joi foley: 00:04 Hi, I’m Joi Foley, and I’m your host for this episode of the Leading from the Inside Out podcast. Earlier this year, Rockwood partnered with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to release, Empower, Change, Transform, a free guide about building successful leadership development programs. My guests on this episode happened to know a lot about that work.
joi foley: 00:22 Abby Saloma is director of leadership and talent for the Schusterman Family Foundation. Sharon Price is Rockwood’s director of strategic initiatives. And Neil Spears is executive director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and an alum of both Rockwood’s Art of Leadership and the Schusterman Fellowship. Thank you all for being here. How are you all?
Abby Saloma: 00:39 Great.
Sharon Price: 00:40 Doing all right, thanks for having us.
joi foley: 00:42 One of the tips we give in the guide is we offer a couple unconventional icebreakers that can be used to build trust. So I thought we would start with one of those to kick off our conversation. If you really knew me, you would know dot, dot, dot. So Sharon, would you like to go first?
Sharon Price: 01:00 If you really knew me, I’m going to say two things. You’d know, one, that 11:05 AM is still early, bright and early morning for me. And the other one is if you really knew me you’d know that I actually do love my job nine years later as much as I did on the first day.
Neil Spears: 01:22 Wow.
Abby Saloma: 01:25 I’ll go. If you really knew me, you would know that both of my parents were public school teachers for 35 years and they actually used my grandmother’s address to send me to a very large inner city public school. They believed that my best education would come, not necessarily just from books, but more importantly from being surrounded by people who did not look like me.
joi foley: 01:51 Neil?
Neil Spears: 01:51 If you really knew me, you would know that I am obsessed with airplanes and airlines and aviation. And I subscribe to all the nerdiest YouTube channels about these subjects. And if you take me to the airport, I could tell you what all the airplanes are.
Sharon Price: 02:09 Nice. Thank you, Neil.
Abby Saloma: 02:11 Neil, we should talk. I’m afraid to fly.
Neil Spears: 02:14 Okay, great.
joi foley: 02:16 Okay, great. Thank [crosstalk 00:02:19] you so much. So Abby, that opening question came from Schusterman’s curriculum. Can you share more about the Schusterman Fellowship and how that question fits in?
Abby Saloma: 02:29 So we launched the fellowship five years ago to address what we call a talent gap in the Jewish sector. We think that there’s incredible, incredible talent, but we need to do a better job recruiting, developing and creating cultures that retain that talent. And it’s really based upon this notion that as human beings no two leaders are alike. So I always say that there are lots of one size fits all hard skills-based approaches to leadership development out there and we are not one of them. That we start first with leading self and then move to leading others, and then to leading systems. The other thing that I’ll say about the program is because of this notion that as human beings no two leaders are like, it’s highly customized. So every fellow is on their own personal journey. They receive a stipend of funds that they can use to pursue leadership opportunities that are aligned with their goals.
Abby Saloma: 03:30 Many of our fellows pursue leadership development in the area of mindful leadership or embodied leadership. We have had fellows who use their stipend to do things that have, for their entire lives, brought a great sense of fear. And they’ve used their stipend to do things that help them break through that fear, like going on a winter camping expedition or taking a very, very long walk where they’re stopping at points to really reflect on their own leadership journey, and how to fully maximize their leadership potential. So it’s a highly customized experience, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not also a collective experience. There’s also a really rich cohort based experience as well, which I’d be happy to share as we continue to talk.
joi foley: 04:23 So Sharon, I heard a lot of parallels and a lot of differences in what Abby shared. Do you see any places where our work touches or is related?
Sharon Price: 04:35 So much of the core principles about starting with self and an inner journey is so much of what Rockwood’s theory and methodology is as well. But in terms of our fellowship model, I think one way to understand it is that overall what Rockwood is up to is transformative leadership development. I think what’s really interesting is this piece around the customized fellowship. Just how customized it is. I think that Rockwood’s model is definitely like 24 folks going through something together. So brass tacks, people come together for a week of training and they’ll have coaching and support and practices in between. And then come back for another week of training. And again, coaches support in between, and then maybe a third training. And of course it’s customized in that folks take whatever lessons they’re learning and kind of bring it into their life. But the component that you all have, Abby, which is really interesting, is this extra stipend and just how open it is, and how folks can follow whatever it is that they’re learning on their journey and take it with them.
joi foley: 05:43 Now I wanted to ask you Neil, just a couple of questions about your personal experience because you’re looking at these from the other side as a participant and alum of these programs. What made you focus on leadership development?
