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Stepping into Fear

Today was the third and final day of a workshop titled Executive Director 101, an excellent training from the folks at Compass Point, focused on building the leadership and management skills of non-profit Executive Directors, folks who’ve been in the position anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

There were many pros for me attending the workshop, including:

  1. Although participants came from all over the country to attend (Seattle, Montana, Wisconsin, etc) the commute for me couldn’t have been easier. Two mornings I walked the two miles from my house, and on Tuesday I took a 10-minute bus ride.
  2. It was a chance to learn a comprehensive set of skills, approaches and frameworks relevant to my role as Executive Director (ED), including strategic decision-making, organizational sustainability, management and leadership, funding and governance, all from a great organization (Compass Point) that has been doing nonprofit research and capacity building for more than four decades.
  3. It was a chance to share stories, network and learn from felllow EDs. It’s a unique and peculiar role, and it’s hard to overstate how helpful it is to connect with others in the position. I think many of us expereinced moments of relief the past few days as we realized that some of our most pernicious challenges are common ones, not necessarily a result of our own defects or lack of effort.

But most importantly, for me the workshop offered the opportunity to do something which I believe is important but which certainly isn’t easy … to directly face and engage with things that scare me. And boy, there are a lot of work-related things that scare me. Have we made the right budget estimates for this year? Will we beable to raise the funds we need to hire staff and execute our programmatic work? Who will we hire and how will we find them? Am I communicating enough with the board? Am I taking care of all the legal & financial obligations our 501(c)3 status necessitates? And so on and so forth, the list of items to fear and worry about is potentially endless.

Here’s what isn’t helpful: pretending the fears don’t exist and thereby ignoring the aspects of my workload that scare me.

Here’s another thing that’s not helpful: thinking only about the things that scare me, getting caught up in worry loops & losing sight of all the things Dd is doing well.

So, this week’s ED 101 workshop offered me the opportunity to find the middle path, and face my hears in the context of getting help and support.

As was recently emphasized in a great (& free!) online seminar offered by the excellent folks at Coaching for Social Change, taking small, sweet steps is important to addressing the inevitable monkey mind that comes up when we try to do something big and important in the world. For people committed to social justice work, remembering this is really important. The problems we’re working to address didn’t spring up overnight, so it’s important to find ways to continue the work over the long haul. The change I’m working for is long-term, generational change.

I’m grateful for Compass Point’s approach this week, which emphasized working from a place of our strengths (rather than deficits), and giving us ideas, resources and frameworks to help us learn best practices, adapt these to the values and contexts of our organizations, and focus on the small, attainable steps we can take to increase our impact in the world.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Thanks, Emily for your post.. It was a needed reminder for me of all the good things we shared during those three days. Hope all is well with you and your organization. Meg

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