08 Aug Moving an Organization Forward in Uncertain Times: Building Bridges
Belief 2: Understand that Paralyzing Anxiety is Representative of Leadership Immaturity
Many of our clients now know Erin Breeze as one of Team Tipton’s Senior Change Architects, but in 2010 she had just stepped into the role of Executive Director of Building Bridges, succeeding the charismatic founder who had led the organization for 18 years. Erin had spent nearly a decade directing Building Bridges’ programs, bringing young people from around the world together across deep divides to teach them leadership skills like the practice of empathy, and conflict transformation.
The organizational leadership transition turned out to be more complicated and emotionally charged than anyone had anticipated. Current and previous participants and staff members in Denver, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland and South Africa, had fears and concerns about what new leadership would mean. Some of their feedback was expressed constructively, and some through rumors and whispers, and less-than-generous assumptions.
Funders and board members also had questions, and some positive and some challenging artifacts of their relationships with the founder colored Erin’s contacts with them. Furthermore, Building Bridges’ work is in conflict areas, where political situations are volatile and require vigilance to meet the changing needs of youth, alumni and staff in those areas, not to mention the personal fears for their safety. And, in the midst of it all, Erin had her own vision for the organization, derived from a decade of commitment and passion working with young people on four continents.
“It felt like a really uncertain time,” says Erin, “but I was excited – I knew we could work together to build the organization in beautiful ways.” That attitude is pretty much the summation of Belief Number Two of our Seven Core Beliefs of a Transformational Change Leader: Understand that Paralyzing Anxiety is Representative of Leadership Immaturity.
More than one leadership transition in a small organization like Building Bridges has led to an organization’s end, precisely because of the kind of uncertainty she was facing. So many competing priorities and ideas can cause anxiety and fear to turn into a barrier.
“The challenge was to align all these different stakeholders around a clear pathway forward, one that was a little bit different from what they knew. But we knew it was a necessary step in the evolution of any organization – to shift from a group that relies on and draws from one person’s vision to a sustainable entity that can withstand personnel change and encourage innovation.”
Rather than freeze in the face of the anxiety, Erin decided to move. She opened wide channels of communication to stop the whispers and get as much input as possible from program alumni. She met Bob Tipton, and worked with him to charter teams of staff, board members, alumni and community partners to explore opportunities for programs, funding and community engagement. She worked with the team to develop a new brand to communicate clearly about the organization’s mission and vision and where it was heading.
And, recognizing her own and the organization’s needs, she developed a model for co-leadership for the organization to make it possible to have a family and keep the organization moving forward.
Even as she stepped away in 2014 the decision was fueled, in part, by the organization’s need for change – an Executive Director in the newly-founded Jerusalem office and one for the Denver office – to give new programs on both sides of the ocean the support they needed to grow in accordance with changing social and political landscapes. (She also wanted to come work with Team Tipton).
Anxiety comes with change. People fear what they don’t know, and that fear can become a major roadblock. Accepting that anxiety, validating it, making room for it to be expressed, and moving through it is key to transformational leadership in any setting.
Until the next time!
All our best,
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