There is much questioning of capitalism as an economic system. There is ever more revealing that capitalism holds deep flaws in supporting a healthy planet and a just and equitable society. So, what does it mean to reimagine our economic systems? What do reimagined models of exchange, models of work, and models of consumption look like? I continue to find my leadership journey squarely in the space of figuring out how to demonstrate the bridge from where we are now to where we want to go. It is ever more apparent that we as a society need models that we can experience that are examples of how to support a healthy planet and a just and equitable society. People need to see and feel and experience what the future can be and need to see where they belong in that future. Being in the space of developing and innovating such models is challenging on so many levels. The two challenges that have continued to come up for me is around 1) operating within the current system that doesn’t always support the vision for change and 2) figuring out how to scale these demonstrations and bridges to the future without compromising the multitude of desired impacts. My original fellowship plan aimed, in part, to look at the question of technological innovation as a source of change. Through my work over the last three years, I see the power of technology but more deeply understand the need for systems and structures through policy to guide how those changes are applied to get desired impacts. For example, I held strongly coming into the fellowship that recycling alone was not the solution to the negative human and environmental impacts of natural resource extraction and waste disposal that comes from our linear forms of consumption. Technologies classified as chemical recycling were and continue to be held up as pathways towards a more circular economy. My fellowship gave me the space to look at the question of technology as a force for change not just within my world of waste and recycling and it helped me develop tools and frames to evaluate technological solutions through a multi-layered principled approach that looks at intended and unintended impact. Some of my learning trips to see technology and understand policy schemes have been so powerful in this journey but even more so is the community of thinkers and guides and coaches along the way. It is not the how (technology or even policy) that is the goal but the desired impact of those tools that needs to guide visionary leadership. Holding this can feel overwhelming and set with never ending complexities as one impact can sometimes undo another.
At the start of my leadership, I had some belief that acquiring technical skills or gaining access to certain thought leaders would help provide an exactness for strategy and honing my theory of change and understanding my place in that theory of change. I took a Harvard Business school course on investing, as I wanted to figure out the question of how to scale new business models. I took some online courses through Singularity University. I joined different business roundtables and thought leader circles. All these things did help me feel more comfortable in my skill sets which helped me move away from that ever nagging imposture syndrome. However, what these exercises really did was help me see that the questions I am asking are not unique, that there is no center or circle of experts that has it figured out. I knew that intellectually at the start of my fellowship but this journey has allowed me to feel that more and understand that a key power of leadership is knowing when and how to ask the powerful questions of impact.
The fellowship gave me permission to take the time to be vulnerable with coaches and different communities of practice. It gave me permission to stop always doing and provide myself space and time to just be and think. I finally came to peace (for the most part) with letting go of the need to have all the technical know how. I was able to build out a team that can help hold aspects of the implementation and strategy.
There are things about myself and my leadership that I have learned and begun to understand better, which is key in evolving my theory of change, my strategy, and my place in all of that. For one, I am a fantastic arranger. I had a newborn during my fellowship and this coupled with COVID, resulted in many weeks of trying to balance work with taking care of my kids at home. I found myself quite good at being able to quickly arrange my workload and my calls and emails in stops and starts while a kid was home quarantined cause of COVID for example. I could figure out which calls to do with the kids in the background, which work to push through while they were napping, what strategy to think through in the shower. There is a high that I can get from this pace and I am also exhausted by it. Although I am good at it, this strength also had me not holding boundaries and pushing through exhaustion. The pandemic and all that has happened in the last three years brought on new and unprecedented challenges every day in leading an organization providing frontline services, with staff that couldn’t work from home, that we had to figure out how to keep safe. Although the pace and constant strategizing energized me, I also had to recognize the points of exhaustion. Having places of refuge with coaches and leadership communities to stop and pause and debrief and ask big questions was vital and I learned to say no in order to make sure I wasn’t burning out.
Going into my fellowship, I wanted to understand better the history of my privilege as a white woman from the American south. I wanted to come to terms with the ugly sides of this privilege, knowing that my family enslaved human beings, knowing my family benefited from economic systems of human extraction. This journey continues and my fellowship helped me to begin to understand when and how to step back and also how to leverage my privilege. My current work centers on leading an organization that demonstrates waste can be preventable and builds social enterprises that are a bridge toward a more circular economy. I have moved from a place of shame about that privilege to a place of finding how to leverage it for impact and repair. For example, I am comfortable in spaces dominated by business and industry and I am learning how to leverage this and not shy away from it. In a peer coaching session recently, my peer pointed out that I see part of my role as the diplomat who is figuring out how to bridge from where we are now to a more healthy, balanced and just world. My theory of change continues to evolve and continues to wrestle with how much to be in the system versus outside the system that needs so much transformation. The fellowship helped provide the tools and access to communities and coaches and peers that can ground me to continue to develop my role in being both in and out of the system and be rooted in my integrity and principles.
In my last year of the fellowship, I was selected to participate in the Rockwood Leadership Program. It has been an amazing space to step outside of the pace of the day to day. The biggest gift has been to be with other leaders not in my area of work but all working on big questions of social and environmental impact. This has helped give a space to really explore questions of scale and theory of change that is not totally layered in the specifics of the issues I work on. It also has given camaraderie and safe space to ask the big questions and see things about myself. At the last retreat, we were all sitting around roasting marshmallows. Several folks were slowing roasting theirs and I just stuck mine in the fire and let it burn and then pulled it out. Folks started laughing at how I just got it done. It was actually a powerful moment to see that I like to move quickly once I know what I want to do. This is a strength and also I need to be ever aware that that ability to move quick can leave people behind. And that is one of my biggest learnings. Communication and relationships and the time to build trust and understanding is the biggest work of leadership. I can move quickly and pivot and I like to act quickly and yet I need to make sure I have the space and support networks to check my pace and the relationships to help me question and make sure I am holding true to myself and the transformation that I seek to support.