Engaging nontraditional voices requires some planning within the organization as well as within the community. Leadership development may be needed in order to provide skill and awareness building to enhance the success of the partnership. Building leadership is a deliberate process. Even though many of your current group members may have work experience and post high school education to draw from, some nontraditional voices may not; their contributions to the group come from their personal experiences within your system. Although they may not present as polished as other group members, they have an equal contribution to make to your discussions and decisions.
Leaders are invested in the outcomes of their involvement. Involving nontraditional voices early on in a process and in sharing leadership responsibilities may foster greater buy-in from the representatives in your group. Authentic participants and partnerships may evolve from independent to interdependent, taking on a more collaborative nature. Further, building leadership among underrepresented groups will help them speak up and take initiative, ensuring their voices and perspectives are heard beyond the specific initiative for which they have been recruited.
Providing leadership development opportunities during and outside meetings sends the message that:
- You are supportive of the nontraditional participants;
- You see value in their voice;
- You support their leadership in this work together; and
- You want to ensure participants have the tools and information needed to participate.
In addition, building leadership capacity will yield more competent partners who have less of a need to ask other staff to help them understand concepts or procedures. It’s important to note that leadership training is not about changing someone’s way of doing things, per se. Rather, it’s arming people with the skills to successfully navigate systems to help drive meaningful change.
There are multiple opportunities to develop leaders including:
- Training as you lead: Sharing your thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it. This can be an invaluable experience for someone who is learning.
- Mentoring: Taking someone under your wing and teaching them one-on-one over a period of time. Your confidence in another person and commitment to them as a developing leader is one of the most effective ways to help them become a leader.
- Orientations: Ensuring new members are able to get on-group quickly by assisting them in understanding the agency mission and vision, along with any other information they need to do their jobs well.
- Encouragement: Providing people with ways they can make contributions can often provide the encouragement they need to lead.
- Recognize what is working: Praise and promote initiatives that foster community involvement, diverse voices and specific leaders. Examples include: a column in a community newspaper or organizations newsletter; public recognition at meetings; or personal thank you notes.
- National Parent Leadership Training Institute provides training and mentoring opportunities to parents, over the course of a 20-week program, enabling them to become advocates for children.
- Youth Uprising is a community hub in East Oakland that counts youth leadership development among their activities. Leadership development activities include participation on boards/commissions and other forms of civic engagement and organizing.
Professional development such as leadership training requires a certain amount of organizational support, including paying for registration fees, travel, and other expenses associated with attending trainings. While ongoing training and professional orientation is needed and should be viewed as a group member’s commitment, efforts should be made to minimize financial costs for participation by nontraditional voices. Examples to help your group move forward with leadership training include:
- Developing a professional mentoring program between current group members and nontraditional partners. Other groups have had success with a well thought out, step-by-step model designed to meet the needs of new group members.
- Identifying a set of skills new group members need to have in order to contribute. Explore internal and community training opportunities to enhance the skill set of all new group members including nontraditional voices.
- Set aside time and money to encourage new group members to attend training and skills development programs offered through community colleges or local advocacy organizations.
- Encourage your new group members to participate in a peer support program through your agency, a community organization, or an informal network of advocates with local system partners. This will create additional support outside of your group/staff and contribute the broader development of a support network in your community.
- Joining with other organizations with similar needs to conduct joint trainings. This can be a great way to leverage resources and provide high-quality professional development for new group members.