The past several years of surveying and talking with our members have made it clear that Individual Coaching & Support is one of the most important pillars for personal and professional development.
Unfortunately, it's also the area that emerging leaders often have the least access to, both in terms of finding these resources and paying for them.
We here at YNPN believe very strongly that everyone should have access to individual coaching and support. The work of changing the world and building stronger communities is not only incredibly important, it’s also ridiculously complex. Understanding how each of us can best fit into that equation is also incredibly important and complex. So while sometimes all you need to be a better contributor is a really informative workshop and a solid network of community contacts, often times the help you need to figure out your contribution requires much more of a personal touch.
Sisters, Brothers, I’ve Been to the Coaching Mountaintop
When I took on the job of being the first national director of YNPN, nearly everyone I spoke with recommended that I find a coach.
“No, thank you,” I said. “Coaches are for ladies who lunch and people who read Eat, Pray, Love,” I explained helpfully. “I will rely on grit and sheer will to do this ridiculously hard thing that I’ve never done before. KThanksBye.”
Basically I saw coaching as too much of a privilege and an indulgence. But within two months of taking on the position, I was so desperate for help that I wasn’t even sheepish about going back to these folks and asking them to recommend someone--anyone--who could make me feel like the world wasn’t spinning.
I’ve worked with an executive coach now for over two years and have since become a bit of a proselytizer about its benefits. It does still feel like an enormous privilege to have someone providing me with such direct, individualized support every week. But rather than turning down something that I know is incredibly valuable for me because not everyone has access to it, I have made it part of my personal mission and our organizational mission to make sure that many more people can take advantage of this powerful tool.
So what’s a coach and what does a coach do?
Well, the International Coaches Federation describes coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” But when my friends and colleagues ask me about what my coach does, I basically say three things: She reminds me of my strengths, she helps me set priorities, and she convinces me each week that I’m not ruining everything. It’s kind of awesome.
Increasing access to coaching is just one of the targeted ways that we’re working to unlock the potential of an entire generation of social change leaders. You can help us zero in on the best strategy for helping members access coaching by completing this super-short survey and sharing it with your friends. Help us help you!
And if you want to read more about the transformative power of coaching, check out this blog post from one of our former LaunchPad Fellows, Betty-Jeanne Reuters-Ward.
Chapter Blog Spotlight - Value of Cross-Sector, Cross-industry networking: Reflections from the Generation Now Leadership Visit
At events, I often look around the room and recognize 75 percent of the attendees.
Each of us across sectors and industries work in our own cylinders of excellence (a phrase I first heard from researcher Kristie Kauerz). We promote impactful work, but often preach to our distinct choirs. Rarely there is a venue to genuinely engage with peers doing vastly different work. But when it happens, it turns out we have a lot in common.
The Generation Now Leadership Visit, modeled after the executive level InterCity Leadership Visit, was an opportunity to bring together 55 emerging leaders across sectors and industries on an intense three-day trip to Milwaukee.
Organized by the Citizens League, the trip was a whirlwind tour highlighting success in Milwaukee. We learned about redevelopment, young professional groups, community branding, education, water policy, green buildings, etc. (the agenda was ambitious!). The best part was when I boarded the bus to depart I only knew five people, but when I returned I knew 49 more who I may not have otherwise crossed paths professionally.
My work explicitly overlaps with only one of the delegates, but I’ve rarely had as engaging of professional conversations as I had on the trip. The conversations forced me to think about my work from new perspectives and consider the impact of my work on other fields. Plus, it was humbling to discuss the work of peers.
The benefits of cross-sector and industry collaboration were obvious on both small and large scales. At one point, I was a part of a conversation between an employee of a utility company and an employee of a nonprofit working to combat homelessness. They quickly realized bill-paying customers were a common goal of both organizations - to the utility company this met its need for profit as well as serving shareholders and to the nonprofit this met the goal of financial independence for clients.
On a large scale, the diversity of attendees allowed for overarching discussions about Minneapolis-Saint Paul as a region, it’s challenges, and opportunities. Often when working in solely our own sector and industry it’s challenging to take complete ownership of a daunting problem such as the achievement gap or poverty. However, when a diverse set of players is at the table, it becomes clear that everyone is impacted by the problem and we need to work together to find solutions.