Neil Spears: 05:58 I think a couple of things that are really resonating with me, like Abby you mentioned, as so did you Sharon, this idea of starting with self. Like I really leveraged both experiences, both Schusterman and Rockwood to go deeper with myself. One of the ways that I used my customized leadership funding was to do art of leadership through Rockwood. So I got to see both sides.
Sharon Price: 06:21 Wow, so meta.
Neil Spears: 06:23 Yeah, I did. I did a somatic leadership training through Strozzi Institute. I did a six day meditation retreat that was silent, but I didn’t know it was silent until I got there. That was intense. And what happened for me in that process was I started to see myself differently. And I started to see my own leadership potential differently. I think of the metaphor of a sculptor hewing out a stone to make the statue, the masterpiece come alive. I feel like that’s what’s happening for me in both the Schusterman Fellowship and through Rockwell.
joi foley: 07:02 So we’ve talked a little bit about these trainings that are, or that people have taken that are individual or ways that they’ve individually looked at their leadership taking, sort of like a walking meditation. Abby, you mentioned, then Neil you mentioned a couple. Like going to the surprise silent meditation retreat. If you can do those things individually, why learn leadership in a group and a cohort model?
Sharon Price: 07:32 You Neil?
Neil Spears: 07:35 I’ll say that there are things I learned from my peers in my cohort that I never would have learned from a trainer or maybe I would have heard it from a trainer, but it wouldn’t have sunk in the same way in a trainer that were incredibly valuable. There’s also something that there’s a sustained relationship in a cohort that transcends a relationship I could have with somebody who’s training me on a particular skill. And so that allows the learning to continue to evolve as I evolve, because I’m in relationship with these other folks who have a shared experience. There’s also some stuff that’s really deep and personal that comes up. I think when a leadership fellowship is doing it right and there’s the right vulnerability and there’s the right relationship building, it can get really real.
Neil Spears: 08:22 Like people knew about my mom’s health problems in a way that I didn’t share with anybody else. Even recently on a Schusterman senior fellows reunion call I shared stuff about myself that I haven’t told anybody else. And there’s just, there’s an intimacy there that allows us to get really deep, really fast. There also aren’t a lot of spaces for leaders to be that vulnerable with each other. This like the throwaway phrase, it’s lonely at the top. You know, a lot of places that are the top, like every leader is at the top of something. It is, it’s lonely. And there aren’t that many folks who really get it who I can talk to and empathize with and get ideas from. None of that happens without a cohort.
Sharon Price: 09:03 Yeah. I’ll add a few things to that. And I mean the first point is leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, right? So what we’re trying to do is create a fellowship cohort that can serve as a laboratory, if you will. Or kind of a microcosm for what happens out there in your teams and in your organization. And I mentioned this before, but our belief is that as human beings, no two leaders are like, so every fellow is bringing their own strengths and growth edges and fears and failures and values. And sometimes they’re really aligned with people in the room and sometimes they’re misaligned, and that misalignment for us, there’s real value in that, right?
Sharon Price: 09:46 Like that can create some productive discomfort that I think can really push and challenge people in positive ways. Now that can also push them back, challenge people in not so positive ways. But we’re looking for fellows to learn from and with their fellow fellows and be pushed and challenged by their peers. And also to push and challenge their peers and to hold up a mirror. Like to help their colleagues see what they’re not seeing themselves.
Neil Spears: 10:17 Yeah. I’ll just add to examples of that from the Schusterman Fellowship. I remember in our… And I was in the first cohort, in our very first gathering of our first cohort deal with a huge conversation about gendered bathrooms and whether or not we needed to have gendered bathrooms in this space we were. And this, it’s a great example of the learning that happened around that in the cohort and the productive discomfort, so helpful. And then at our first senior fellows gathering two years ago, we did in Jerusalem, and the space that was created for real conversation around Israel and Palestine, again conversations in a cohort that never would have been… That are in my experience were not possible in other spaces. So yeah, this idea, Abby, of the productive discomfort in a cohort and pushing each other. Definitely a reason to have a cohort model.
