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Leading for What’s Possible

In times of crisis, finding the courage to rebuild for the better, bridge divides, and bring everyone along.

As communities begin to think about reopening during the pandemic, Darienne Driver Hudson, a school leader who is now president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, emphasized the need to really come together and avoid making decisions in a vacuum. “We cannot talk about business reopening unless we are talking about the welfare of these children,” Hudson said. “These can’t be separate conversations.”

Driver, who spoke to Professor Deborah Jewell-Sherman as part of the second installment of the HGSE Leadership Series, emphasized the need to lead with courage and equity and to have the difficult conversations necessary to galvanize the community. The former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, Driver has a long career working in education as both a leader and classroom teacher before she stepped into her role at the nonprofit organization in 2018. During the hourlong discussion, Hudson encouraged leaders not to be afraid to lead, but to step into the space that their organizations were built for and bring people with you to figure out how to come out better and stronger. “How do we rebuild for the better,” she said. “That’s what’s mission critical for all of us is, to really think about how we move forward in a different way.”

Takeaways from "The Power of Collective Impact"

  • Remember what’s possible. In times of disaster, it’s easy to lose sight of what is possible, especially as leaders scramble for quick response. Hudson reminded leaders there are opportunities in these moments. Now is the time to make changes – many that have long needed to happen because our systems were not prepared. Too often organizations and districts feel limited by dollars, but Hudson reminds us to design from a place of what’s possible, regardless of what barriers exist, focusing on what’s going to work for all our children.
  • Work together with all sides of the community. There’s more power in banning together, but often we fall into the trap of reaching out to only one side as we advocate our core issues to the same players over and over. Hudson stressed reaching out to both sides of the aisle and coming together as a way to out of this disaster, so that we are prepared for the next one. There’s also an added benefit to working with everyone because sometimes this leads to the funding to make a new opportunity a reality.
  • Be courageous. Charge everyone in your district to be an advocate by creating a culture of courage. One where the name on the front is more important than the name on the back, she said. Empower your team to know that they can make a difference no matter how small.