The delegation came from diverse sectors, industries, demographics, and experiences, but at the end of the trip one delegate thoughtfully commented that he had no clue the political affiliation of most of the group. Despite the diversity of the group, we all left Milwaukee with an incredible sense of urgency to move MSP forward, together. Thanks to our diversity, I’m confident we can create skyways between our cylinders of excellence. Part of our skyway system will be working towards a common vision for MSP - more on this in an upcoming Part 2.
GNLV would not have been possible without the generous support of the Bush Foundation, Knight Foundation, Carlson, Comcast, Greater MSP, Saint Paul Port Authority, US Bank, Urban Land Institute, Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce and MinnPost. Thank you!
In what ways do you network across sectors and industries?- See more at: http://www.ynpntwincities.org/blog/2013/10/10/value-of-cross-sector-cross-industry-networking-reflections.html#sthash.i66fMEMo.dpuf
by Alnierys Venegas, cross-posted from YNPN Chicago.
Castle Pub was energetic and vibrant as YNPN Chicago celebrated its Board Meet and Greet. It was great to see the overwhelming response of YNPN members who are interested in board service. While mingling with prospective recruits, I reflected on my own personal journey as a member of the YNPN Chicago Board and the valuable lessons, as well as experiences, that I have learned throughout my tenure.
It is exciting to be a part of a member-driven, all-volunteer, working board of young nonprofit professionals committed to enhancing the sector, but there are three key things that I have learned during my time with YNPN that I would like for those considering board service to think about:
You Are the Workhorse – Being a part of a board will require completing tasks independently, or in a team, in order to assist with the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. Often times, people assume that board involvement has little to no responsibilities aside from attending meetings, so you’ll often overhear comments like this:
“Huh…this is so much work.”
“I didn’t’ think I was going to be responsible with actually executing the idea I presented in the meeting.”
“Can’t somebody else take on the responsibility?”
My YNPN colleague, Aaron House, explained this concept best in his blog, “A Board Service.” You will be expected to be accountable for taking on tasks outside of the board room. In short, you are the workhorse.
You Create the Experience – Aside from the work that is expected, there will be plenty of opportunities to attend board events, functions, and meetings. This is a great opportunity to get to know your peers and meet new meet people. If you choose not to attend or if you limit yourself from engaging in those extracurricular activities, then your board experience will, more than likely, not be as enjoyable or fulfilling as it could be. The whole purpose of board participation is growing personally and professionally while connecting with individuals that could aid both in your career and personal lives. Connect. Engage. Create a memorable experience!
You Make a Commitment – Board terms last 1-2 years. That can seem like a pretty long time for a young professional, especially when you don’t know what kind of life circumstance you will face such as family, relationship, school, or career changes. Despite these circumstances you should honor your term commitment. Doing so not only demonstrates steadfastness, but your ability to respect your peers who joined hoping to have your support in board service. Not to mention, it also helps to build your character.
As I end my board service with YNPN Chicago, I will take with me not only these key lessons, but a phenomenal experience that allowed me to meet new people, learn about other nonprofit organizations, and develop new skills which helped me to grow personally and professionally. Take it from me…be accountable, enjoy your board service, and honor the commitment that you accepted. It is worth it.
YNPN National is currently working on broader strategies to address the issues of coaching access and affordability. As part of that strategy, the following post is part of an ongoing series aimed at raising awareness about the importance of coaching and tools for accessing this critical support - both amongst our members and the sector at large.
Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach
By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward
Last year, I sought out a colleague for a heart-to-heart: Alongside my demanding nonprofit job, I yearned to move my career forward. My coworker seemed to have endless energy and inspiration for his own professional development. He urged me to hire a coach, and referred me to Cathy Wasserman, owner of Self-Leadership Strategies, which provides depth, career, and executive coaching.
I became a client of Cathy’s – and a passionate believer in the transformative power of coaching. I recently spoke with Cathy about her work:
Why work with a coach? What’s in it for social change leaders?
CW: Coaching enables people to dig deep around their unique strengths, growing edges, and values. Ultimately, when people maximize what they can share of themselves, social change efforts maximize as well. Social change requires as many people as possible to articulate their ideas, problem solve, and bring their best self to their work.