Sharon Price: 11:06 Couple more things, we mentioned equity and diversity in communities. And one of the things I’m most grateful for about working at Rockwood is how Rockwood has intentionally centered leaders of color and investing in leaders of color as a key race equity strategy. So there’s a couple things. I mean, now we’re realizing that we need to go even further than that because of what it requires to be in movement leadership right now. And what it means to build liberated spaces, it’s more than just, not just, but it is more than training leaders of color. But even at that step, what I’ve seen in our rooms is that when folks show up and see a room full, let’s say there’s 24, you know, see a diverse group of people that’s majority people of color. There’s something that happens about seeing yourself in a space when you might have been the only person of color in X leadership space your whole life.
Sharon Price: 12:01 And then you see these 23 other people and there’s a bond, there’s a relaxation, and then there’s just an inspiration that happens as well. We’ve heard from a lot of people that also just being in those kinds of rooms, it’s like that they’ve never seen themselves as a leader before. And then learning with other people who are like them, or even who aren’t like them but represent diverse perspectives, shows them all these other ways of being. And I think what’s really interesting right now, since we’re talking about the guide and the kinds of programs that people are creating, is that I am seeing a trend in funders and in folks who have the positional and financial resources to make some of these programs go. That there is an interest and a desire to invest in affinity groups and social identity affinity groups in these different spaces.
Sharon Price: 12:56 So like what you’re talking about is programs for Jews of color. We’ve worked with several foundations on dedicated programs for black women in Georgia, on dedicated programs for Muslim, Arab and South Asian women across the country, on dedicated programs for people of color and minorities and philanthropy. And so I think that as the country and our societies are waking up and bringing equity more in the center to all of our conversations, then the folks who are getting trained or who are being invested in is shifting as well. And I think that the power of seeing yourself in a group of others and building those relationships in a new way can really propel this work forward.
Abby Saloma: 13:38 Sharon, that’s so powerful. And actually a few hours before our call today, I was going through our evaluation from our kickoff gathering of our fifth cohort. And one of the themes in that evaluation was just fellows expressing a sense of gratitude for the diverse cohort that has been built because they have not been in spaces, particularly in the Jewish community, where they have seen and felt that diversity. It’s very powerful.
Neil Spears: 14:13 Right. I felt that way too. I mean the night before our first gathering, I remember asking you, Abby, okay, who are the other queers in this group? I’m a white, cisgender gay man. I was like, who are my people? Like where are they? And knowing that there were other folks who were like me just made it so much more comfortable and easy. And same in art of leadership, right? Like the same thing. Knowing that there were folks who shared my identity factors, I was like, oh I can be in a leadership role like this.
Sharon Price: 14:41 I want to share just one more thing because I think we’ve spent a lot of time sharing about what’s working about our programs. And I also think if we’re going to walk our talk and actually set the stage for vulnerability, we need to share what’s not working. So I want to just reiterate that our journey toward building a diverse cohort has been long and rocky. And and we are certainly moving in the direction of where we want to be, and we still have a lot of work to do. The other thing that I want to share is we actually didn’t do intentional identity work as part of the program in the first cohort that Neil was a part of.
Sharon Price: 15:18 And now before we even focus on what we call creating the conditions to be productive and inclusive, and what some folks would call the norms or agreement setting process that often happens in cohorts, now we do some identity work. So I just wanted to share something that we’ve learned along the way because I hope it’s helpful for folks in the field.
joi foley: 15:44 Thank you. I want to go back a little because, I’m hearing you kind of the theme that everyone is sharing. But Neil, you were specifically talking about these conversations that the cohort that you were in, in the Schusterman Fellowship, were able to have around things like gendered bathrooms that are important conversations but it didn’t sound like that was necessarily a topic related to the cohort curriculum, it was something that came up. So why is it important to have a cohort that can have those conversations, that can be vulnerable together? What usefulness is it to leadership to be very personal with a group of people, if you might not necessarily be that personal when you’re at work or something?
