Byline: Janet McIntyre
Felicia Jones had just been elected as the chair of the Board of Directors of CADRE, a community-based, membership parent organization in South Los Angeles led by African American and Latino parents and caregivers whose children attend local schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (and a Liberty Hill grantee). She was excited but also somewhat overwhelmed with her new responsibilities. Although Felicia was already serving on the board, and she felt more prepared to take on challenges because she'd participated in board development training offered at Liberty Hill’s Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change, the position of chair was a new role for her.
Happily, each community-based organization that participates in the Leadership Institute is assigned a coach. As CADRE's coach and therefore Felicia's, I was able to offer her some back-up when she needed it. Stepping into a new leadership position for the first time can be daunting for anyone. So I brought a bit of my own life experience to our coaching sessions, and shared with her how I am serving on two boards! I could relate to her feelings of being overwhelmed by the responsibility, the challenges of prioritization, and the need to simply learn the fundamental roles and responsibilities of a leader of a nonprofit board.
I coached another Institute participant, the director of development of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) a group working for economic democracy, neighborhood integrity and tenants’ rights. Specific challenges she faced and wanted to discuss during our coaching sessions were familiar to me because I have been a dirctor of development myself. How does one go about creating a culture of fundraising amongst board and staff? How do you get others to see the value of a grassroots fundraising campaign? Those are familiar questions and we tackled them together.
These are just a couple of examples of the special relationships that develop between coaches and the community leaders they work with at Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change thanks to the fact that coaches and participants share values, experiences, and challenges.
One of the most important things I can do as a coach is to create a safe and courageous space for the coachee. I have the responsibility to create that space where a deep trust can be developed as we share challenges, successes, fears, and aspirations without judgment. It’s in this rare place in life that individuals can truly can take risks and grow.
This safe and courageous space is deepened even further at the Leadership Institute because the coaches GET the coachees. We coaches understand the coachees in a special way because we’re practitioners: We’ve organized campaigns, we’ve worked with and served on boards, we’ve conducted grassroots fundraising campaigns. We’ve often walked in their shoes-- and many of us are still walking in these shoes each and every single day. At the Leadership Institute, we get the racial, gender, and sexual orientation justice issues our coachees are fighting; many of us are facing these issues ourselves in our personal and professional lives.
Because I am able to connect with the leaders I'm coaching in a personal way, I am able to go deeper faster. I'm able to forge a more intimate partnership with our community leaders due in large part to who I am, what I stand for, and the experiences I bring to the coaching.
My coaching with CADRE came to a close last fall, but just a couple of weeks ago I heard from Felicia Jones, who reflected upon her last year.
“As for my role as board chair, the coaching gave me the confidence to have courageous conversations with the executive director which deepened and strengthened our relationship both personally and professionally. I now have a new understanding and appreciation for her vision, her heart for community and South Los Angeles parents, the strategies CADRE employs, and the challenges of growth in an ever-changing landscape. I see the organization from a fresh perspective and hope to be an even greater support to the organization moving forward.”