Listening to Lead

By Scott Miller, Executive Director, Just for Kids, Beckley

Late last year, the Executive Director of WVCAN asked if I would be interested in applying to participate in the Leadership Exchange and Coaching project hosted by Northeast Regional CAC. She said it was a two year commitment that would involve three two-day trips to Philadelphia and monthly conference calls. I have to say I was not particularly interested, but I researched it, had a few more conversations, and ultimately decided to apply. I am now six months into the process, and I am so glad I am part of LEC.

Looking back, I see that my leadership skills to date have been shaped by all of my life experiences. Thirteen years of my working life was spent in state government. Although I always felt like the rebel within the system, I now see that I developed strategies of leadership as a bureaucrat that were not the most effective. The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) movement has opened my eyes to a different approach to leadership, and I am slowly learning to change my style. The greatest difference I see is in the collaborative nature of leadership at CACs; it is clear to me that part of this is due to gender differences. My experience in the male-driven bureaucracy was about “fighting” to get what was needed. In this woman-driven CAC world, the interest in cooperation and collaboration rise far above the need to fight. Listening, observing, and respecting different perspectives really makes the world a better place.

Nineteen people were chosen to participate in this year’s LEC project. Our coach, Martha Lask, leads us through exercises that demonstrate techniques including Appreciative Inquiry, Assertion Theory, Strengths Based Leadership, and more. Martha sends us poems, videos, and essays throughout the month to guide us on our way. We also have monthly conference calls in small groups to discuss specific issues that two participants prepare for (for me, how to effectively engage multi-disciplinary team members). Rather than offer solutions, people asked me questions to get me thinking about different ways to approach the situation. I have been able to take what I learn and apply it to our teams. The thing about personal work (bringing my best self to the table) is that it is making an incredible difference in the outcomes for the children we serve. I am learning to be more effective.

Each of my team members have their own leadership to report to and their own work realities. Building a partnership with the whole team relies on many of the skills I am learning through LEC: listening, collaborating, and genuinely connecting. I can see how important sharing the core principles of Appreciative Inquiry are to building the most effective teams, with listening and humility at the core. I believe that these skills translate to better outcomes for the children and families we serve.

I now look forward to our monthly calls and can’t wait to get together with everyone in July to share our successes and learn a whole new set of skills. This project reaffirms my belief that when we truly listen to each other and facilitate open communication, the world becomes a better place.

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