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Spotlight On: Developing Reflective Leadership

Community Science is currently evaluating two leadership programs; these evaluations provide an opportunity for us to further understand how leadership programs impact those who lead, the people they lead, and the systems and communities within which they operate.

About a year ago, the Bush Foundation engaged us to evaluate its Change Network, a new style of cohort and pilot program. The foundation recognizes that effective leadership is a combination of skills that enable leaders to self-reflect on their worldviews and how these views affect their interactions with people, to understand the systems that obstruct equity and justice and how to navigate and dismantle these systems, and to develop meaningful relationships across cultural differences, sectors, and disciplines—all toward the end of becoming more effective leaders. Change Network supports leaders in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. A partnership of organizations—led by the National Arts Strategies for the leaders in North Dakota and South Dakota and by the Cultural Wellness Center and the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs for the leaders in Minnesota—implements the program. Change Network is unique in its focus on the relationship between individuals and the organizations and systems within which they operate and in the expectation that leaders identify and work with individuals who can serve as their champions. Using a developmental evaluation approach, Community Science works closely with the foundation and the partners to gather information about the leaders’ experiences and to make midcourse corrections to their leadership curricula for subsequent cohorts.

“The Leadership Programs at the Bush Foundation have a long history of investing in efforts to inspire, equip and connect people to become more effective leaders in their community. We chose to work with Community Science because they share our belief that progress toward more equitable, sustainable and innovative communities is driven by the people who live there. Community Science has been an incredible partner and we are excited to work with them on sharing findings to strengthen the field of racial equity and leadership development practitioners. When we work with them, we know that we are working with partners who share our passion for developing leaders able to create a region that works for everyone,” says Anita Patel, leadership programs director at the Bush Foundation.

Community Science is also currently evaluating the Barr Foundation’s Barr Fellowship, a two-year executive leadership development program in Boston intended to recognize and reward accomplished leaders by providing an opportunity for personal and professional rejuvenation, to strengthen organizations by providing resources to develop and enhance leadership across fellows’ organizations, and to build civic leadership for the region by fostering a strong network of leaders. These goals make the fellowship unique in a few ways. First, Barr fellows are strategically selected through a nomination process and from a pool of influential leaders who have been impactful in Boston’s nonprofit, faith, and for-profit sectors and who have the potential to be even more impactful with more support. Second, the Barr Fellowship focuses on the holistic development of the fellows—both as leaders and as people. Fellows participate in a learning journey wherein they have the opportunity for cultural immersion and reflection, attend leadership retreats, receive executive coaching to support their planning and growth, and take a three-month sabbatical to get energized. Third, Barr also supports the fellows’ organizations by requiring the organizations to create an interim leadership team while the fellows are on sabbatical, and Barr provides the interim leaders a coach and other professional development opportunities. The sabbatical and interim leadership teams combine to bolster the organization by expanding and enhancing its leadership capacity. Finally, the Barr Fellowship is focused on inclusive leadership to improve the quality of civic life for everyone in the Boston area. All these elements synergistically combine to support the transformation of the Boston area through the increased capacity of leaders and organizations working toward equity and the social good. The evaluation provides an opportunity to assess how a leadership program such as the Barr Fellowship effects change at the individual, organizational, and community levels. In previous evaluations of leadership programs, examining multiple levels of change beyond the individual leader level has not received sufficient attention.

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