Why Every Leader Needs Support Right Now

Janetta and a graduate school friend – ready to take on the world.

by Janetta Cravens, vice president of programs, OKCNP

See this picture of me from a long time ago? It’s grainy and a little sepia toned because cameras weren’t that good back then and digital imaging was a new technology so a picture had to be actually printed. It’s also grainy because in order to get it on this blog post I had to take a picture of the picture with my phone. That’s how long ago it was.

Looking back on this photo I see not my 20-year ago self but a freshly minted professional. Enthusiastic and ready to change the world one cause at a time. There is nothing like a little flash from the past to make you realize how many lessons were learned while flexing your wings. Learning to lead is not easy. There is nothing like standing in front of a group of concerned citizens on their way to a grassroots organizing campaign, or a hundred homeless people, or a staff of fifteen, or a congregation of a hundred and fifty people, or a board of directors whatever the size – all waiting for you to give them some direction for what is to happen next – to realize that you in that precise moment are the person who must say something. Go ahead. Lead.

Janetta’s first job bought her a cake when she started – Talk about leader support!

My leadership path wasn’t smooth, clean, or always clear. I am so grateful for the people who directed me along the way and allowed me to fail forward, catch myself and try again. I’m grateful for every crazy idea I pitched that they let me try and every lesson I learned about the limits to my own strength and the importance of relying on other people. These gracious, incredible people – and the nonprofit and congregations they were a part of – provided mirrors when I needed reflection, coaching when I needed support, the occasional Band-Aid when I cut myself (that was not always a metaphor), and the important lessons in disappointment, bewilderment, and even betrayal that made their other lessons in love, grace, resilience and forgiveness the balance that is needed if one is going to persevere in working with people. I cut my teeth in these organizations, and if that sometimes made them feel like a chew toy, then, well, I owe them a long overdue “thank you.” Thanks.

What I know about my formational process was that there were three key things that made that my leadership path somewhat clearer and my development as a professional a lot more intentional:

  • Supportive peer relationships: provided ballast, guidance, support – and, solutions when I was stuck. Meeting regularly with peers to have conversations about the challenges and successes I faced as a leader reminded me that I wasn’t alone and could indeed take the next step. I also learned from their stories and avoided pitfalls that might have derailed my good intentions in leading others and managing teams.

    Janetta with supportive colleagues – We all need a little help from our friends.

  • Executive Coaching: I was fortunate to participate in a program that provided Executive coaching very early in my career. I would not have been able to afford this top-level support on a newly minted professional salary otherwise. It has been invaluable. There is nothing like having a confidential thought partner on your leadership journey who will both support and challenge your growth and development.
  • Organizational Development: intentional leadership training showed me that there is an art – and a science – to leadership. Participation in several post-graduate school fellowships that taught organization development and concepts in industrial psychology let me learn that leadership is not a great mystery. It is a skill. And, it can be taught.

What I know about my leadership today is that I still need these 3 things! But I also know that not everyone has access to these three supports all the time, and sometimes finding the resources on your own is often frustrating. I also know that while we face unprecedented times and lead our organizations towards a new bold future lead by more inclusion and equity and focused on the changes to our programs brought on by a pandemic, every leader needs community and opportunities for growth.

Janetta with friends and mentors

That’s why OKCNP is bringing these elements together to support leaders on their journey – regardless of whether they are newly minted professionals cutting their teeth or experienced executives who’ve been kicked in the teeth so many times that they now have dental implants. (That’s probably as far as I can stretch that metaphor…) Successful leaders that strive and thrive in their roles engage in new opportunities for growth and seek the clarity and wisdom that keep them dynamic as a leader. There are two 9-month programs designed to support leaders at every level of their journey.

Navigators: a (new!!!!) leadership program for emerging and accelerating leaders. Navigators is a high-impact peer-cohort experience for mid-to-senior level managers. Based on the principles from the originating Compass Group for Executive Directors (see below), this course combines leadership principles and virtues to the practical application of the hard task of motivating others to make progress on our organization’s hardest problems – i.e., leadership.
Navigators combines peer support with organizational development and Executive coaching. Who would be a great candidate for this group? Development directors, operations and programs leaders, volunteer and membership and client managers, case workers, instructors, and marketing and communication managers. Navigators was designed for those in our organizations that are responding to real challenges, redirecting when things don’t go according to plan, and championing new processes in order to make our organizations as resilient as they are – all while leading teams and providing much needed innovation.

Janetta with a friend and mentor

Compass: The course has been described as “a master’s degree in leadership” and uses session themes and peer-prepared case studies to sharpen timeless leadership skills. Exclusive for Executive Directors, CEOs, and those serving in the role of a chief executive, even if that is not the title given.

Compass group is designed for busy executives who are looking for community and renewal from supportive and like-minded experienced colleagues. Each session is an opportunity to recharge and reflect on the successes and challenges of leading organizations while continuing to grow in their experience. Participants also have access to an executive coach and may be involved in the group year after year. The sessions are designed to give clarity and focus to Executives while also presenting new challenges for growth.

Let’s take all this great talent and accelerate it. See you there.

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