Leadership Transition as an Act of Love

February 27, 2024

Over the years I have come to understand that leadership is an act of love—deep, profound and humbling love. We are taught to “manage” but in order to lead we must learn to love. When the board of the Urban Core Collective (UCC) took a chance on me in 2017 little did I know that their guidance and trust would transform not only me, but an entire organization. UCC was founded as a community of practice that was charged with learning how to dismantle oppressive systems. Ya’ll, I had no idea where to start, but I knew that a great place to begin might be challenging the harmful things I experienced as a nonprofit practitioner.

One of those things was how leadership transitions can be harmful to organizations and the community they are charged to serve. I knew in my gut that I needed to be thinking about my departure from the beginning of my UCC journey. I often say leaders need to recognize when it is time to move out of the way, so that others can build upon their work and continue to move the organization closer toward the finish line. This takes great reflection and leadership awareness–knowing what you are great at doing and when you need to move. What I learned about myself in this journey is that I am a builder and coach–a builder and course corrector of culture, teams and organizations. When I felt my time was approaching, I wanted to disrupt one more nonprofit organization (NPO) tradition and that was its definition of leadership and its leadership model. With the support of the board we moved toward learning and testing a Co-Director model in preparation for my eventual transition.

“Why” the Co-Director model? Our shift towards the co-director model emerged upon recognizing the need for improved succession planning in non-profit organizations, and specifically, BIPOC led non-profit organizations. Improved succession planning not only strengthens the sustainability of our organizations, but allows us to celebrate and not mourn the transition of our leaders. This shift allowed us to move further away from a framework that was a transactional separation and brought us closer to transformational work that is centered in relationships and valuing those we are in community with, independent of their roles and work. As a community of practice and a learning organization we were able to explore a model that would create space for “observing, learning and doing” where those learning a particular role could work alongside the leaders that are guiding them. The co-director model helped to address the long term stress and burnout that BIPOC leaders often face by having an additional person that can help lift the work and share the responsibility.

Since 2020, UCC has been practicing, learning, tweaking and growing what it means to lead. Not only as co-directors, but throughout the organization. This transition has been 3 years of practicing, but we have been preparing since day one. In 2023, we finalized this transition with me stepping back providing coaching and the amazing duo of Alisha Lauchie and Raven Odom giving me these words “we release you”. Our leadership journey has not been without bumps, course corrections and a ton of learning, but it has also been with kindness, support, love and intentionality.

As leaders we need to know what we are good at, when it’s time for us to move on because our talents are no longer needed in the same way but are needed elsewhere. We need to leave before our relationship with our work, the people we work alongside and the community we love becomes harmful. What we discovered along the way is that while work is rarely synonymous with love, true leadership transformation is rooted in love.

Thank you to our board who gave us and continue to give us the support to dream outside of what we know. Thank you to the entire UCC team who has held us with grace and care throughout our learning journey. Raven and Alisha, thank you for teaching me so very much about my own leadership. You understood that although the path was not paved for us, real change takes the belief and trust that the way will become clear.

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