Our Leadership Competency Model Journey


By: Monisha Kapila

As you may have read on this blog before, ProInspire is conducting research to develop a leadership model that centers equity. The model will define key competencies for social sector leaders, highlight how race equity is part of these competencies, and identify where bias can show up. Our goal is that this research supports individuals, strengthens organizations, and influences the sector by highlighting that equity competencies are integral to leadership.

How we started this process?

We began research to develop a leadership competency model for social sector leaders in 2017 in an effort to develop a tool that our alumni could utilize to increase impact, and that we could use internally with our programs. As part of this research, we partnered with the Advisory Board Company to review over 25 leadership competency models from across four sectors: nonprofit, government, education, and corporate. We also gathered feedback on 360 tools that are used in the leadership field.

We quickly realized that there were limited competency models specifically for social impact organizations, and none of the models we found explicitly addressed race equity. Current models assume a frame for leadership that is based on white dominant culture(1), corporate approaches, and hierarchical structures. In order for ProInspire to fulfill our mission to activate leaders to accelerate equity, we must think about a new leadership model that centers equity.

In 2018, we developed a draft leadership competency model with an equity lens based on internal knowledge and expert interviews. The model focuses on:

  • Identifying sixteen competencies that fall into 4 key areas of leadership in the social sector: Leading Self, Leading People, Leading Organizations, Leading Systems
  • Highlighting how racial equity is a thread through every competency, rather than a standalone competency
  • Recognizing how bias can show up in competencies

In 2019, we have been testing this draft model with users. We are also sharing our research with consultants, leadership programs, and funders. These stakeholders have highlighted that a leadership model with an equity lens is greatly needed in the sector and many individuals are eager for tools to support them.

What Have We Learned So Far?

So far we have tested the model with some of our alumni, nonprofit partners, and funders.

What is working well:

  • The model can be a valuable tool for individuals in setting personal development goals
  • The model can help organizations bring a stronger racial equity focus to leadership expectations in hiring, performance management, and people development
  • Many people of color have shared that the model validates some of their ways of working which are not necessarily seen as leadership skills in white dominant culture

What questions still need to be addressed:

  • What are additional ways of leading that are embodied by leaders of color, younger leaders, and network leaders to incorporate into the model?
  • How can the model be simplified so someone can digest it on their own?
  • What tools could be created to make it more usable and accessible for organizations?

What is Next?

We are currently testing the model, gathering feedback from key advisors, and fundraising to support the next phase of this work.

We view this as a living, breathing project and plan to publish version 1.0 in summer 2020. We are already thinking about future iterations of this research, including:

  • How do we bring in intersectional elements of identity and equity into the leadership model?
  • This model is primarily aimed at individuals working inside social impact organizations. Could there be future iterations that are relevant for people working in informal leadership roles or other sectors? 

Stay tuned here for more updates in the coming months. If you would like to learn more about this project, check out this information on our website.

Thank you to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Hewlett Foundation, who have funded the first phase of this work.

1 White Dominant Culture- Culture defined by white men and white women with social and positional power, enacted both broadly in society and within the context of social entities such as organizations. See also “Dominant Culture” and “White Supremacy Culture.” (from Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture)

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