CrossCurrents: The CIIS Blog "Putting Leadership Theory into Practice"
TLD alum draws on skills she learned to lead her nonprofit.
"TLD graduates like Laura take the resources and skills they gain in the program out into the world to build more humane and effective organizations and communities, and create meaningful social change."
-- Alfonso Montuori, Professor, Transformative Leadership
I am the Executive Director at Heart of Oregon Corps, a local youth conservation corps in the central Oregon region with a $3 million budget and a service area the size of the state of New Jersey. The nonprofit empowers change for more than 300 16- to 24-year-olds each year. Youth who are disconnected from school and/or work improve their own lives while serving the community around them through natural resource conservation and affordable housing construction projects.
I was hired as the organization's first Program Manager directly after graduating from the Transformative Leadership (TLD) program and a NOLS Outdoor Leadership course in 2006. In my TLD studies, I learned not to let my role or title within the organization limit the kind of positive change possible for me, for my program, for the organization, or community as a whole. I "led up," as I learned to do in TLD, to help the organization triple in size and community impact between 2006 and 2011.
In 2012, after the founder retired, I became the organization's first full-time Executive Director. In the risky years for a non-profit after a founder steps away, Heart of Oregon continued to grow and thrive, almost doubling in size and impact again. This year for the organizations "all-hands" staff retreat, I had to find a new location-our staff of 38 no longer fit in the usual space.
In my role, I constantly draw on my TLD experience. At TLD I learned concrete leadership skills to spark creative energy, solve problems, manage change, and support people. I also learned to apply a leadership philosophy that asks each person at the organization (from youth to staff to members of the board) to cultivate leadership within if they want to achieve leadership externally. At TLD I also learned to approach risk, uncertainty, a healthy amount of conflict, and even failure as essential elements of transformative change, both personally and organizationally.
Five years into this demanding role, I sustain my passion, creativity, and patience for the work by practicing self-care and introspection in nature, cultivating deep friendships, and insisting on being my whole self in (spite of) my leadership role-another valuable lesson I learned at TLD. At our recent staff retreat, I was asked how I "recharge" during the cold dark winter months My answer? "Karaoke!"
Laura Handy graduated from CIIS in 2006 and now heads Heart of Oregon Corps, in Central Oregon.