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Notes from the Field

by Susan Grove

When Matt came to us with the proposal to transition GWI to a Worker Self- Directed Nonprofit (WSDNP), along with the rest of the team I expressed a clear sense that we should challenge ourselves to do it. I also shared a concern: We grow up with a sense that there’s a person at the top with the most responsibility. We look to them for a sense of direction, feeling relieved they shoulder an extra burden. We implicitly understand this to be the way things work. We have to extract that implicitness and replace it with explicitness. The first try may not take well. We’ll probably find ourselves reverting. Re-educating ourselves through cycles of practice and reflection will only be possible if we can find a way to revamp our schedules to be together as a full team more than a few hours a month.

The few months we’ve been on this journey, we’ve spent a lot more time together. We’ve now flattened the bit of hierarchy our small team had. We no longer have an individual who serves in the role of Executive Director. Explaining this change to ourselves and others, we say: our all-worker General Circle is the ED in partnership with the Board or the way our structure provides governance and accountability serves as the ED. 

By default, we look to individuals serving in the role of ED to hold vision and provide direction toward it. I found myself carrying around the question of how leadership will work for us? When the question surfaced in conversations with colleagues, insights emerged. Matt shared that leaders, based on their experience and the respect they have earned, seek to honor the whole and offer compassionate guidance and inspiration as a gift. 

In a conversation with Micah about the many layers of why people of color are too often underrepresented in leadership positions, we discussed how the WSDNP model gives us the chance to share both the opportunity and burden of leadership. Having served as an ED in the past, I know all too well how heavy the burden of being the default leader can be. Micah reflected that our structure not only democratizes leadership, it also brings into power people who have been denied that opportunity. 

We haven’t been at this long enough to develop a full understanding of these insights, conceptually or in practice. We will continue to explore leadership in our context, and more importantly, examine how this model impacts our efforts and results, and changes us individually and collectively. What I’m coming to see so far is the shared and shifting nature of leadership in our WSDNP. Anyone, everyone, can lean in when they and conditions are ready for their unique contributions. Collectively, we’re all the ED now.