My Seven-Year-Long Leadership Development Program

by , December 2, 2014

In this her final blog for CompassPoint as a staff member, Senior Project Director Marissa Tirona shares her leadership learnings from her seven-year tenure. We wish Marissa all the best in her new role as Director of Blue Shield Against Violence and, while we sadly say farewell to her, we move forward assured and thankful that our paths will continue to cross and intertwine in our work for greater social justice. 

A core aspect of my practice at CompassPoint is the design and delivery of our cohort leadership development programming. I love this work – it taps into my strengths of relationship building; design thinking; network weaving; content synthesis, translation, and application; and catalyzing systems for social change. I also have loved the way I get to do this work—in deep partnership with CompassPoint colleagues and external facilitators, as we prototype experiments, test new ideas, and play with innovative and emerging frameworks and tools. And I love the result of this work: social change leaders who have increased confidence, are willing to take risks, see their strengths, push change, create communities of practice, and are eager to seek new models for collective learning and growth with deeper, more systemic impact.

It didn’t occur to me until I began to approach the end of my tenure at CompassPoint that my experience here has been a very long (seven years!) leadership development program. And now, as I pivot towards a new journey starting in January 2015 as the Director of Blue Shield Against Violence, I am looking to the past seven years and bringing forward with me learnings that will, hopefully, stead me well in my new role. I share some learnings (the list below is by no means exhaustive, of course) with you now in the hopes that they may be useful to you in your own development as a leader.


Practice “Self as Instrument.”

Knowing well who I am (what my purpose is) is central to my leadership practice. This idea gets described in a number of different ways: as the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness and self-regulation or as the practice of showing up authentically in one's work. For me, it has meant getting clear around using my “self” as my primary “instrument” of leadership and social change. It is the practice that, when I show up as a facilitator, convener, thought partner, or coach, I am deeply aware of and engaged with the many dimensions of who I am. This includes taking a stance on what my personal purpose is— why I’m here and what I stand for in this world. 

It has meant a constant strive for clarity about my “North Stars”— those people, values, ideas, and commitments which will always serve to guide the choices I make and actions I take. This has also meant increasing awareness of my strengths: identifying what they are, finding opportunities to leverage them on behalf of others, and getting feedback on when I lean into them too much (for instance, I’m an achiever and I have to remind myself to let go of the finish line sometimes).

It has also meant acknowledging my unearned privileges and figuring out how they shape my leadership practice and commitment to social change. It has meant practicing ally-ship and embracing collective power (and checking my own and others’ power dynamics). It has also meant tapping into the fantastic complexity of my social identity (including, but not limited to, third-generation Filipina American, working mom, Oakland community builder) and developing my emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual capacities as a leader.  

Commit to self-care.

I have written before about how important self-care is, and it bears repeating: leaders need to “create, commit to, and sustain individual and collective self-care practices that are ‘foundational to our power, our resilience, our creativity, our health, and our collective impact.’” I regularly turn to these questions as part of my self-care practice and encourage you to do the same: 

  • What do I do to take care of mySelf?
  • What do I do that doesn’t take care of mySelf?
  • What would it be like to be in a consistent state of Self-care in my work?

See things as they are, make choices.

It is the simplest of axioms, and, for me, the most powerful. It has become a daily (hourly?) mantra as I move through the common moments of modern life. It is borne of the wisdom and experience of Norma Wong, and I whisper it to myself during long drives, proclaim it vigorously during meetings, and share it gently with loved ones. In moments of frustration, excitement, nervousness, anticipation, overwhelm, anger, or hope, this truth grounds me. 

Going it alone is no way to go; journeying with others is a lot more fun.

This is my final takeaway from my seven-year-long leadership development program at CompassPoint. And for that, I get to thank my North Stars, Ephraim and Bebe, who, forever and always, guide me and shine light on known and unknown paths; my CompassPoint (internal and external) colleagues, especially my co-conspirators Michelle, Beckie, Erin, Adriana, Steve, and Maura (much appreciation for your brilliance, camaraderie, laughter, gentle challenging, and loud encouragement); and to all of the leaders with whom I’ve partnered and collaborated over the last seven years. The ultimate gift has been to witness (and humbly support) your leadership journeys – maraming salamat for helping me become a better coach, facilitator, leader, thinker, colleague, and friend.

I end my last blog for CompassPoint with this lovely and heartfelt reflection from Neil Irvin, Movement Maker and executive director of Men Can Stop Rape:

“Why would we say goodbye when there is so much work left to do?”


Marissa Tirona is a Senior Project Director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. 

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