Coaching lends itself well to the challenges and complexities of addressing social problems. It helps people navigate contradictions within organizations: the gaps between mission and what is actually happening.
Coaching can exponentialize someone’s work for social change – both within larger society, and within themselves as a healthy, effective change agent. Coaching allows people to learn from all that is happening, and sustain themselves for the long haul.
What mental barriers do you see in people struggling to reach career goals?
CW: There’s a real challenge in allowing ourselves to be fulfilled, to go for what we want, to stop doing what isn’t working. Human beings have trouble embracing our greatness and possibility; we tend to undervalue our skill, value, and intrinsic worth. We over-identify with our inner critic, and work within environments that feed that back to us.
Ironically, those barriers are often catalysts for growth – levers for unleashing more of ourselves – but in the moment, they can be confusing and frustrating. Coaches help people to realize their mental barriers as opportunities for growth and discovery.
Are there particular challenges nonprofit leaders face?
CW: Intrinsically, there’s a sense of “fighting the good fight”, of coming from behind. Nonprofit leaders, more than the average person, have a sense of scarcity, of more limitations they’re working against. There are also logistical realities of working for nonprofits: For example, because there is less money than in the corporate sector, there is also less leadership development training available.
What’s one exercise someone can engage in to move forward in their career?
CW: Start by getting clear on your mission, values, and priorities – personally or professionally. I consider that the foundation of the house of leadership. We need that to help direct our energy and stay on track. It’s difficult to move forward strategically and sustainably without that “north star”.
How did you get into coaching?
CW: I’ve coached informally throughout my career, for example as a community organizer in the feminist and youth movements. There wasn’t much language of coaching at the time – it was just something I did. Eventually, I studied social work and was trained as a therapist, a discipline closely related to coaching.
I decided to work at both micro and macro levels: Besides coaching individuals, I worked as a management consultant for the Support Center for Nonprofit Management. Through one of my trainings I met folks from Idealist, and was invited to write a career coaching column, “Ask Cathy”. There was a tremendous response from readers seeking coaching, so I developed a coaching business. As with many coaches, my road was long and winding – but really, I’ve been coaching all along.
Would you recommend coaching as a career path for others?
CW: Coaching requires an ability to really witness and be present to someone. It demands skill and mastery of one’s relationship to the self. As that muscle is built, you can be more and more available to others, and support them in a powerful way, helping them unlock themselves and explore what’s going on within them.
Coaching isn’t for faint of heart. You need to be able to go into crevices of someone else’s humanity. People will resist and limit their own growth and get frustrated by it, which can make the coaching process difficult. A coach has to be energized by that challenge.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a coach?
CW: It’s a real privilege to witness someone’s growth process, as they tackle the truth of who they are, who they’ve been, and who they’re becoming. Sometimes it’s about bravely looking at your own “shadow” side, and dealing with it. The role of coach and client is to take risks and move forward, even with the fear and anxiety and doubt that come up. That people allow this process to happen is a source of great gratitude and joy for me.
The Stress of the “5-Year Plan"
By Alicia Jay, cross-posted from www.rabbleup.com.
I recently asked a room-full of emerging social change leaders to close their eyes and picture their professional selves in 5 years. Everyone closed their eyes, and sat with the visualization. After the exercise, I asked for reactions. A few folks shared their visions– brilliant and inspiring.
Then, one brave woman stood up and said, “That exercise really stressed me out!” I LOVED her honesty, and it really got me thinking.
Projecting into the future has always been one of my go-to tools whenever I’m feeling stuck, bored, or just planning for my next steps. I love imagining myself 5 or 10 years from now. My Type-A side is nicely balanced with my inner day-dreamer, and visualization remains one of my strongest manifestation tricks.
But, for some, or maybe even for many emerging leaders, conjuring up that vision is terrifying or impossible:
How am I supposed to know where I want to be in 5 years, I’m not sure where I want to be next month?
I like what I’m doing now, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this work for 5 years?
I don’t see how I can support myself financially doing non-profit work for the long-haul? These are all valid feelings.