Neil Spears: 16:29 Well I think in my fantasy we are able to be that personal at work. When we’re in the business of shaping the world into something different than it is today, that’s deeply personal. And that has to come from a very deep place inside. So practicing having those conversations with a trusted group of people sets the stage and makes it easier to have those conversations with folks who maybe are not as trusted, or maybe where it does feel like going out on the limb a little more.
Sharon Price: 16:57 I would say that any kind of training in a group, it’s like the training room becomes this microcosm of the world, and that we show up in our habits is going to happen. So it’s a great, like we had talked about learning lab. You know, you step in and with all of our great intentions we step on something. Or we make the same mistakes that we do, the same things that we cannot see about ourselves in the outside world as we do in the training room. And then you get to look at it with a sense of consciousness, with a sense of awareness, with people that are there to coach and help you. And with a place where it seems like…
Sharon Price: 17:35 I’ve been trying not to say this word safe space because our former president [inaudible 00:17:39] was, and actually some other folks who work here, we were really talking about brave space as opposed to safe space. But so it’s like you’re in a brave space where people can support in a way and you’re open enough to hear that feedback about what I might have done that was less skillful and how can I shift in that. So there’s little microcosms in the training room. It’s kind of amazing that we all just show up how we show up and we get to look at it when we’re together.
Abby Saloma: 18:06 I just wanted to add one thing to what Sharon just said. For any listeners who are interested in an amazing, amazing poem about brave space, by Mickey Scott Bay Jones who is known as a justice doula. And this poem, it’s really, really powerful if what you’re trying to do is create brave space.
Neil Spears: 18:27 What’s that poem called, Abby?
Abby Saloma: 18:27 Invitation to Brave Space.
Neil Spears: 18:29 Invitation to Brave Space.
Sharon Price: 18:33 New required or are offered pre-reading for Rockwood fellowships.
Abby Saloma: 18:39 And actually, in the spirit of sharing icebreakers with the world, which we’ve done as part of the release of this guide. We had this poem on a screen at the end of our agreement setting process. Again, we don’t call it that, we call it creating our conditions, or creating our space. But one of our fellows said, actually I’ve been a part of groups where we’ve read this together. And you can say whatever lines are resonating with you and kind of come in and come out of this unified reading of this poem. And it was really, really powerful because the words are really powerful. And it was also a powerful moment for a fellow to stand up and lead and say, hey, I think we should do it differently.
Neil Spears: 19:23 That’s awesome.
joi foley: 19:28 So someone reads the guide, they listen to this podcast, maybe they chat with Schusterman and Rockwood and they get an idea they’re going to do a fellowship. How would they even know that their fellowship is working, works, transformed people or help them be better leaders? How would they know that?
Abby Saloma: 19:50 Well, we’re in constant communication with our fellows about what’s working and what’s not from day one. So we have informal evaluations that we create and we send after every gathering. Now we also have an online learning series, so we have a quick feedback loop after our online learning modules. We also work in partnership with a learning and evaluation partner. And I just want to name, I mean we’re a foundation and there’s a major expense that comes with that. And you don’t have to do that. You can simply be in conversation with the people that you are offering the fellowship to and ask them, what’s working, what’s not? And approach that conversation with a sense of vulnerability. Like if you’re going to ask the question, you need to be open to hearing what’s not working and open to making pivots along the way.
Sharon Price: 20:44 We had this conversation a lot about, like what it mean when somebody is transformed? Or how do we know that somebody is transformed? And there’s a thousand ways to answer it. But I think at the core of it it’s like, if the person says that they’re transformed, then they’re transformed. You know? Like the standard is set by each person. So exactly what you said, Abby. It’s like we’re in conversation through data, through surveys, through individual calls, through checking in with folk. And then like you said, you know to be real about it, when we have gotten significant funding from foundations to invest in third party evaluations, which are expensive. They’re upwards of at least, they start at $100,000. And so that’s a major expense that’s bigger than some grassroots organizations’ yearly budget. So we can go in depth and when we’re fortunate enough to have that kind of investment, do that kind of third party evaluation. And I love your shortcut Abby. It’s like you could also just talk to people.
Neil Spears: 21:40 Yeah.
