Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about leadership transitions lately. My own leadership role as President of NASWNC is coming to an end, our state Division of Mental Health is going through major leadership changes, nationally there will be a new leader on the Supreme Court--it's everywhere.

So what does a good leader do in transition? Three things come to mind for me.
The first, and most obvious, is sharing information--policies, facts, forms, event histories, budgets, personnel evaluations--all of that concrete stuff.
Second, and more subtle, is conveying culture; helping the new leader understand the tenor of the environment, the emotional subtext, the norms and expectations.
Finally, is the hand-off, stepping back and fading a bit so the new leader can step in and create her own space. A long time ago a clinical supervisor taught me a trick when working with couples. If one person in the couple only looks at and talks to you, if you repeatedly look at the non-speaking person, the person speaking will begin to do so too...and that way you shift their attention from you to their partner. Similarly, a transitioning leader helps the group/organization/coalition look to the new leader by shifting their attention. Getting out of the way gracefully, without abandoning the new person or organization and without overstaying, is a leadership skill.

So here's to transitions in leadership, and exciting new times ahead. Good luck to all the new leaders out there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm posting a paper that I think is a wonderful example of leadership and of parallel process. Two students in our MSW program, Rebecca Graves and Leah Oster-Katz, wrote a paper on the history of the Crest Street Community in Durham, NC and its decades-long struggle to stop a highway from being built through the community. The story is one of social capital, community activism, and local leadership coming together to prevent the destruction of a neighborhood that is predominantly African American and of historical importance.

The parallel process is that the two students demonstrated amazing leadership in developing this project independently--jointly creating something based in their vision of what is important in social work macro practice.

It's an excellent piece, and you can find it at the link below.