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Practicing What We Preach: The Co-Executive Director Model

I am excited to announce that we are beginning the search for a Co-Executive Director. It’s an idea that has been percolating in me for some time now, and for many reasons. As you may have noticed, the tagline for much of what we write is…”promoting equity-based, networked and collective leadership.” Obviously, if we want to debunk the heroic individualist model of leader in favor of more collectivist models of leadership as a process, it does not make sense to embody the ‘go it alone’ individual ED model, even though we are also trying to flatten out the hierarchy which also has to happen. We have been following the move by well respected colleagues in our field who have already made this move, MAG, Movement Building Project, Center for Movement Strategy, the Whitman Center and also coming on board CompassPoint. We have had a lot of conversations about this, and we are jumping into it with our eyes wide open about all that can be great, and all that could be challenging, so ... before going into the details, I want to spend more time on why this is so important.

Creating Opportunities for People of Color: In their report, “Race to Lead”, Building Movement Project has more than documented the lack of representation of people of color in leadership positions in the sector. As a sector, we will not be able to lead effectively to create racial equity without addressing this issue. We have to create opportunity for the many talented people of color who want to lead and have been shut out. This means both creating and vacating leadership positions. More practically, since our publication, “Leadership and Race”, we have taken up the work of bringing a stronger race consciousness to leadership development. Still, we are only scratching the surface of the radical change that has to occur in the ways we understand and support leadership. Without this change, much, if not most leadership development approaches are helping to reinforce structural inequity. I personally believe that this work will not be taken to the next level by a white, middle class ally, and that our imperative to decenter whiteness in leadership development will require the leadership of a person with deep lived experience of the issues we are trying to address.

Changing Leadership Systems: The discussion of ‘burnout’ (a term I am not crazy about, but I will save that for another time) is prevalent and yet we continue to try and fix people and not the system. The hierarchical ED model is burdensome without tapping the leadership of many talented people. I think LLC’s move to be more network centric (rather than organization centric) has helped by creating many leadership opportunities as we engage more and more people in our work and distribute leadership throughout our projects. So I want to acknowledge that maybe the Co-ED model is the transition to something else entirely - leadership councils, or better yet, leadership processes that engage everyone in important decisions while distributing authority and accountability more broadly. I am not sure what more radical innovations in collective leadership will look like as we dismantle oppressive systems, but I do believe right now the Co-Director model is a step in the right direction.


Is This a Succession Plan in Disguise? I will be transparent about the immediate reaction to this news. A lot of people are wondering if this is my transition plan, so I want to address this head on. I love LLC and I still have a lot of energy and good years left, (yes, I know I am in my sixties)...and, I do think about how to make room for what is new and next for our network. Frankly, I know about the literature on founders and understand the trepidation a potential candidate might have about Co-Leading with a founder. For these reasons, I think that over the next couple of years it’s important for me to move into a different role doing this work outside of the organizational structure, perhaps as affiliate consultant, so I can still do the work I love and help new leadership take flight. Our board has had thoughtful conversations about the potential power dynamics, how to create transparent interactions and provide coaching to the new ED stepping into power, and to me about letting go of power and checking my privilege. The entire board was involved in how to structure shared and distinct responsibilities in ways that distributed power and authority equitably across leadership functions. This is the work of promoting equity-based, networked and collective leadership.


The Conditions are Optimal: We have also tackled other concerns. Can we afford this? Wouldn’t most organizations want to go this way if they could afford it? We all know its too much work for one person. The good news is that we are in a better financial position now than in the first 15 years of our history, mostly because of our switch to a network approach. My benchmark was that we should not bring on a Co-ED until we had raised at least one year of budget in advance. If we are creating opportunity for a new generation of diverse leadership, we are responsible for setting people up for success. We are betting that as a team, we will be able to increase our fundraising capacity even more and be off to a great and prosperous start.

Next steps? We have developed a job description and are in the process of recruiting people from the network and board to help with recruitment and selection because it is your network. The Board Chair, Uma Viswanathan, and I will be hosting a webinar to share more information, so keep an eye out. We are now virtual, so we are recruiting nationally. You can help. If you have a burning desire to be part of the selection let us know. If you are interested or want to recommend someone for the Co-Directorship position and who we should reach out to, please email, or read more on the Co-Executive Director description. We believe that you can help us find the right person and join in our learning about new leadership forms.