Abby Saloma: 21:42 I want to just share a very quick story. Yesterday I was talking with a CEO of a major Jewish organization, American Jewish World Service, and he is connected with and knows several of our fellows. And he shared with me the noticeable difference that he has seen in several of our fellows’ leadership and how they are, in this case he was talking about two fellows who identify as female and how they are stepping into their power in ways that he hasn’t seen before. So it’s also I think really helpful to, it’s of course helpful to talk to the fellows directly, and it’s also helpful to talk to the fellows, talk to people who are observing the fellows in a leadership role. And just noticing what those differences are in their leadership.
Neil Spears: 22:30 I want to offer a way not to measure it, not to measure success. You know, Abby, you set up like the Schusterman Fellowship it was partly born out of an idea of creating a stronger talent pipeline in the Jewish sector. Which then would mean, oh well then let’s measure our success by the number of people who are moving into these kinds of jobs and these kinds of organizations. And I really love that that doesn’t seem to be the maybe primary way of measuring success.
Neil Spears: 22:55 I know for me, these leadership fellowships, they have a longterm effect and it wasn’t for three-ish years after the fellowship that I took on this current role. But that wasn’t the point. Right? The point was the internal transformation, the capacity building in myself, the setting the stage for my own leadership to really blossom. So I say that because as a nonprofit leader I also know how tempting it is to find really clearly measurable pieces of data that we can share back to our funders and say, look it’s working. But it has to be the right stuff.
Abby Saloma: 23:29 I really appreciate what Neil just said. And I think we operate at our best when we’re operating in a both and space. We do both. I mean we are looking at the leadership trajectory of our fellows. And are they ascending into senior roles? Are their roles and responsibilities increasing? Are they leading at a higher level? And we are seeing, I mean since the start of the fellowship, 43% of our fellows have stepped into senior executive roles. So I do think it’s a both and.
joi foley: 24:04 Which is more important for leaders today, emotional work, like practicing vulnerability, or technical work, like learning how to balance a budget or write grants or those sorts of things?
Neil Spears: 24:15 I mean I’ll start. I think that it’s the emotional work that’s by far the most important. The technical stuff can all be learned. I mean I think it’s just, there’s stuff you can just learn, right? Like I can learn how to read a cash flow sheet. I can learn how to do a maternity leave that’s inline with California law. Like those are technical things that I can learn pretty straightforwardly. The emotional stuff is so much more complicated because it butts up against all of my past life experiences, all the things that are sticky for me and that come up in my leadership. So dealing with the emotional barrage of people, especially working in a sector that is like our product is mostly people and social change, which is messy.
Neil Spears: 25:05 It’s not as straight forward as making a product. Our product is people and social change. It’s a constant barrage of everybody else’s emotional stuff. I mean, when I first took on this role about a year ago at the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, having a solid emotional foundation for myself was so much more important from my sustained leadership here than any technical skill. Like any technical skill by far. Partly because people want to know their leaders as people. And people are looking for leaders who are emotionally in touch with themselves, can be vulnerable in the right ways, and can lead from a place of real authenticity. Real authenticity. You got to do the emotional work in order to let that part of leadership shine through with confidence.
Abby Saloma: 26:04 Yeah, for us at the Schusterman Fellowship, I mean, emotional intelligence is almost the entire game. It’s why we put that as the second recommendation in our guide. You really need to focus on emotional intelligence in these programs if you want to do the work of transformation. I always like to use the example of fundraising, right? So if you are focused solely on your fundraising technical skills, like how to build a list of potential donors, and the technical skills of asking for a gift and following up after you’ve asked for a gift. If that’s what you’re focused on and you’re not able to deeply listen to a potential donor, if you’re not able to build an authentic connection with a potential donor, then you’re not going to be successful. So the hard skills, like Neil said, can be learned and they’re secondary. But what’s foundational is the emotional intelligence.
Sharon Price: 27:20 I think what I would add to that is, we get this question a lot too when developing… Either when people come to us asking what they should put in their fellowship program or folks like Neil who are asking about, well why would I come? And there’s two ways you talk about it. One is that the distinction between leadership and management, and there’s tons of awesome like Stanford Social Innovation Review articles about this stuff. But I think one way I’ve heard our trainers talk about it is that… Let’s see if I can get this one. That management is the ability to manage systems and complexity, and that leadership is the ability to be with change.
