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What I’ve learned from three years of leadership breakfasts

You might be familiar with YNPN’s Leadership Breakfast series where a different nonprofit leader hosts a group of 20 YNPN members to talk about their leadership journey and share some of the lessons they’ve learned. If you aren’t, you’re missing out!

I have been the behind- the-scenes coordinator of these events for the past two years, and actively attended and supported the planning team for a year before that. Three years of spending every month hearing about leadership might seem like it would get old, but let me tell you it didn’t. I learned so much and am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this event for so long. Here are some of my takeaways:

Leadership styles are unique

You’ve heard people say over and over that everyone has a different leadership style. This is incredibly evident by the fact that I’ve attended over 30 Leadership Breakfasts, and I’ve never once felt the tug of boredom. Maybe I am too much of a leadership nerd, but each of these breakfasts is entirely different from the last, and it leads me to believe that there’s no single “right” way to lead or to talk about leadership.

I intentionally never structured the event beyond letting the host leader know they had an hour to talk with attendees about whatever they’d like related to leadership, and providing them with a list of questions submitted by attendees. This has led to a huge variety of events including PowerPoint presentations, narrative histories of oppressive experiences, straight Q&A, and grounding attendees in their bodies through a breathing exercise.

There is no silver bullet

Being a good leader is not something that can be taught. Everyone is different and has unique experiences and strengths that make them who they are, thus shaping them as a leader as well. I leave each and every Leadership Breakfast feeling inspired and clinging to a new nugget (or 50) of wisdom. Even so, hearing what works for one person isn’t the solution to me suddenly becoming a better leader. I can take what I learn and try it on for size, but ultimately everyone has to fail, learn and grow to be a better leader on their own. It’s truly an internal and reflective journey. I learned this the hard way as I continued to fail in my role as the leader of Leadership Breakfasts. I’m sorry for all the mistakes in emails that went out about the events by the way!

Don’t be too afraid of screwing up to try something new

Programming, systems and processes should be dynamic and responsive. There have been some changes, both subtle and obvious to the way this event happens during my Leadership Breakfast planning tenure. Diversity became an issue my team of volunteers and I could no longer ignore. Even though nobody on my team was an expert in DEI work, we took a leap together and tried new things.

First, we did away with the idea that only Executive Directors and CEOs could host a Leadership Breakfast. This led to increased diversity in the leaders hosting, which in turn appealed to a more diverse group of attendees. We also decided to hold space in this event for people from the POCI community to be given priority to attend. Neither of these have solved this issue and there’s a lot more to be done to create more diversity in our events, but through Leadership Breakfasts I’ve learned some valuable lessons about needing to be nimble and willing to test out new things to reach a desired outcome. If you’re looking for different results, you need to change the system. This is one of the greatest lessons I learned as a leader from this experience.

Building a network is fun!

Say what you will about StrengthsFinder, but realizing one of my Strengths is Connectedness was a game changer for me both personally and professionally. Leadership Breakfasts provided me a sandbox to really play and geek out in this area. All of a sudden I had a purpose to talk to really cool people in the Twin Cities, and that gave me an excuse to build relationships and discover a lot of awesome mentors. I also gained the confidence to approach people who seem too far out of my network, and found that they were actually quite approachable. The worst thing that ever happened was that the cool person didn’t respond to my email. Joseph Haj, it would still be really cool if you hosted a Leadership Breakfast at the Guthrie!

I guess what I really want to say is that being a good leader requires a commitment to a  continuous, ever-evolving journey that you must actively choose to take. I’m so glad I chose to develop myself as a leader by coordinating this event series. If you are looking to grow as a leader, start by just saying yes to something you’re really excited about!


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