If these types of questions are resonating with you, I encourage you to throw away the idea that you need a “5-Year Plan” and just simply start with one basic question for your work NOW:
How do you want to feel at work every day?
Get specific with your answer. Here are some examples from recent conversations I’ve had (paraphrased) to get the juices flowing:
- I want more responsibility at work—I want to feel like my boss and co-workers trust me, and are willing to give me big projects to work on without micromanaging. I want to feel acknowledged for the good work that I have done. I’m a team player, but I also want ownership.
- I like my job, but I want to feel more stable. I know my organization is having financial trouble, and I’m worried that if they have to cut jobs, mine will be the first to go. I don’t know much about how the fundraising works, but I’d be happy to help in any way that I can. I wish I could be included more in decision-making conversations, or at least feel more clued-in to what’s happening.
- I think I’m in a rut. Between working a day job and volunteering on the weekends, I think I’m getting burnt out. I want to feel excited to go to work, not exhausted and dreading every Monday morning. I want to feel supported, inspired, and like I’m making real social change every day.
Again, the more specific of a picture you can paint, the easier it will be to take action steps.
The person from the first example decided it was time to have a conversation with her boss about more responsibility and taking the steps to work her way up to a manager’s role. She also realized that in a few years, she might want to be a Program Director or other manager of some sort.
The next person decided to schedule an informational interview with someone that works in philanthropy. Instead of feeling disempowered by the fundraising aspect of his organization, he realized he might actually want to pursue either fundraising or even grant making in the future.
This last example is arguably the most common situation I hear. There is no one prescription for this situation, and in my experience, it’s the right time for many people to get more personalized and ongoing support.
If you’re finding yourself on the brink of, or already, in a cycle of burn out, come say hi over at www.rabbleup.com, and take the FREE questionnaire and get a personalized response directly from me.
There’s no need to force a “vision” if it’s just not coming to you. Leadership vision is only useful if it’s a source of inspiration and motivation, not stress.
Don’t want to plan out your life for the next decade?! No problem, just start with how you want to feel tomorrow.
Alicia Jay is the founder of Rabble Up, a coaching and training program for emerging social change leaders. Go to www.rabbleup.com for more information or to schedule a free coaching consultation.
It’s been quite an adventure serving as a YNPN LaunchPad Fellow these last nine months.
When I started as YNPN National’s Talent Coordinator, I was new to YNPN and eager to plug into a network of supportive peers and colleagues who, like me, were building their careers in the nonprofit sector. LaunchPad provided me a unique two-fold opportunity: to build my own professional path, while helping build YNPN as a dynamic, evolving, increasingly influential national organization.
LaunchPad in itself was a bold new experiment for YNPN, and the Talent Coordinator position was no exception. My charge was to help YNPN align its organizational values and goals with its strategy for recruiting and managing talent (folks like our chapter leaders, national staff and board). Though it was not clear whether or how a talent manager would be part of future YNPN staffing structures, it was clear to me how much YNPN sought to be intentional about its values, culture, and strategy - especially how that showed up in the day-to-day, year-to-year experience of its leaders.
In that spirit, new resources and blog content - focusing on leadership development, volunteer management, organizational assessments, and more - began to emerge. In my first blog post I shared some of my lessons and philosophy about talent management, as they often aligned with YNPN’s own ideas.
Later, I reflected on the results of our Virtual Road Trip, through which YNPN National learned about out chapters’ major experiences, challenges, and opportunities with managing their own talent. This data, combined with ongoing research on talent management within and beyond the nonprofit sector, inspired YNPN’s first webinar series, “Developing Human Capital for Chapter Success”.
Finally, I got personal. A professional development session with the LaunchPad team on “Complexifying Self Care” inspired a blog post and later a Spark Speech and break out session at this year’s YNPN National Leaders Conference. So many of our YNPN leaders are grappling with how to work sustainably, live healthily, and live out their callings to the nonprofit sector. This conversation is much larger than YNPN alone, most recently prompting a crosspost between YNPN and Idealist Careers.I am deeply grateful for all of this dialogue - and action - around how to collectively build a nonprofit sector that intentionally and strategically ensures that well-being of its leaders and the integrity of our work.