Sharon Price: 28:13 So I think that actually, and again, I do agree that Rockwood and Schusterman fellowships are focused on the leadership aspect, manage change, be with yourself, be with others, all of those skills. And that leadership and management are complimentary. So for example, there’s this awesome group called the Management Center that does a really great one day and two day trainings called Managing to Change the World. So we sent every one of our staff members through that training, whether they’re a manager or they’re not a manager, because I think it’s an amazing complimentary program to the emotional aspects of what leadership is.
Sharon Price: 28:52 So these brass tacks skills that often that especially folks in our sector don’t learn, just things like how to supervise somebody. Like what does the supervisor check-in look like? How do you make clear requests of other people? How do you manage your own workload? So I think while some of our fellowship programs, because they’re 18 days of training over a year, might touch on some of those pieces, that kind of like what Neil was talking about, that depending on what your interests and experiences, you can kind of put together the training that you might need at any given point in your life. And both those pieces can be complementary.
Abby Saloma: 29:36 I want to add just one more thing to this conversation and that is, we are working with leaders who are creating social change. And they are doing that in a very, very complex world. And we talk a lot in the fellowship about the four realms of leadership, what it means to lead spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. And without that foundation, those four realms, this work is not going to be sustainable. So that’s another reason why it’s so important to focus first on the inner leader, to prepare them to do work in the times in which we’re living and to make that work sustainable.
joi foley: 30:29 Thank you. So we are coming close to time. I want to thank you all so much for joining in this conversation. And I think to close, if you had only one piece of advice to give to a funder or organization looking to start a leadership development program, what would it be?
Abby Saloma: 30:48 I would say there are incredible models out there. I will tell you that over five years ago when we were developing our program, Rockwood was a model for us. I mean we looked closely at your program, the elements of the program, how you talked about the program, your approach. And we didn’t reinvent the wheel. We built upon what you are doing and applied it to our own sector. So look out there in the world and borrow from what’s working. We’re an open book with our materials and our learning. Our evaluations are online. We put out this guide because we want to help build the entire field of leadership development. That is the way that we are going to create change in our world.
Sharon Price: 31:34 I would say I really think it’s focusing on the curation of the cohort and putting first somebody’s readiness, willingness and openness to engage in this kind of leadership development.
Neil Spears: 31:48 Yeah. My advice was going to be similar. That it matters a lot less the exact curriculum or the exact sessions you put in. What matters much more is who’s in the room, getting the right group of open, diverse people in the room and setting the stage for them to build relationships and connect with each other on a very deep level and be vulnerable. Those things matter so much more than the exact topics of every single session.
Sharon Price: 32:18 Nice.
joi foley: 32:19 Well, thank you all. I don’t want to take us over time, so thank you so much everyone.
Sharon Price: 32:26 Awesome.
Abby Saloma: 32:27 All right, thanks everybody. [crosstalk 00:00:32:28].
Neil Spears: 32:28 Thank you.
Abby Saloma: 32:30 Nice to see you again. [crosstalk 00:32:31].
joi foley: 32:34 And that’s it for this episode of Rockwood’s Leading from the Inside Out podcast. If you enjoyed this episode and want to learn more about building leadership development programs, download the free guide at rockwoodleadership.org/leadershipguide. From all of us here at Rockwood, we wish you joyful leadership.
Earlier this year, Rockwood partnered with the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to release Empower, Change, Transform, a free guide about building successful leadership development programs.
So, for the fifth episode of the podcast, we thought we’d highlight the guide. Our panel of guests for this episode are all very familiar with leadership development programs:
- Abby Saloma, Director, Leadership and Talent for the Schusterman Foundation
- Sharon Price, Director of Strategic Initiatives here at Rockwood
- Neil Spears, Executive Director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, and an alum of both Rockwood’s Art of Leadership and the Schusterman Fellowship
The guests discussed a wide range of topics, including the value of vulnerability in leadership development, the importance of building connection with cohorts, and how not to measure transformation.
The panel also referenced a poem by Micky ScottBey Jones called “Invitation to Brave Space”. You can find that poem here.
For more information on developing and strengthening leadership development programs, download the free guide:
Last but not least, this is our final episode of 2019…. but not our final episode of the podcast! Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode in 2020: