Our RVC Block Party has been postponed to fall 2024.

How do you build leaderful organizations?

An RVC Leadership Transition Update

 I’m still the Interim ED of RVC. Which was not the plan.

When we first discussed extending the timeline, I was opposed. Dominant culture norms made me assume that was a bad thing – we need to change quickly! Be efficient! Move on!

And I still believe quite strongly that someone with my white-presenting privilege should not be the public face of an organization like RVC.

But here we are, one year later. What happened? It didn’t help that we got hit by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the ongoing crises of institutional racism. And yet it was more than that.

Part of my desire to “get out of the way” is a recognition that there are many brilliant BIPOC leaders both within and outside of RVC who deserve the opportunity to be in senior leadership roles. I have had the honor of holding a senior leadership role at RVC for five years, and want to make space for others to have similar opportunities. But I vastly underestimated how much work it would take to properly invest in folks’ leadership development, so that they would be prepared to step into new roles, as well as the time it would take to hire and train more staff who could take on the work that would still need to be done when internal staff transition into new senior leadership roles.

Not only that, we are in the process of transitioning to being a fully self-managing organization, which requires us all to develop skills and orientations that are very different from what has been hammered into us by family and society our entire life.

 Our Next Steps

So here I am, one year later, and I will likely still be the Interim ED for another six months at a minimum. But I’m not alone – senior leadership responsibilities are distributed to others at RVC, particularly our excellent Development Director, Chris Rhodes.

And more importantly, we’ve distributed power across the organization, such that most “ED decisions” are not made by me. I like to joke about how I never make any decisions, because it’s true – unless it’s a decision that falls under very limited realms like organization-wide legal issues, it’s not my role to decide. Instead, I support other leaders within our organization to make healthy decisions. It’s fun; I get to ask lots of questions and share lots of opinions, and then breathe a big sigh of relief because the person who truly understands all aspects of the messy decision is the one who actually decides.  In the process, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build leaderful organizations, where everyone feels confident in their capacity to step into their own power and lead bodies of work.

Meanwhile, we have a talented Executive Leadership Transition Committee of staff and board members that is mapping out the leadership configuration that best fits the needs of a self-managing organization. In the Spring, we hope to have exciting news to share about that next iteration of our leadership structure.

We are trying to get better at learning out loud, so we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the progress we’ve made, and also share what we’ve learned with you so that hopefully you can make fewer mistakes than we made. This would not have been possible without our wise staff, who identified the challenges they faced and named what kinds of learning opportunities would help them be successful. We used that feedback to craft this learning agenda, in partnership with our talented consultant team, Kad Smith, and Michelle Gislason.

Building leaderful organizations

If you are trying to distribute power across your organization, consider investing in these building blocks now. It took us a year to figure out where we needed to invest in staff development, which has slowed down our transition process. Here are the key areas of learning we are focused on this year, via a series of trainings and interactive activities threaded into our staff meeting schedule:

  • Centering Blackness – This is our top organizational development priority for the year; we are all on our equity journey, and this is the growing edge that RVC aspires to. Doing this work goes hand in hand with distributing power in a healthy manner. We’re thrilled to be going on this journey with Teju Adisa-Farrar.
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback – The Social Transformation Project’s materials have been a useful starting point, and we have been working with our consultant, Kad Smith, to dive into more case studies and roleplays to keep this muscle strong.
  • Effective Decision-Making – RVC uses the Advice Process for decision-making, which requires us to think differently about how to make decisions. We created a custom decision screen tool that helps staff use a strong process, and hope to share that with the sector soon.
  • Time and Energy Management – In the self-managing organizational context, you don’t have someone breathing down your neck. You’ve got to manage yourself, which is hard! 
  • Power Dynamics – We are using Cyndi Suarez’s excellent book The Power Manual as the framework to shift to a much healthier relationship with power.
  • Conflict Resolution – What does it look like to embrace generative conflict, and resolve differences directly? How do we detriangulate effectively, and provide healthy supports in situations where conflicts cannot easily be resolved?
  • Ghosts in the System – Our consultant Michelle Gislason is facilitating processes that support us in repairing past harm and honoring those who came before us so that those ghosts in the system don’t continue to haunt us. Learning healthy ways to honor the past and let it go is crucial to moving forward.

Does your team have these crucial skills? Consider threading this learning into your organization now, so that your staff are well-equipped to step into deeper power and leadership.

In the coming months, as even more senior leadership responsibilities transition from me to other talented members of my team, I hope to write more and share our learnings in these areas with you. Be sure to subscribe to our blog in order to be looped into our learning journey!