This spring, I hinted at a report in development, which would articulate YNPN’s own model for recruiting, developing, and managing talent. That report is now available ([wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]), and I welcome your feedback. What are your own chapters’ stories regarding talent? What values and strategies inform the ways your workplaces develop their leaders? How can research and story-telling help us build the systems and structures we need to support leaders working for social change?
Read Report Here: [wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]
I hope you’ll stay in touch as this first cycle of LaunchPad Fellowships wraps up, and I take on a new role with YNPN moving forward. Can’t wait to get active in my local chapter!
By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator
By April Greene, Cross-posted from Idealist Careers.
It can be really tempting to slack off at work during the summer, if even just a little. And a little is probably okay—after all, ‘tis the season for easing up on wardrobe formality, taking lunch in the park, and leaving early on Friday to beat the weekend getaway traffic, whether you’re the ED or an intern. Let’s hit the beach!
But keep in mind that you can also harness the bright energy of summer days to make some career-recharging moves. Here are a few ideas:
Consider a work/vacation mashup
It’s truly important to take time away from work now and then (whatever the season) to relax and rejuvenate, so by all means plan a summer vacation or two if you can. But you might consider also trying to hitch your vacation to something work-related to reap dual benefits. For example, if you’ve been thinking about visiting family in the Milwaukee area sometime this summer and notice there’s a conference you’re interested in taking place there in August, talk with your folks and your boss to see if you can work out a two-part trip.
This serves many purposes: You’ll show your boss you’ve got your eyes open for work-related opportunities happening away from your desk, you’ll get to learn new things and meet new people in a new environment (#refreshing), and you might be able to cut some costs (staying with family instead of the conference hotel would save your org money; seeing if you can get your flight paid for would keep that cash in your pocket).
Pick up some back-burner projects
Sometimes it’s hard to get work done in the summer because your project partners keep going on vacation, or your boss’s phone doesn’t get reception on the cruise ship. When you reach impasses like these in your work, consider digging deep into your to-do list and bringing up smaller projects you can do solo or with the people sticking around at the same time as you. They may not be high-priority tasks (feel free to think as small as deleting old documents or reorganizing your desk), but that’s kind of the point: It’s too easy for non-essentials to get put on hold forever, and summer can be the perfect downtime to pick them back up and finish them once and for all, with less distractions to hinder your momentum.
Bonus: Having taken the initiative on some back-burner projects will make you look great when your manager comes back from the Caribbean.
Take a hike, go fly a kite, etc.
At least once a day during the hot weather months, try to venture outside, if even briefly. Go out to pick up your lunch instead of having it delivered, invite a friend who works nearby to meet for afternoon coffee al fresco, or stroll to the park for a few minutes of dog-and-people watching. Lifehacker has some other good ideas. There are a ton of productivity benefits of doing this (the increased circulation from walking, the exhilaration of breathing fresh air, the mental break of getting away from your desk), plus the reality that this is summer, and even if you do still need to go to work most days, you should do yourself the favor of remembering that fact and luxuriating in it all you can. When Labor Day rolls around, you don’t want to don’t want to wonder where the last three months went.
Yes, we know this is very Idealist of us to suggest, but fun volunteer opportunities do proliferate in the summer season (park clean-ups, trips to the zoo with under-served kids, manning the registration table at the 5k fundraiser). And the potential career benefits of volunteering shouldn’t be underestimated—we’ve written a lot about them in our Volunteer Info Center and here on Idealist Careers.
Set up some good habits
Parlay the summer feel-good energy into your work life by picking up some new behaviors that can advance your career. Create a list of your accomplishments at work—then add to it from now on whenever you do something noteworthy. Invite a coworker you don’t see much to eat lunch together one day—then pick another person to ask next month. Research and decide on a professional development or networking activity to attend—and keep doing this once a quarter, at least. If you build up a roster of good work habits now, you’ll feel the effects in every season to come.
What do you do to recharge your career in the summer? Tell us in the comments below.
Your colleague in fundraising down the hall — social and connected as she may be — is actually craving deeper, more meaningful relationships.
And you’re far from alone if you’ve been nostalgic recently for close pals from years past.
How do we know this? Thanks to The State of Friendship in America Report, 2013 – a study we released at Lifeboat last month that sheds new light on the dire social landscape facing adults across the country.
