To address the nonprofit demand for peer learning experiences, Common Good Vermont worked with local executive coaches to design Leadership Development Circles. As part of our pilot effort, we were most fortunate to work with Susan Palmer of Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC who volunteered to facilitate monthly breakfast meetings in Montpelier between January and May. Our old friend, Mark Furnari ran a parallel EDLC Circle in Burlington from January to March.
The primary purposes of the EDLD Circles are to provide opportunities for executive directors to: alleviate the isolation of often working alone; connect with other non-profit executive directors, do some networking, and possibly form peer-mentoring relationships; introduce leadership resources to each other; and engage in meaningful discussion of leadership topics. The cost for participants was modest (in this case $50 per three-month session) in order to subsidize Common Good Vermont‘s administration of the Circles.
According to the evaluation survey results, the EDLD Circles offered a valuable and worthwhile experience for the executive directors and met our initial goals.
I appreciate the connection to other nonprofit leaders, the opportunity to reflect upon things that demand too little of my time, exposure to resources with which I may be unfamiliar.
The Burlington Circle worked with “The Power of Full Engagement”, which proved immediately useful:
I really enjoyed learning about the full engagement survey and reading the Power of Full Engagement book. We have already had a meeting with our staff about it. We were long stumped as a management team as to what tools we could share with staff to help them take responsibility for their work life balance. This tool has been quickly embraced and very helpful.
In Montpelier, 10 executive directors attended the January-March session, and 8 in the April-June session, with 5 overlapping folks who signed up for all six months. The executive directors came from downtown Montpelier, and as far away as Woodstock and White River Junction. Their organizations ranged from solo operations (i.e. in which the executive director is the only paid employee and works with a Board and staff of volunteers) with limited budgets, to a statewide organization with over 80 employees and a multi-million dollar budget.
The EDLD Circle agendas were generated by the executive directors at the first meeting of each three-month session. The 90-minute conversations were typically structured as a series of “case studies” brought to the group by participants. Leadership discussion topics included: engaging in effective communication and productive conflict; cultivating “managerial courage”; directing others; evaluating
and empowering staff; creating and articulating long-term vision; fostering buy-in from diverse stakeholders; motivating lower-skilled staff and volunteers (especially when a leader has few carrots and no sticks); team-building; managing daily tasks while holding the “big picture”; and work/life balance.
During and after each meeting, the executive directors and Susan shared resources with each other. These included everything from book and articles, to organizations’ internal documents, such as sample employee handbooks and communication plans. Some of Susan’s favorite recommendations – in no
particular order – were:
• Resonant Leadership, by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (Harvard Business School Press, 2005). Note: the authors, et al., also offer an accompanying workbook, Becoming a Resonant Leader (Harvard Business Press, 2008).
• “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman in the Harvard Business Review (1998). For a more in-depth discussion of the importance of emotional intelligence in leaders, see Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance by Goleman et al. (Harvard Business Press, 2001).
• Finding Your True North: A Program to Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George, et al. (Jossey-Bass, 2008). This is a workbook based on the volume True North by Bill George (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).
• Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Press, 2009). For a summary in article form, see “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” by the same authors in the Harvard Business Review (2001). For an in-depth discussion of how to use Kegan’s framework of adult development to promote growth within your organization, I highly recommend Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jenifer Garvey Berger (Stanford University, 2012).
• Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald A. Heifetz (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1994). A practical toolkit for applying Heifetz’ theories to organizational change can be found in his latest book with Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2009).
We are considering the possibility of offering additional EDLD Circles, in more location and formats, this fall. Please be in touch with us if you have input to offer and/or are interested in more information about leading or registering for the EDLD Circle nearest you! Email us at Coordinator@CommonGoodVT.org