Leadership: Stepping Back to Let Others In

August 9, 2019 1 Comment

As I watch the Democratic Party presidential debates, I am particularly struck by the large number of white males and males of color who insist they must be candidates for president in November 2020.

Why do they feel it’s their time to step in when there are plenty of women – including women of color – who could lead this country as well if not better than they could? When do people with privilege understand and appreciate that they need to step back so others can step in? A defiant and powerful act against racism and sexism is to say to yourself, “I have experienced what it’s like to govern, to lead, and to hold power. It’s now time for me to support others who have not yet had that chance so we can experience a different kind of America.”

I have a fantasy that sometime in the fall of this year, all the male candidates – yes all – will host a press conference and relinquish their nominations. If the male candidates actually ceded power, it would change the course of this country because a woman would be elected as president of the United States for the first time in our history. Our culture would see power explicitly and transparently shift to those who don’t typically have it. Policies would undoubtedly look very different if approached through a gendered and intersectional lens.

But I don’t want to just make this a challenge to presidential candidates. It’s a challenge I want to make to us all, especially those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. There are many great leaders holding onto their positions, titles, or spheres of influence, not realizing that doing so comes at the price of denying others these opportunities.

Some provocative considerations include:

  • If you have been in your position for at least five to seven years and think it’s yours until you leave the role or retire, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
  • If you aren’t sharing your relationships with people who have power and resources with others who have less privilege, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
  • If you are reading this thinking you don’t have power, ask yourself if you have ever been in a position of authority or responsibility. Are you in one now? Do your decisions affect others as well as institutional or organizational policies? You may not feel powerful but chances are you have power.

There’s reward if we step back to make room for others to step in. We will get to observe and follow the leadership of others and learn new ways of doing things. We will know that we proactively and willingly contributed to shifting power unlike some of our ancestors or predecessors. We will feel the sense of relief and humility that comes from knowing that we are not the only ones who can answer the call of duty or lead an organization. And if we allow others to lead and to lead fully, we will be able to restore our energy for other ways we can contribute to the work that remains so important to us all.

I think about this as a woman of color leading IISC. Although I am female and a person of color, I am older and I have had the opportunity to hold many positions of authority. I think about how I can support younger people to lead IISC. It scares me to think about leaving my role one day, what I might do next, how I would make it financially. But then I remember all the privilege I have earned over my fifty years. I have gained connections to money, connections to recruiters and other opportunities, and I have many family members who love and can help me.

I breathe and I remember I will be perfectly fine.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *