Barr Fellows 2015 gardening

A New Paradigm for Leadership Development

What if, instead of barreling ahead, relentlessly focused on keeping their organizations afloat (until they burn out trying), effective nonprofit leaders started delegating more and more responsibility to staff—at once paving the way for a next generation of leaders and freeing themselves to think about their own leadership in more expansive ways?

What would it take to effect such a shift? And what would emerge if, at the same time, a critical mass of these great leaders become a great network?

Since 2005, when the first group of 12 leaders of Boston nonprofits were surprised by a phone call from the Barr Foundation, inviting them to join a network called the Barr Fellowship, we have had the chance to discover and be inspired by the answers to these questions. There are now 48 Barr Fellows, and their stories of personal, organizational, and city transformation have been getting attention—in the “Networking a City” Stanford Social Innovation Review case study, in The Boston Globe, and elsewhere, including a new article in The Foundation Review called “Only Connect: Investing in Relationships,” which I developed with Pat Brandes, Barr's executive director, and Claire Reinelt, our Fellowship evaluator.

And while each of these accounts has been colored by quotes and profiles of the Fellows, there is nothing like hearing them speak in their own words. That’s why, earlier this year, we teamed up with Hairpin Communications to develop three short films, each featuring six Fellows talking about their experiences.

Last week, my colleague Kim Haskins, who manages the Fellowship, and I had the chance to preview these films as part of a webinar for the Leadership Learning Community. You can see the slides and listen to the recording on this site. But these new films you can see right here…

This first film explores the power of sabbaticals to help leaders rejuvenate, reflect, and reimagine the possibilities for their own leadership—while also letting others in their organizations step up during their absence, and even after they return.

This second film focuses on the network of leaders and the power of disruption (in the case of the Fellows, a group learning journey to the global south) to accelerate relationship and trust building among members of a very diverse group.

This final piece explores the power of connectivity—and what starts to emerge when you’ve got a lot of social capital that crosses boundaries of race, sector, geography, and more.

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