Leaders Lab Profile, Church-based Executive Director

Changing an organization takes a lot of patience, especially when people are well-intentioned but are committed to the old ways.

We are currently accepting applications for the next cohort of Leaders Lab, which will begin in October. Over the next few weeks, while we are still selling at early bird pricing, we will be sharing the experiences of Leaders Lab participants from earlier cohorts. I have been inspired by these stories, and the amazing lessons that these leaders are implementing in their work to address material poverty.

This week we are continuing our series on Leaders Lab participants. We hope you enjoy this interview with a church-based non-profit leader who joined Leaders Lab to get support as he led an established church charity through the change process. If you missed the first in this series, you can find it here.

What was happening in your professional life that prompted you to consider Leaders Lab?

I had just started a new role as Executive Director for a church-based non-profit. Prior to hiring me, the organization had reflected on the work they had previously done, part of that reflection included reading Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts. As an organization, they decided that they wanted to do their work differently moving forward. They wanted to truly make changes that would last in the community. I was hired to implement those changes.

This was an organization whose history and roots were not grounded in belief in the Oath for Compassionate Helpers.  The church had a food pantry, they were giving clothes and other things away, and they weren’t looking into how (or if) they were making any long-term, solid changes for the people they served. 

I was motivated to look into Leaders Lab because I knew I needed help as I led this organization through making significant changes in their processes and programs. 

Before being hired, I had worked in community organizing and development, and so the principles in Toxic Charity appealed to me. I used Leaders Lab as a refresher and path back into faith-based non-profit leadership after having a career in organizing. Leaders Lab helped me get my feet on the ground. 

What was Leaders Lab like?

Leaders Lab gave me way more than I anticipated. I was in the first Leaders Lab cohort, and the insights and lessons that I gained through the full year was integral to what I wanted and needed to move the organization forward.

Leaders Lab was what the doctor ordered to help me take an entrenched organization with a long legacy into a completely new direction. In Leaders Lab, going through the SPIRE assessment, learning how to manage change,  and being able to bounce ideas off the group members was so helpful to my growth as Executive Director. I learned how to move an organization from being a basic charity to becoming a community development organization.

What challenges did you face while you were in Leaders Lab?

I knew that managing change in the organization would be a long-term struggle, and I knew that I would need a strong commitment from the Board. What I didn’t foresee was the pushback I got from staff and board members who were not interested in actually changing our work. 

I was optimistic and pushed for change quickly, which made the pushback harder and stronger. I didn’t do enough to gain buy-in and I underestimated how long it would take to embed change in the organization.

What did you learn from those challenges?

Changing an organization takes a lot of patience, especially when people are well-intentioned but are committed to the old ways. I assumed that the organization was further along in their commitment to doing healthy community development than they actually were. 

I learned the importance of having community partners on board, and the need to understand the social-political factors with getting and keeping church members on board.

I would still be banging my head against the wall in frustration, not understanding why my efforts weren’t working, had I not been in Leaders Lab.

How has your work developed since your Leaders Lab cohort ended?

Leaders Lab was instrumental in helping me deal with an organization that was resistant to change. I have since moved on from that organization and started my own community development corporation. The facilitators and coaches have been majorly helpful since Leaders Lab ended, in helping me heal from that past experience and start and build momentum in my new project.

My Leaders Lab coach and facilitators helped me to understand that the lack of results was not a result of my leadership, but a result of where that organization and board was. My Leaders Lab cohort members have been very supportive.

As founder and Executive Director of a new organization, I am able to continue to utilize the tools, training, and understanding to make the new organization better from the start. Everything I learned in Leaders Lab is foundational to my new organization, even embedded in our mission statement. Our byline is “seeking the wellbeing of the city”. It is a statement to our partners and community members, and it is something that they don’t want to disagree with. It helps us frame our perspective on community development, and helps me build relationships with churches, local government officials, and business leaders to find the support that we need to run as a faith-based community development organization.

Would you recommend Leaders Lab?

I would recommend this training to organizational leaders who desire mentoring and training, great resources, and a community of leaders.  The cohort provides a support system where you can bounce ideas off other leaders. It guides you through a learning process. It is reflective, so you can get feedback on your projects. It is experimental, so you get to try things that are out of the box.  You get the expertise of people who have been doing this work for a long time and are supporting you, spiritually and emotionally, staying with you during this process.

I love Shawn and the team. I have recommended this course to others, some of whom have joined later cohorts. 


I hope this has inspired you to apply for Leaders Lab! If you are wondering if Leaders Lab is right for you, contact us and we are happy to schedule a short call to help you make a decision.