Even as a young child, I was highly conscious of leadership. I was born to be fascinated with the power of groups and how individuals influence them and are influenced. I was a member of every peer group in my community: foster children, poor children growing up in the streets, college bound children attending elite schools, children attending church, the Girl Scouts, latchkey, working class children, the Debutantes. I often watched the group dynamics from its edge. I enjoyed the freedom of being both apart and separate, of being both an insider and out. From that marginal perspective, I discovered how others created agendas, formed alliances, and yes, broke ranks and formed new games and networks. And I learned early that without powerful follower ship, there are no leaders, no real winners, nor measurable success.
Now, as a chief executive, I preside over the interaction of approximately 25 teams whose collective energy serves to deliver NCCF’s mission in partnership with volunteers and other compatible organizations. As an experienced and dyed-in-the-wool trainer, I most enjoy on occasion to retreat with one of NCCF’s distinctive teams to assist in its development or to ensure its positive outcomes. This week I joined with the agency’s Deputy Executive, Training, and Quality Assurance Directors to conduct a day-long strategic conversation with NCCF’s Greentree Shelter (GTS) team, which operates the largest homeless emergency family shelter in Montgomery County. I had lost touch with this group and I wanted a “recharging,” so I thought, for all of us. Bottom line, I wanted to capture the experience of our homeless families….. As they get here, as they get through, and as they leave and return to the community. The GTS team understands the very experience of the families it serves, and demonstrated this through role play, art, monologue, verbal and written expressions. The desperation and shame and courage involved in a family seeking shelter. The intensity of responding to the expansive structure of the countless program rules. The relief and pride in finally obtaining a home for one’s children– the mastery, newfound parental confidence, and self esteem. The sense of community that continues long after a family moves on.
Unexpectedly, the four executives were blown out of the water by the late afternoon. We had discovered an illustrious, wonderful, high-functioning team who actually brought us, easily and readily, into their specific enterprise, shoulder to shoulder. The 15 members appeared melded, serene, and deeply connected to one another by their dedication and shared sense of servanthood. This team we rediscovered is humane, sensitive, skillful, energized, and effective. The executives expected to uncover a management challenge, or two; instead we were inspired and gratified. The team’s stand-out characteristics include:
- Extraordinary diversity
- Universal personal experience with trauma and abandonment, which directly connected them to the program’s mission
- Ultimate valuing of kindness, flexibility, and nurturing as key professional responses
- Desire to be “better” by investing in giving and taking feedback, regardless of the role on the team
- Clear and common agreement about the impact the team seeks while maintaining respect for individual circumstances and differences.
- Strong projection of hopefulness and willingness to embrace and confront barriers
- Modeling and cultivating a “sense of safe community”
Today, I remain a student of leadership, and I still am very excited about our team encounter. I will remember always the staff’s personal disclosures of poverty, homelessness, and “raising oneself since the age of six.” I will never forget the grandmother who taught one staff member the healing qualities of kindness, and his translation into his everyday work with homeless families. I remain deeply moved by the daily recommitment of this team to do its best and to keep the client’s needs in the forefront, always. I am assured and confident that this illustrious team, with its strategic relationships in the community, is coaching families consistently onward to a better life. And I give special recognition to the GTS team leader, whose own personal journey encourages powerful followership and whose dedicated leadership style may well be captured by these words:
Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it. – Regretta Ruffin