Trading Power went live with a session at the annual conference featuring Rob Collier of the Council of Michigan Foundations, Sharna Goldseker of 21/64, The Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and Nicole Robinson of Kraft Foods Foundation. Session participants were treated to a nontraditional format (they sat in a circle and formed a fishbowl) while the speakers sat in the middle with an empty seat (and later a second one) inviting the audience to participate. A diverse audience of baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials shared candid perspectives on how to share power, trade power, and ask for power (and leadership and responsibility). The goal of the session was to raise awareness of how and whether foundation leaders were intentionally and unintentionally communicating productive signals about leadership—specifically next-generation leadership.
The session was not titled “Demanding Power or Tightening Your Grip on Power” for a reason, although from observing the role-playing scenarios of the speakers, one could be excused for thinking so. The fictitious yet grounded scenarios revealed much, particularly about how body language tips off the interest (or as in the negative case, defensiveness and false assumptions about the Next Gen) of seasoned leaders in engaging the next generation of leadership.
Humility and grace definitely play a role in next-generation leadership. Sometimes, filling the sidewalk cracks is easier than paving a new path. So commented a seasoned participant on how a Next Gen leader can add organizational value, by looking for ways to improve existing processes and projects through skills and leadership—not merely by demanding leadership opportunities without humility. It takes humility to recognize the strengths of the other, to learn from one another, and to acknowledge when there are complimentary relationships that make philanthropy stronger.
For the power trade to work, both parties have responsibility. It is up to the Next Gen leader to develop a plan for what they want and how to get it. For a seasoned leader, having a succession plan and thoughtfully executing it over an extended period of time and offering leadership opportunities and increasing responsibility gives the Next Gen leader a path to succeed in leadership and continue the philanthropic legacy. We are all in it together to grow, learn, and to make philanthropy better.
Andrew Ho is the member services manager of Family Philanthropy Services at the Council on Foundations.