Berkeley Youth Alternatives
Transforming Personal Leadership through the Leadership Development Program for Executives Serving Transition-Age Youth
Kevin Williams is so committed to his organization’s work with foster youth that he almost chose not to participate in the 2011 cohort of CompassPoint’s Leadership Development Program for Executives Serving Transition-Age Youth (TAY Leadership) because he felt he couldn’t spare the time. He explains, “I have a colleague that I serve on a board with that recognized that I was dealing with burnout – I didn’t even recognize it. She mentioned the TAY Leadership program to me and I was like, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ And then in the back of my mind I heard myself say, ‘What? I don’t have time for myself?’ This hit home to me. During the whole program it was one of those recurring themes that kept on coming up.” So Kevin took the leap and what he’s learned through the program has ignited shifts in his leadership approach that continue to benefit his personal and career development, his connections to staff and external partners, and the important work of Berkeley Youth Alternatives.
Participating in the TAY Leadership program has helped Kevin to open up lines of communication with work colleagues: “For so long I operated under the idea that the work is so critical and that I had to get the work done that I didn’t engage with my staff. The ED’s door stayed open, but as the Associate Director my door stayed shut. Until I did the 360 degree evaluation at the beginning of the program, I didn’t get the impact of this on staff. To be truthful, I was scared of what staff would say about me. They were kind but honest – they said they saw me as a role model, but they didn’t know how to connect with me. They wanted me to explore more of a mentoring role for staff. I enjoy mentoring youth in our program, but I had never thought of doing it with staff. As a result, I explored how to mentor staff and give feedback.
All of this extends beyond internal organizational work to impact Berkeley Youth Alternatives in the community. As Kevin explains, “It has really helped me to connect better with staff, but also our board and our partners. Through TAY Leadership, I learned the value of communicating and started reaching out to partners more; meeting with them and talking to them more regularly. By having frank, open conversations with partners, it helped us get our work aligned. We have to do a better job of connecting.”
The TAY Leadership program has even helped Kevin to take better care of himself. “I used to pride myself on working 14 hr days and weekends, now I work 8 hr days. I exercise more. I got married.” This, in turn, has impacted how he leads others. “I became more intentional in my work. Not only am I talking about self care for myself but also staff. There would be things I noticed in the past – for example someone would work long hours and not take vacations –but I didn’t act on them before. My leadership style now pays attention to this. By taking care of myself, I can take better care of staff, and then we can take better care of youth.”
Kevin lists three big takeaways from the program. “As a perfectionist I would focus not necessarily on the things I was doing well, but on the things I was not doing well. TAY Leadership made me think about this in a different way that surprised me. It made me think that if I’m good in this area and was immobilized by my weaknesses in another area, wouldn’t it be great to hire for those weaknesses so I could be free to focus on my strengths, for example, ‘Let them do data while I do program development.’ I was no longer trying to do everything.”
He also didn’t think hewould come away so reenergized. “Marissa and Michelle’s style was very open. They weren’t telling us what to do, rather they would say, ‘Here’s some stuff that we’ve found useful…’ It was like we were in a lab. I found the materials challenging to the way I operated and did the work for a long time. And the active listening techniques I learned were exceptional. It’s forced me to shut up at times and just listen. Sometimes, many times, the solution is just in listening. (And it helps me in my marriage.)”
Lastly, Kevin has benefitted from an expanded circle of support. “Our peer coaching circle still meets once a month. I now have some peers not in my organization that I can count on. They are my accountability partners. Their only stake in this is me. There’s no angle to it. We’re here to help each other.”
Summing up his experience with the TAY Leadership program, Kevin says, “My door is slightly ajar now and it’s scary fun. I’m trusting more and worrying less. My work load has increased, but it’s because people want us to do more work with them and I’m doing it much more effectively. It’s a positive result of connecting with people.” If this is what happens when his door is slightly ajar, imagine the possibilities when he throws it wide open.