

Over the last nine months, we have benefited from discussions with leaders in the nonprofit sector. The backgrounds of the speakers varied and topics of conversation ran the gamut—working with boards, cultivating corporate partnerships, managing work-life balance, building presentation skills, collaborating with teams, and many more.

But one thing that united all of our guests was their generosity in supporting the Emerging Leaders program. Despite important responsibilities and packed calendars, they took the time to meet with us to discuss their personal and professional journeys, accomplishments, failures, passions, and visions for the future. They all expressed a sincere desire to pay forward the support they have received and the lessons they have learned over the years in order to invest in the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

My fellow participants have already embraced that culture of paying it forward. Whether we’re providing feedback on presentations, supporting each other in completing our stretch goals, or offering advice, resources, or connections to help us improve our work, there is a sincere desire to help each other. I know we will continue to pay forward the incredible support we have received during this program. I look forward to following the progress of my classmates and seeing what kind of impact we can collectively have. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lessons from Public Speaking

Over the past six months, I have been so fortunate to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program. I've had the opportunity to learn from some of the most intelligent, hardworking, motivated, and passionate change-makers I've ever met. My fellow Emerging Leaders have challenged me, coached me, supported me, advised me, and inspired me. (And made me laugh!) I knew this was a special group of people, but this fact became even more apparent to me at our November session.

I came into this particular session less enthusiastic than I had been at other sessions. First of all, it involved getting up early on a Saturday morning and second of all, this session focused on public speaking. Not only would we have to present in front of the group, but we would also be videotaped – I was dreading this part specifically. As I prepared my three-minute presentation a few days ahead of time, I tried to remember what I had learned from a public speaking seminar in college. Things like, “project your voice” and “pick one person to make eye contact with” and “use large hand gestures.” It all felt a little forced and awkward to me, and I was nervous going into the presentation.

However, I didn't account for two important things: Jezra Kaye, our fantastic guest speaker and public speaking guru, and the supportive community of my fellow EL-ers. Jezra started our day off, and she was unlike any other public speaking coach I have encountered. She didn't tell us to take a power stance or gesticulate wildly or use impressive words – she told us to speak like ourselves. Her philosophy comes from a strengths-based perspective, that we are at our best when we are being authentic. Through her teachings, I was able to see how each person in the room could be a dazzling speaker as they let their personality shine through. Jezra had us up with our public speaking avatars, choosing three adjectives that we wanted to exude. Everyone chose something different – some people wanted to be perceived as confident, others as warm, others as innovative, and others as authoritative. This exercise spoke to the diverse personalities and values in our group.

Later that afternoon, we gave our speeches. Though I had been nervous going into the day, I hadn’t accounted for the encouraging, supportive, and nurturing community of EL-ers. In a previous Emerging Leaders session, our group leader Yael talked about the power of vulnerability,  and how vulnerability allows us to connect with people in an entirely different way. I saw this in action during our November session. We all were vulnerable when speaking in front of the group, but this shared experience also facilitated great generosity and learning. Watching others present taught me so much about public speaking. When it was my turn to present, I was struck by how open, attentive, and curious others were. The feedback I got was some of the most productive, generous, helpful, and thoughtful feedback I have ever received. I believe this exercise was so helpful because we all experienced this together, and we were able to learn from others’ strengths and vulnerability.

Needless to say, I left our session more energized than I ever expected (despite my early wake up!). I feel so lucky to be a part of such a meaningful and special community of peers, and I was so glad to gain public speaking skills is such a supportive environment. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Get Involved!

Inspired by the Emerging Leaders program, last month I had the opportunity to observe a board meeting for our organization. As this was my first board meeting experience, I was unsure what to expect.

Overall, the meeting was well-attended and board members were very engaged. Our Chief of Research (my direct supervisor) presented an excellent overview of our student and teacher data from the previous school year. I was especially impressed how board members interacted during this part of the meeting. Members had specific questions about measurement tools, national averages, etc. As a person who spends the majority of my time working with data and trying to find ways to communicate the data in concise, meaningful ways, it was helpful to observe what data were of interest to board members.

In days following the board meeting I had the chance to debrief the meeting with the president and CEO of our organization. Meeting with our president was an equally educational experience as he has years of experience serving on multiple nonprofit boards. Notably, during our meeting, it was mentioned that a recurring potential challenge for board members (not specific to our board, but members in a broader sense) is the diversity of roles within board members. This has the potential to lead to confusion and warrants discussion surrounding expectations and concrete responsibility setting.

While reflecting about my experiences with our governance procedures it occurred to me that many of the topics (if not all) covered by the Emerging Leaders Program are directly applicable to participating on a non-profit board. The power of networking, knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, emotional intelligence and managements skills, trust-building, and presentation skills are all components that work together to create a successful board member.

In the coming months, I am looking forward to developing a more influential style of communication and fine tuning my leadership style. This summer I also plan to volunteer to serve on a nonprofit board with hopes of using my newly honed skills and experiences from the Emerging Leaders program to give back to the non-profit arena.