The Story Behind NextLEVEL Leadership
In Leading Beyond the Walls, Sally Hegelsen quotes from a study in The Economist done in the early 90’s that examined the major events of the 20th Century and their potential impact on the 21st. Looking at everything from World War II, to the fall of Communism, to the influence of television they concluded that the single most significant event in terms of potential impact on the next century was the change in the status of women.
NextLEVEL was started when a group of women were drawn together by a shared passion to provide leadership development to address a need for mentors and role models for emerging leaders. In the early days these women met together to talk, pray and see what God might do.
The founding members were: Ellen Duffield (Muskoka Woods Sports Resort), Lynn Smith (Tyndale College and Seminary), Bonnie Pioveson (Campus Crusade Canada), Nancy Webb (Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec) and Pat Webb (Tyndale College and Seminary).
What had started as a networking opportunity for women already involved in leadership development quickly developed into a partnership joining forces to be more effective together than they could be alone. People began contacting these women as word of mouth spread about this new opportunity for women. The vision grew from something for women in the Greater Toronto Area to something for women in Ontario, to a national organization and then to an International organization.
The group began with research – focus groups and surveys to determine the scope of the need. Some 96% of women polled agreed that leadership development and networking opportunities for Christian women was lacking in their area and in their personal lives.
The research revealed that women were looking for training that was distinctively female, offered reinforcement and accountability, was a process rather than an event and provided some sort of accreditation or recognition. The idea of celebration kept resurfacing and became a key focus for balanced leadership development.
The idea of collaborative learning surfaced and along with it the dream for a learning community of established or emerging women leaders where they would thrive, be affirmed, and grow. And the question of how to assist women to move to the next level of leadership led to a search to define what the distinctives were for women.
Existing leadership materials did not take into account the way women process information, or lead. It was evident that many women were interpreting their God-given traits as weaknesses rather than strengths.
Jean Baker Miller records the psychological strengths of women:
Few of these elements were highlighted in existing leadership programs.
The research also revealed leadership gaps and training needs that were clustered together into three key areas. Competencies and character were areas that the team had already identified as areas to address. The third area came as a surprise. When asked, “What would be the main factor holding you back from becoming what you feel God may be calling you to be, and you have the potential to become?” Women all across Canada – in all areas of ministry, business, education, health care, banking and home care – cited lack of confidence as a major factor for them.
Based on these findings NextLEVEL decided to move counter-intuitively to adult learning theory that suggests that we need to fail before we are ready to learn something new. If confidence is already a huge issue for women why add to their sense of inadequacy? Instead a new strengths-based model was developed in which participants would discover and build on their strengths and knowledge. This involves structuring activities that are challenging but achievable and designing conversations that encourage self-discovery and affirmation.
The vision statement almost wrote itself once this work was done…
To celebrate being women of God exercising leadership with character, confidence and competence.
The team has expanded and continues to grow. With that expansion there is the need for more trainers. That is just one of the exciting projects that is scheduled for NextLEVEL women in 2012. For further details on our strategic plans and upcoming projects, please contact us.