Chief Operations Officer
The Strong Field Project: Reconnecting and Reframing Leadership in the Domestic Violence Movement
Participation in the Blue Shield of California Strong Field Project (SFP) has given Maricela Rios-Faust the tools to reconnect and reframe how she leads and operates in the domestic violence movement. She’s now sharing these skills and knowledge to support colleagues in her organization and peers in her growing network on their own leadership journeys.
States Maricela, “I was feeling disconnected and a bit isolated. As a leader in an organization I found that I wasn’t quite as connected to the large field as I should be. Domestic violence is not a conversation people like to have and that in itself causes some isolation. There’s also so much going on for clients that there’s a tendency to fall into the trap of being reactive and crisis oriented. It’s hard to step back from this. My dad always taught me that there is a greater purpose for things. I thought if I could get a sense of the whole I could be more effective with my part of the puzzle.” So when the Strong Field Project launched, with its emphasis on cultivating connections among leaders and to the larger domestic violence movement, Maricela was eager to apply.
When asked how her experience in the Strong Field Project has impacted her, Maricela quickly responds, “First and foremost, it is visible in how I show up – in being much more authentic. Authentic to me means I’m not just staying quiet or avoiding a difficult conversation. If I feel strongly about something, it’s a matter of stepping into the conversation and talking about the real issues. It’s having and owning the responsibility to have these fierce conversations. What keeps us from being authentic is fear. What I learned from the Strong Field Project is to reframe this idea. Before, I would have thought, ‘If I have this conversation they’ll get upset or it may impact our relationship.’ The reframe is ‘If I’m not able to have the conversation, what kind of relationship do we really have?’ Having the conversation may strengthen us.”
She provides an example to illustrate: “I was asked to be part of a committee to look at the special section of the children’s report that comes out every year for the county. Our organization has wanted to be involved in this for many years, and here was our chance. But as the conversation started on family violence, I found that the committee was talking around the issue of domestic violence; they were losing the message. When I asked about it, they said the focus is not supposed to be just domestic violence but family violence. So I stepped out and then I stepped back in. I said you can’t talk about family violence without talking about domestic violence because domestic violence IS family violence. In the past I would not have done that. The group heard this, and in the end was able to produce a much more powerful message. ”
SFP helps participants with this by starting with a focus on self – looking at yourself, what you’re doing, and what’s important to you. Maricela says, “It was an opportunity to reflect on what I was ‘practicing’ in all areas of my life and to make decisions about what needed to shift. It’s ‘leading from self.’” The project is also built on a framework of asset-based organizational leadership, or, in other words, leading from one’s strengths. Says Maricela, “Within my organization, this has been one of the biggest takeaways. I was able to bring the StrengthsFinder framework and this strengths-based orientation back to my organization and institute it. It has helped shift many things and has shaped conversations within the organization. One of our advocates who struggled with the framework (‘I’m not a leader’) discovered she wasa leader (‘I lead clients, I help guide them.’). She made this connection. Also we’ve done more on situational leadership and how to use appreciative feedback. We’re using it in projects, too. It’s opening up the work in different ways.”
What’s next for Maricela? “I was elected to the board of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. Before I took this on, I talked to a couple of Strong Field cohort members about my interest in applying. They shared their thoughts and were a sounding board as I prepared my brief introduction. One person asked, ‘What are you afraid of?’ I said I have a hard time going in front of people and selling myself. He asked, ‘What is the worst thing that could happen?’ I said that I was afraid that what I would say wouldn’t resonate. To which he replied, ‘Why would you want to be on the board if what you say doesn’t resonate with them? If it doesn’t it’s not the board for you.’ And he’s right. This role allows me to be in a larger leadership role and engage in the DV movement in a different way. It makes me think about how else I might get involved in the future.”
To convey her feelings on next steps for herself and the movement, Maricela shared a story about a family of farmers in the Los Angeles area that was gifted land 100 years ago. The only requirement put on this gift was that the family commit to farming the land. For generations the family had fulfilled this commitment, but now the family may have to give back the land because the youngest generation does not want to farm it.
Maricela explains, “I shared this story in our Strong Field visioning workshop and asked participants to reflect on the following: We have been working to end domestic violence for many generations. We have been gifted with the vision, passion, and resources to continue to work toward ending domestic violence. In order to maintain our success in the field we have to keep cultivating future leaders and this passion to change things. The question to the group is: If you knew that if you were unsuccessful in cultivating the next generation of leaders that you would have to give it (successes) back, how would you change what you’re currently doing, what would shift? How would you cultivate this passion and leadership?
Succinctly summarizing this important intersection of leadership and movement, Maricela states, “Something intentional has to happen to keep this going and to effect change. “