A few key findings to start:
- Less than a quarter of Americans say they are truly satisfied with their friendships and almost two-thirds lack confidence in even their closest friends.
- Generation X’ers and Boomers (those in their prime working years) are hit hardest by the trend, indicating a “mid-life friendship slump.”
- Most Americans–by more than 2 to 1–would prefer to have deeper friendships than more friends.
It adds up to a national malaise we’re calling the “Friendship Crisis.” What does this personal situation have to do with the workplace? Lots.
First, friendship is a major dynamic in people’s lives. Nobody just leaves it at home. With the release of our study, we now have a scientifically clear-eyed view of the difficulties adults have really connecting with each other in the digital age. For managers, colleagues, marketers and HR professionals, friendship is incredibly relevant.
Also, you’ve probably heard the conventional management wisdom that suggests friends and work don’t mix, right? Well, we’re not convinced and all our experience tells us collegial friendships are inevitable anyways. In this light, the more productive question to ask is: how do I do it right?
A PROFESSIONAL FRIEND-FREE ZONE
Before we answer that question: why do traditionalists argue against pals at the office in the first place?
They say that mixing work and friendship can blur decision making and make difficult calls more difficult. Some worry that friends in the office can lead to distracting — even inappropriate — behavior. How can someone operate in the best interest of the organization, they ask, if they’re also worried about their BFF? These issues get real for mangers facing such difficult situations as annual reviews — or worse layoffs — involving close friends. All good reasons – they say – to remain socially guarded in our cubicles.
3 REASONS TO EMBRACE FRIENDS AT WORK
Still, advocates like us for a friend-friendly approach to work suggest this line of thinking is outmoded.
First, with just about everyone spending more time at work — and/or more time on work at home — colleagues can often seem like the best social option. Where else would you find so many people with similar interests, passions and values? And according to our State of Friendship Report 42% of adults say they met at least one of their closest friends at work. The percent rising to 42% for Gen-Xers (age 35-49) and to 50% of Baby Boomers (age 50-69). So work friends can indeed work.
Second, close friendships at work can make you happier with your job. According this a study in the Journal of Business Psychology, workers report higher job satisfaction when they felt they had even the opportunity for friendships at the office. A 2013 survey of 2223 business people across Australia found most planning to stick with their current job — and they cited “good relationship with co-workers” as the major reason (67 percent) above even salary (46 percent).
Third, collegial friends can help you succeed. Leaders need people in their lives who nurture them through the tough times and who challenge them to be their best selves and live up to their dreams and potential. Sometimes it’s only workmates who can truly understand where you are at and offer cogent advice.
SO HOW SHOULD YOU DO FRIENDSHIP AT WORK?
With these arguments in mind, here are three strategies we recommend for starting to create your workplace Lifeboat:
Go Deep not Wide
Nurturing quality relationships takes time, emotional energy and cognitive capacity – all of which are limited. Anthropologists suggests that thanks our limited brain capacities, we can only maintain casual social relationships with less than 150 individuals—a principle known as Dunbar’s number. Deep relationships with strong bonds on the other hand, tend to occur in what psychologists refer to as sympathy groups—groups of 10-15 people. And more than 2-to-1 American adults say they would prefer these deeper relationships over more connections.
So we still recommend cultivating a large professional network, but we also suggest investing oneself more deeply and personally with a handful of people you trust — you professional Lifeboat.
You’ve probably noticed how people tend to befriends others similar to themselves. It’s a phenomenon known by social science as “Homophily or “love of the same”. Trouble is much of the reward of friendship come from learning and growth from the different experience of others, something called the “Michelangelo effect.” To help, try mixing up your professional Lifeboat in terms of age, seniority, gender, skills and nationality.
Give 1% More
As young professionals go through life family, work and other demands occupy an increasing amount of time and brain space. Often this takes a toll on time spent with friends. The average American adult spends 4% of their time with friends – down from 30% as teenagers!
Our recommendation here is simply to invest one percent additional time with friends each week (1 hour 30min). It doesn’t have to be big – think an extra phone call, a lunch date, or a quick note for a job well done.
