Last October, I received an email about an HR nonprofit diversity conference in San Francisco. I forwarded the email to our HR director. I wondered what cool organization had sponsored this event? While surfing around the website of that cool organization, CoF, I spotted the page for the Career Pathways program. My heart beat a little faster. As a founding member of my foundation’s diversity committee and someone who spends a great deal of time brainstorming ways to develop a culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), I was doubled over with excitement. I have to be part of this program, I thought.
Fast forward to January. Less than 48 hours after marching with my family, including my three-year-old son, in the Women’s March in San Francisco, I landed in Miami. With so many of our foundations’ focus areas under threat by the new administration – access to healthcare, racial justice, immigrant rights, LGBT rights and more – our first Career Pathways gathering could not have been more timely. Here’s one highlight from each day:
On Tuesday morning, our three-day-meeting kicked off. We walked into the conference room to find a stark circle of chairs. No tables, no name tents. Nowhere to hide! Soon we realized that our opening exercise would match the vulnerability of our room setup. The power of story, CoF’s Floyd Mills stressed, is a tool that leaders can use to demonstrate who we are, why we’re here, and the vision we have for our work. Each of us shared a three-minute story centered on these concepts, and we found several common themes: family, mentors, community, adversity, and loss. We nodded and laughed and shed some tears. In just 90 minutes, a circle of strangers had drawn remarkably closer.
After a marathon dinner Tuesday night (long story!), many of us showed up bleary-eyed on Wednesday morning. But our first speaker quickly made us forget our exhaustion. The President and CEO of the Miami Foundation, Javier Soto, joined us for an enlightening discussion about his personal career path, and the challenges and victories he’s experienced in his current role. It was an invaluably frank discussion about leadership in philanthropy. Some of Javier’s key advice included:
- People will want you to do a million different things. Learn how to say no.
- Make up for your deficits by seeking out mentors and skilled board members.
- Sometimes we want to be at the table, but sometimes we need to set the table.
- Bring value-centered culture to everything you do and every decision you make.
- Come at things with humility. Bring everyone to the table.
On Thursday, we met the three people who will serve as our executive coaches during the duration of Career Pathways. The coaches – Lawrence Hamilton, Lesley Mallow Wendell, and Charles Story – highlighted the critical need for leaders to be aware of how they impact others. Together with Lesley, we analyzed our Myers-Briggs test results. 30 years ago, we learned, the Extrovert-Sensing-Thinking-Judging (ESTJ) personality type was considered the best type of leader, but with greater diversity in leadership, we now know that any personality type can be a strong leader.
I left Miami with new friends, new skills, and renewed hope. Over the next couple of months, we’ll begin working with our executive coaches and designing a leadership challenge that will draw upon our training. I’m looking forward to continuing this transformative experience. See y’all in Dallas!