A Shift To Co-Leadership

Many people have told me that being an Executive Director could be a lonely role.  You don’t have any direct peers, you’re responsible for a lot of things, you report to a board who are volunteers with their own focuses and priorities outside of the organization, and it can consume a lot of your time, energy and passion. I have found this role to be a whole bunch of things at different times and in different ways–inspiring, challenging, frustrating, joyful, and one of the biggest growth experiences of my life – but I can’t say that I have found it lonely.    

Collaboration is at the heart of most of Canada Bridges work. It shows up in many ways – our invitational approach; creating connections between and within people, communities, and organizations; a focus on relationships and how we can all benefit from listening to and learning from each other.  Given the importance that working together has in our work, we have worked to bring a collaborative approach to leadership of the organization. We strive to have open conversations about team strategy, direction, learning and growth.   We seek input on organizational decisions and try to center youth leaders.  My favourite part of the role is working with and enabling leaders within our organization and within the communities we work with.  I think this has gone a long way in keeping the role from feeling lonely.

It doesn’t mean the role is without its challenges though.  We know that sometimes, despite our best efforts, structures and systems can get in the way and create barriers to what we’re trying to achieve.  As a growing organization, the Executive Director role has started to feel more like a barrier than an enabler. It is becoming harder and harder to be in all the places that I feel I should be, maintain all the relationships that I think are important and find balance in the doing and visioning that leadership requires.  

After exploring a few different organizational models, and doing a lot of learning about collaborative leadership structures,  we have decided to move away from an Executive Director and into a Co-Leader model.  We are one of many organizations making this shift right now, and are grateful to many who have shared their learning and reflections along the way.   (See these great articles on Co-Leadership:  Five Insights from Directors Sharing Power from Non-Profit Quarterly; and Three Non-Profits Share their Approaches to Non-Profit Co-Leadership by the Bridgespan Group).  There are a number of reasons that we are looking forward to this transition and strengths that we believe will be elevated through a Co-Leadership model.   We believe that Co-Leadership will:

• Reflect and role model the relational way we work with community and on our team;

• Create opportunity for new and more diverse perspectives, experience and a broader range of strengths;

• Provide additional capacity and allow Co-Leaders to go deeper in areas of expertise and skill;

• Challenge traditional leadership models and break down hierarchy;

• Enable broader senior leadership opportunities and potential for growth within the organization;

• Better enable personal balance and sustainability through personal challenges or transition; and

• Facilitate increased organizational learning and knowledge transfer.

We know that all strong relationships take investment, and energy, and we recognize that Co-Leadership will require nothing less.  For me, it is an exciting shift, an investment, that we hope will help to further strengthen our organization, help us to be more present in community and continue to grow in ways that reflect our strengths and potential.  

If you or someone you know would be excited to collaboratively lead our work and organization forward, please check out the job posting for information on how to apply and submit your application.