We think of these small changes — choosing your lifeboat, breaking the inertia, giving 1% more — as investments that will pay back dividends. Social scientists are finding friends makes us feel more satisfied, connected, grounded and supported – ready to tackle the professional and personal challenges we face.
Like many YNPN members, my early life experiences informed my professional life today. Active in my church in childhood and adolescence, I developed a deep commitment to social and environmental justice, and joined multigenerational teams volunteering for a variety of causes. In college, I was lucky to study abroad through Semester at Sea, which (as I then described) “smacked me in the face with my own privilege”, exposed me to extreme wealth disparity and racism around the globe, and caused me to question most of what I knew: my middle-class lifestyle, my major life choices, and my role in a world that was both so beautiful and so broken. As I began to look for full-time work following college, I was certain – fervently, urgently so – that I wanted to devote my life to social change, and my professional life to the nonprofit sector.
Already then, I knew my tendencies - to overextend myself, to neglect my own health, and to fuel my work out of guilt, urgency, and a sense of martyrdom – which left me drained and burned out, often. In my first full-time job, as a national community organizer, I epitomized workaholism and experienced physical and emotional pain because of it. I began to despair that I would not be able to live out my calling to work for social change, without sacrificing my health and relationships in the process.
Early in my career, I was fortunate to enroll in a graduate school launching a first-of-its-kind experiment: a Masters program in Social Change at a theological school (seminary). The program sought to provide not only professional and academic training, but also spiritual and emotional grounding, to social change leaders. I was encouraged to make sense of my own experience, and place it in a larger context of social movement history. I explored common struggles social change leaders experience in their professional and personal lives, and how these may differ across class, race, gender, and other identities. I devoted my final project to “Personal Sustainability and Mental Health in Social Movements”, using my own story as a central narrative. It was another privileged experience, to immerse myself in the study and implementation of “self care”. That program would have been difficult or impossible to complete if I hadn’t been a middle class, school-loan beneficiary without dependents.
The “self care” theme has shaped my life and career ever since. In most leadership roles, from counseling youth to managing political campaigns, I experienced external factors (i.e. workplace environments) and internal factors (i.e. my own psychology) that predisposed me to burnout – reminding me again and again to sharpen my strategic work-planning, boundary-setting, and care-taking skills. I’ve found purpose in mentoring and training others on how to cultivate health, care, and sustainability within their own social change efforts. And, I’m constantly trying to understand how my social location – for example, as a white middle-class formally-educated woman – impacts my needs for, and practices of, “self care”.
This theme came up immediately when I began working with YNPN National, via the LaunchPad Fellowship program. As Talent Coordinator, I work with our Director, Trish, to evaluate the experience of YNPN leaders – for example our LaunchPad Fellows – and systemically cultivate a work environment in which we reflect openly on our challenges, support each other in taking care of ourselves, and plan and execute our work in strategic and sustainable ways. It’s an awesome challenge.
In our most recent LaunchPad staff meeting, I offered a professional development presentation centered on an essay called “An End to Self Care” by my friend and collaborator B Loewe, which builds on “Communites of Care” by Yashna Padamsee. Both were published in Organizing Upgrade, an online forum for community organizers to share and develop strategy. “An End to Self Care” came out last fall, and ignited a national conversation.
The article doesn’t so much seek to end self-care, as reframe it. Self care, as it’s usually understood, is an individual – rather than collective – task, often inaccessible and irrelevant to those who aren’t middle-class people with leisure time (i.e. no family dependents). Self care is often framed as another “to do” on an already unwieldy workload, leading to unrealistic, unattainable expectations that can make us feel bad about failing to adequately care for ourselves.
There are many insights in the article, so I’ll paraphrase just a few key points:
Building a society in which all are able to be healthy, cared-for and sustainable requires critical reflection on the possibilities and limitations of the nonprofit sector.
The experience of working for non-profits and social change efforts needs, in many ways, to be reconstructed or reframed to become a more energizing rather than draining experience.
To break out of the isolation often perpetuated by our dominant culture, we must move beyond care for the self and practice collective or community care.
Community care is a collectively liberatory practice which can not only sustain our own involvement in social causes, but enable many more – across class, race, family and other social locations – to join us.
