Posted by Magaly Vazquez —  2016 has turned out to be a whirlwind year for me so far. It has been filled with professional growth, lots of laughs, socializing, pretty awesome and unforgettable moments as well as heartbreaks that have forced me to take a look at myself and make some changes. One of the best opportunities that I’ve had is to be part of Project Diversity Leadership program. The reason why this program has been so significant to me is because I made it my own in that I was intentional in what I wanted to get out of the program and worked hard on myself to relentlessly pursue it. The professional and personal growth has been exhilarating and challenging at the same time. I will be a proud graduate of PD Cycle 25 in a few weeks and I am now reflecting on the experiences of the past 9 months.

What is Project Diversity Leadership Program?

Project Diversity is a “leadership training program featuring an intense 8-month curriculum to prepare minorities for effective service on nonprofit boards or in leadership positions. The goal of the program is for participants to gain knowledge and skills, build confidence and to give the minority population a greater voice in community leadership. Over the years, the program has increased the number of minorities who are qualified and well prepared to make decision in our greater community.”

We are cycle 25 and we join the other cycles in “addressing the challenges and help craft lasting change in our community – change that is relevant to everyone.

How and why did I get involved?

Being a new leader comes with challenges: learning the best way to lead a team, rising responsibilities, how the dynamics of peer relationships change and transitioning to delegating tasks. Recognizing some of the challenges I was having, I reached out to experienced mentors that could guide me through the process. One of them, recommended that I considered joining Project Diversity. “You will only get out of the program what you put into it.”  …and so my journey began.

Areas that I wanted to sharpen through the program

Build on my strengths of leading from behind and the ability to see things through as well as juggling multiple projects at the same time and move them forward. I also wanted to work on maintaining level of effectiveness that I have but “step outside my own box to be sensitive to what the greater context is to be able to keep in mind what others are experiencing or their lens”.

maggie-vazquezProfessional growth and my insights on how to  better work with peers

  1. We had 5 workshops that taught us the technical aspects of being a Board member:
    1. Governance and Management – Gave us a “deeper understanding on the importance of governance and management responsibilities of a board and their relation to the functioning of an organization as a whole.”
    2. Parliamentary Procedures – Provided us with a “general understanding of parliamentary procedures related to the functioning of a non-profit board and how to run effective meetings.” We were given Robert’s Rules of Order book as a gift to better understand both “formal and informal parliamentary procedures and their relevance to the not-for-profit sector.”
    3. Fundraising and Resource Development – We learned the importance of fundraising efforts, techniques and strategies to obtain funds.
    4. Diversity and Cultural Competence/Through the Person of Color Lens – We discussed the group’s identity as a person of color when you are the only minority in a group or Board setting.
    5. Fiscal management – We became familiar with non-for-profit accounting methods, internal controls and compliance.
  2. Service project: Cycle 25 partnered with The Buckeye Ranch to develop a one-day event – Independent Living City – with the goal of providing youth aging out of foster care the support needed to become better citizens by “using their given potential and live with pride and respect in our community”.
  3. While learning the technical aspects of being a Board member, choosing a service project and then bringing it to life; growing as a leader and observing the human aspect of working with other colleagues has been enlightening:
  1. I’ve come to understand that one person can say one thing and every single person in the room will interpret what was said differently based on their own experiences. Here lies the value of asking others to repeat what they’ve heard you say to ensure alignment.
  2. As human beings we are all trying our best. We each have our internal map that guides our actions. This is why you have to be selective when choosing the members of your tribe. The people you spend time with will influence your internal map and behavior. If you select wisely, you will be surrounded by those that elevate you, challenge you and pick you up when life beats you down.  I am reminded of what Oprah said: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” I’ve had the blessing of having quite a few people ride the bus with me for the past few months.
  3. I am wired to always assume positive intent. However, this was put to the test this year. When you are the recipient of a wrongdoing, do not forget the good that the transgressors might’ve done in the past. We all make mistakes. People come and go throughout one’s life and each play a role in it. Always remember the lesson, forgive and move on. Time heals all wounds.
  4. Communication can make or break a team. Talk to people, not about them. Be transparent and open minded. Be curious, be inquisitive.  Leaders have to set a good example. Work on establishing and maintaining trust with the team you are leading. “It takes months to build trust and only a second to lose it.” Once lost…
  5. My core values have been front and center during these past few months. As leaders you are responsible for doing what needs to be done, not necessarily what you want to do. Your relationships will change, you will be held responsible for things that you were not necessarily a part of, you will be criticized by many. It is part of the job. One of my favorite phrases is “I am not a $20 bill so that everyone will like me.” What is important is that when I look at myself in the mirror every day, I like the person looking back at me.
  6. I’ve come to realize now more than ever, that I’ve led an incredibly blessed life. I grew up in a very loving environment with a lot of acceptance and support. This shapes how I see life. This journey has made me realize how much I really like who I am, imperfections and all, as well as the life I’ve chosen. I am always trying to do my best and because of this, I don’t have time to worry what others think or say about me.
  7. I’ve also learned about myself that I struggle with drama and toxic attitudes. They throw me off balance. This will be an area that I’ll have to intentionally continue to work on as I can only control my behavior and not others’.
  8. And finally, I continue to pay closer attention to how with every single attitude and behavior, each of us is establishing our brand. “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. It’s not just who you know, it’s who knows you. It’s not just who knows you, it’s who who you know knows, and what who knows you knows about you.” – Toni Bell, Phoenix Consulting Company, LLC.

As I think back to the past few months, I can’t help but be extremely grateful to those that at one time or another were part of my journey and particularly to those that continue to be my side. Thank you! It is pretty cool when I catch myself applying the above at work. Yes! The technical work can be learned … figuring out how to work with different personalities… that’s where the real value lies.

References: United Way Central Ohio, Project Diversity Leadership Program staff.

I am now in the process of helping plan our graduation. I’ve also begun interviewing organizations that might be a good fit for me to become a part of. More than finding the right fit within a Board, the significant outcome of this program are the leadership skills that I had the chance to practice in a safe environment and how they will help me make Columbus a better place to live. Looking forward to the next wild ride! Thank you for reading!

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