In Education and Learning, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, River and Water Organizations

Building Strong Champions with Professional Development

To address today’s water crisis, the national network of water protectors needs strong leaders. That’s why Building Strong Champions is the essence of River Network’s mission. At its core, Building Strong Champions is building the capacity of individuals and organizations. This blog post is the third in our series highlighting this work: professional development, a must have for every nonprofit organization.

“There is no moving up and out in the world unless you are fully acquainted with the person you are meant to be.”

-Oprah Winfrey

The University of California San Francisco defines professional development as “the process of identifying goals and learning new skills to help you grow and succeed at work.” Personal goal-setting and skill-building are essential components in the development of strong champions. Whether an individual is in a supervisory position, hoping to climb the organizational ladder, or just wants to expand their skillset and knowledge, organizations should consider investing in their staff’s growth and continuing education by providing professional development stipends. Note that professional development goes beyond technical skills such as GIS mapping, budgeting, and/or database building; it includes critical soft skills like building emotional competencies, learning to be an effective ally, and understanding how to give and receive feedback.

Building Emotional Competencies

In his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” Research has shown an individual’s emotional intelligence levels are correlated with their ability to lead others.

While it is not necessary to have all five elements to be successful, you can strive to enhance each of these skills. Meditation, journaling, and working with a mentor are all ways someone can build upon their existing skills. At the heart of emotional competency is caring for and being willing to show care for others. Sincerely caring for and about your colleagues promotes teamwork, builds trust, and provides for opportunities to give and receive feedback.

Becoming an Ally

In 2020, people across the country marched and posted content in solidarity of Black Lives Matter. While public statements and the power of numbers can bring attention to important causes, they don’t scratch the surface of the deep work needed at the individual level. White, cisgender, and heterosexual allies need to put in time and effort to educate themselves about the history and structural nature of racial injustices and other forms of oppression without relying on their Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized colleagues to educate them. To become a true ally and to create a more inclusive workplace, individuals must build an understanding of their personal biases and challenge themselves on a regular basis, learn about and work to dismantle the systems that have subjugated groups of people for centuries, actively work to dismantle white dominant culture within their organization, and much more. In her book, Inclusive Conversations, Mary-Frances Winter highlights the following practices to build more inclusive workspaces:

  • Gain more cultural understanding of oneself and others,
  • Learn to listen to one’s own assumptions and stereotypes,
  • Intentionally work to mitigate unconscious and conscious bias,
  • Choose curiosity over judgment, and
  • Pause and reflect often.

Giving and Receiving Feedback Well

Statistics show that professionals at all levels crave feedback. Furthermore, they thrive when they receive feedback that is meant to improve performance, that focuses on behavior (not the personal), and is given clearly. In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott says providing great feedback means “you care personally and challenge directly.” When giving feedback, it is critical that you care about the person and genuinely want to see them succeed. Helpful feedback:

  • Focuses on the behavior, not the person
  • Is provided in a timely fashion
  • Encourages improvement
  • Is given in person (when possible)

When receiving helpful feedback, we recommend the receiver:

  • Listens to understand, not respond
  • Asks for more information if the feedback is not clear
  • Repeats what they think they are hearing to avoid misunderstandings
  • Requests time to reflect on what they have heard

River Network is currently building out our professional development training library and we are open to direct training requests regarding the topics listed above. Feel free to reach out to Brenna Goggin and/or Hannah Mico at River Network for more information.

Read our blog posts about the other pillars of our Building Strong Champions work: Leadership and Organizational Sustainability.

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