The earlier article “Communities of Care” similarly called for collective/shared care, which unlike self care interrupts and transforms systems on a broader level. Yashna Padamsee, a leader in Healing Justice, or HJ, movements, urges us look at the root causes of why we need care and healing – for example, to explore how ableism is operating in our communities and organizations, and creating unrealistic or unattainable expectations for our work.
The need for care and healing is crucial: according to the Southern Healing Justice Collective, social changemakers are at a particular risk of “spiritual and physical deprivation from trauma, stress and unrest in our movements” and “dying as a result”. “Communities of Care” reminds that just as injustices are interconnected and affect us all, so are and must be our efforts for healing and care. Disability Justice movements are leading the way in showing us that we don’t have to keep doing our work in the same way nor do we need to do it alone.
Organizing Upgrade put together an excellent “Roundup and Re-Frame of the Community Care Conversation” highlighting the large and diverse range of responses when “An End to Self Care” was published last fall. Two of the excellent points:
Rather than self-care, we need self-determined care:
“The messages we receive are that our lives don’t matter, that we don’t deserve love, or even to exist.” By loving and caring for ourselves we are fighting the system; “to choose instead to value ourselves, our health, and the health of our communities – all as one, not at odds with each other – is radical, it’s self-determination.” - Adrienne Maree Brown
Care is and must be at the core of changemaking:
“True care, whether it is self-centered, community-centered or family-centered is something we should assume is part of change work...Whether people like the analogy or not, we are soldiers fighting a war for human dignity. The key to winning the war is, in part, knowing when to be soldiers and when to be parents, children, siblings, spouses/partners or just human. To learn how to be all of those things effectively requires all of us prioritizing care.” - Subhash Kateel
How have you – personally and professionally – experienced care, health, and sustainability (or lack thereof) as an individual? What about as part of a group or organization? What social factors, such as class, race, gender, and family role – have impacted those experiences? What is your vision of a better world, in which all are cared for – and how do we get there from here? What role can the nonprofit sector play in enacting that vision?
We plan to raise these questions and more throughout YNPN – via the blog, during next week’s national YNPN Leaders Conference, and in more ways to come. Tell us your own thoughts and reactions in the comment section below or on our Facebook, or Twitter, and join the conversation.
By Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator
Last fall at a conference, I had the chance to sit in on a session facilitated by Kirk Kramer of the Bridgespan Group. During the session, Kirk shared a framework for developing organizational leaders laid out in a recent report written by he and his colleague Preeta Nayak entitled, What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? If you haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, I highly recommend. It does a solid job of drawing the link between leadership development throughout an organization (especially younger leaders) and the growth and sustainability of any organization. It also couples this development with other key planning processes like budgeting and strategic planning. So Plan A pulls what is often seen as peripheral or an afterthought for most organizations into the center, encourages organizations to be proactive about this process, and (best yet) offers a step by step process for building an organizational culture that supports development. (Who doesn’t love step-by-step?)
Okay back to that conference...
Kirk shared during his session that Bridgespan’s Plan A framework had its roots in the Center for Creative Leadership’s “70-20-10” model. This model, based on extensive research, sets 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent formal training as the optimal mix for adult learning and development.
While I was quite familiar with the Center for Creative Leadership, before Kirk’s session, I had never heard of the 70-20-10 model, but found that it aligned almost exactly with YNPN’s “Pillars of Leadership Development” - four key areas that have our members have identified over YNPN’s 15 years as most valuable to their own leadership development.
The missing link from the 70-20-10 model, however, that so many of our members site as essential to their own growth is “access to a networks.” As I travel the country meeting with members, I hear time and again that skills-based trainings provided by organizations like ours, coaching and mentoring (which chapters are increasingly offering), and a place to apply those skills via “stretch” opportunities on the job or even board service are important pieces of their work to grow as effective change agents. But YNPNers cite just as equally the importance of being able to have these experiences in community and to access and discover new opportunities via the network.
So as giants in the field of sector research and leadership development continue to refine these models for building stronger leaders and more effective organizations for addressing society’s most pressing problems, it is important not to overlook the critical importance of networks. Next generation leaders know that individual and even organizational development falls short without connection and collaboration.