If you’re alive and breathing these days, it is hard not to notice what a mess the world is.
Between climate change gifting us with too many hurricanes to count, the continued tragic impact of gun violence and now revelations of yet another sexual abuse scandal it can be hard to remain hopeful.
While I have my moments of cloudiness, I remain optimistic because I live in a world where I’m surrounded by Change Making leaders who are on the other side of all the crap the world throws at us, including gun violence, climate change and abuses of power.
Every day these Leaders defend us from all the ugliness that keeps us awake at night by exercising a Super Power called Advocacy.
Advocacy Includes the Power to:
- Embrace Risk.
- Play well with Others in pursuit of Impact.
- Use Your Voice for Influence.
- Hold a Compelling Vision & Adopt a Long Term view toward fulfilling it.
Even though I went to law school, and gained plenty of experience flying solo as an environmental staff attorney and policy advocate I still struggled with using my Super Powers consistently throughout my career. And I struggled with getting the support that I needed to exercise the right kind of risk.
Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things”. Advocacy is a leadership strategy. But when we overly focus on “how”, its easy to become stuck in paralysis by over analysis.
What I know to be true is no one person can shoulder all the risk when it comes to Advocacy.
In 2008 I switched gears and left the practice of environmental law and went to work as a Vice President of Policy for an Association. The recession had just hit and our state was in a financial free fall, reneging on its promises to pay our nonprofit members with whom it held contracts.
Advocacy was a recent activity and it was reflected in the understanding and behavior of the staff and board. The culture of my new organization was very much focused on managing and minimizing risk at all costs.
We were asked to step up and use our voice to help publicly lead and it took us a VERY LONG time to become comfortable with the reputational risk. We missed opportunities to speak up and to support others who spoke up against unfair cuts. And this was painful and deeply frustrating to me .
There was an aversion to the inevitable messiness that comes with taking public positions for the first time on unfamiliar issues. We weren’t prepared to adjust course and respond to changing conditions. And our discomfort with risk was reflected in our communications that were so qualified and muted it was nearly impossible for others to join us because they didn’t know what we stood for.
Here’s what I learned about Embracing Risk:
- I couldn’t step into my fullness as a leader because we were in overwhelm , under resourced and ultimately not effective. This led to an inability to quickly and accurately assess risk.
- Even though I knew how to Advocate, it didn’t matter when there was no clear pathway or organizational supports because we were caught up in the overwhelm of responding publicly to a changing landscape while confronting decisionmakers.
- Leading with advocacy requires support.
Laurel O’Sullivan, J.D. is a nonprofit coach, speaker, trainer and advocacy expert. She has inspired hundredsL her keynotes, workshops, and trainings that equip and empower nonprofit leaders to use their voice to move beyond fear and confusion to advance their mission.
Laurel has spent nearly two decades as a nonprofit lawyer and senior association leader where she witnessed first-hand the transformation that occurs when your voice is aligned with your values and supported from within your organization. If you want more details check on how Laurel supports nonprofit leaders click here.