I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. Whether it was hiding under the covers with the flashlight or pretending I fell asleep with the book on my chest. So, it’s appropriate that I would frame a blog post around welcoming in a NEW chapter.
In May 2023, I took on the role of Director of Consulting. I was new to the organization and new to the role. Not only being asked to lead a team of tenured consultants, but I was also faced with saying goodbye to a longtime team member and bringing in a new one. All within the first six (6) months of my work. Not to mention our CEO was leaving for sabbatical and our new fiscal year had just started! Like leaders at many other nonprofits, I was emerging into leadership in conditions created by the pandemic. I’ve been a consultant, a program manager, a crisis line worker, and an activist. However, this was my first foyer in the role of Director. I was equipped with skills, but was challenged with asking myself what it meant to lead. How do I move into supervising people who have been working with the agency for years prior to my joining?
It required humility, knowing that I didn’t know everything. And trust that that was going to be OK. Knowing that I would have to ask people I was charged with supervising how to do my job. How to navigate NEW’s systems, the culture, and even how to login to the organization’s Zoom account! And as many organizations do, NEW came with its own set of mission, vision, values, ways of being, and even a theory of change. All of these things were new to me, at least within the context of the organization. Fortunately, at NEW these things are at the center of our work, and we revisit and review them nearly every day. I quickly learned that our calendars hold our teams together, and that our favorite form of communication was GChat. Beyond that though, I had to learn what it looked like to both lead and follow.
At NEW, our team went through a growth spurt, and as many of us have experienced, when you grow, things change. Some things still fit, some things fit differently, and sometimes you’ve just outgrown them. (Yes, that favorite pair of pants you wore all the time and is now ripping at the seams!) So what does that look like for me? It looks like investing in my growth. It also looks like deciding to not take on any additional responsibilities within the first six (6) months of joining. (Of course I was asked to write a blog post as soon as I hit that milestone, but I digress.)
So, again, first it was important for me to be humble. Asking for help can be very hard. Asking for help from someone you’re supposed to be leading can be even more difficult. Having to acknowledge my weaknesses, while also presenting as confident, competent and deserving of my role…that’s difficult to navigate within a new space. Yet, I know that we are not the only agency experiencing this new wave of leaders and changing landscapes. Time and again, our clients share stories about needing guidance for new leaders entering new roles. They hold the skills to do the work, but haven’t experienced what it means to be in charge, to lead people and create a vision for the future.
Organizations are perpetually going through change. Whether that is merging with a larger organization, figuring out the balance between in-person and remote work, or choosing to lean into DEIJB practices. And at the same time, doing their best to support transitions, and set emerging leaders up for success. This requires perseverance. I see the growing pains and I know we’ve experienced them, too. I like to call it a rebuilding year. To get to a championship season like the University of Michigan or to reach historic success like the Detroit Lions, you have to be willing to stick with it. Bo Schembechler said “Those who stay will be Champions.” When you’re willing to put in the work and keep trying when you fail, eventually you’ll find your path to success.
Make sure that the folks who have been there and doing the work for years aren’t swept away with the tide of a new beginning. Those folks are your anchors. Those are the people who hold institutional knowledge and maintain the culture. Slow down, and listen. Ask the staff, the community, the board what they want to see. You can modify your vision for the organization without disrupting the flow that already exists.
It’s important to acknowledge you’re learning, you’re growing, and you’re going to make mistakes along the way. It’s OK to go in a new direction, just don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Your organization has a mission, a reputation, a way of showing up in the community. What does it look like to maintain continuity while also embracing change?
So to both current leaders and emerging leaders alike, it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter. To embrace change, you need: Humility, perseverance, and a willingness to learn and grow