Nonprofits that Work

Directing Your Own Leadership Journey The Institute for Clergy Excellence Larry dill

O ne of the least understood places is the mind of a leader. It is a place that few people understand, given the constant mix of urgent issues, long- term development, emotions, stresses, and relational concerns. Commitments to board members, staff, key leadership, donors, members, and the public often make personal and professional development an afterthought for leaders, especially religious leaders. Our intention was based on personal experience that leaders need others, but they also need to understand that they can lead their own learning. We developed the Institute for Clergy Excellence to promote collaboration and agency among religious leaders, challenging the status quo for both leadership and education. The Development of the Group. The conversation typically starts when someone hears about our program. When they call, we buck the trend of most programs, saying, “Great, now you need to put together a peer group. Here’s how: reach out to one or two colleagues that you would like to study with over a period of three years. Once someone says they’re interested, your question to them is, ‘Who would you like to invite?’” That keeps going until you get a group of eight people, which we have found over the years to be an ideal group size. One of our central tenets is agency, best defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and make their own choices. Their self-selection, then, is the first step to encouraging participants to show personal agency for this process. It’s different from someone saying, “I’d like to be placed in one

get it out of your head and into the experience of your congregation? We tell them that we expect them to tell us how they propose to do that. That whole self-directed “creative agency” is the method. We encourage them to change as they go along, examining all the details that they can come up with: when are they going to do this, what are they going to do, how are they going to prepare for it, how are they going to follow up, what is it going to cost? Most of our groups have changed their projects because it’s dynamic. On the first module, they might have some mind-blowing experience that causes the group to say, “Why didn’t we think of this when we were doing our plan?”Again, the facilitators are helping them to remember that there’s opportunity to change as you go along. It’s really hard for people to accept this creative agency. They expect the traditional patterns of requirements and evaluations. For instance, I always meet with a group for the first time once they get their eight people together, to give them an orientation and to determine which one of the facilitators might be the best for them. When I’ve given my introduction and orientation, in which I go into agency and self-directed learning, they very typically ask, “How often do we have to meet?” They’re a bunch of busy people, but they think they’re busier than they are, and they think they’re more important than they actually are. “How often do we have to meet? I don’t know if I’ve got time for this.” The answer is, “You decide that. I meant it fifteen minutes ago when I said you take charge of your own learning here. You not only

of your groups.” Getting the group together is a ragged team-building process. A lot of people think they want to be in such a group, and when they actually get in, they see that it’s exciting – but different! We push against the tendency in education to embark on what is planned for you to learn. Our process is: 3. With the facilitator as a coach, the group designs a three-year travel study program and a purpose. 4. Participants propose the design to a review group made up of our facilitators (all of whom have been participants in the program). 5. The review board provides feedback, suggestions, and questions, and changes are made for the final project. 6. The group starts on their journey. While it looks simple, it is very intentional. They create a pretty detailed pattern about what they’re going to do. We have a guide for how the proposal should look. There are major travel modules, and we expect there to be a strategy for preparation of each module. Then there is a strategy for follow-up for each module. We expect every group to outline how they’re going to apply what they learned in their three-year program. How do you 1. They select their group. 2. We assign a facilitator.


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