November 9, 2016

Developing Leadership for Equity

Meyer's goal is to meet programs where they are and work together to fashion a future program that leverages all the wisdom of leaders leading leaders.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leaders lately. Not just because of what’s happening on the national stage but because Meyer has released new funding opportunities, two Requests for Proposals, focused on leadership development and capacity builders aligned with our equity goals.

What makes a leader? Personality? Technical skills? Others who are willing to follow? I suspect that many people who are considered leaders feel like “accidental” leaders. That’s particularly true for leaders from communities that are underrepresented in positions of leadership (think of CEOs, elected officials or executive directors).

So what can Meyer do to facilitate the development of leaders? Companies and nonprofit organizations have been working on this for a long time. Funders like the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Ford Family Foundation have already partnered with many organizations over the years to support leaders. So has Meyer. There are many good programs and many good answers to “What makes a leader?” Now, as Meyer integrates equity throughout our work, we have the opportunity to consider what is needed to create a unique sort of leadership, one with equity in mind.

I’ve talked with many traditional and nontraditional leaders, reviewed the literature, including an important read, Leadership for Large Scale Change, and considered my own experience. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Accessing leadership development support focused on “hard” or technical skills, such as financial management or fund development, is generally easier to find than programs that teach the “soft skills” like relationship building, personal development and trust building.
  • Leaders of color and rural leaders place a higher priority than other leaders on interpersonal communication, conflict management, self-identity and giving and receiving feedback.
  • There is a desire to move away from programs that focus on individual leaders and to develop or use nontraditional definitions of leadership, including leaders who may not be in high-level positions but have lived the community experience and are trusted by the community.  
  • The pathway to leadership for leaders of color and people with disabilities is not smoothly paved and, in some cases, not even accessible.
  • Many leaders are eager for developmental relationship support, such as peer circles, mentorship and informal networking opportunities.
  • Organizations, particularly those that are small and not as well-funded, need more capacity to allow time and space for leaders to build their skills. This capacity could come in the form of additional staffing or operating support for core operations while leaders are accessing capacity building or leadership support.
  • To address complex social issues, and particularly to address inequities, there is a need for more collective community, cross-sector and networked approaches.
  • Networked and community-level leadership require nuanced and longer-term evaluative approaches, and results are harder to measure but may have more large-scale impact.

Meyer, through our Building Community portfolio, is excited to partner with leadership development programs in Oregon in the next year by providing grants for programming and for participation in peer learning.

We don’t have all the answers, and in true shared leadership fashion, we seek to learn from and alongside our grantees and partners. Our goal is to meet programs where they are and work together to fashion a future program that leverages all the wisdom of leaders leading leaders.

Say that three times fast!

For more information about our just released Requests for Proposals, please contact questions [at] mmt.org.

— Carol