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Outlook on Leadership

by Dan Wyant

Chairman & President

40ish Under 40ish: a framework for relationship management

Last fall the Edward Lowe Foundation launched the Michigan 40ish Under 40ish, a group of young leaders from a variety of disciplines. The impetus was to help connect folks who otherwise might not cross pass and to develop essential relationships that result in successful policy development and problem-solving.

Prior to the pandemic, we held a couple of in-person meetings to start getting acquainted and establish key objectives. The group wanted to:

  • Grow diverse networks.
  • Have a safe place to share and be vulnerable.
  • Leverage collective wisdom to make progress on individual goals and personal growth.

COVID-19 has slowed down our progress, but a couple weeks ago we held a virtual meeting to forge ahead and identify specific issues the group wanted to address. To prepare for this meeting we asked everyone to consider three questions: How did you get to where you are now? What keeps you up at night, professionally or personally? What is something you want to better understand or develop that will help you in your public service journey?

At the virtual meeting, three members of our steering committee (Selma Tucker of the Michigan Municipal League, Andrea LaFontaine of the Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance, and Dominick Pallone of the Michigan Association of Health Plans) shared their answers to these questions. Then we divided into smaller groups and headed into breakout rooms to continue the conversation. Each breakout room had a facilitator to ensure a balanced discussion — and that everyone participated.

Among key topics that emerged were diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and racial unrest. Authenticity was also a concern — being empathetic and sincere in day-to-day interactions. “Group members want to be a positive change agent for dealing with current challenges of unrest. More specifically, they want to integrate DEI practices into their organizations and personal lives,” explains Kelli Saunders, the foundation’s senior executive specialist who has been instrumental in organizing the 40ish Under 40ish group. “There is a desire to understand others’ points-of-view and respect them so that we can come together to be more effective when developing policy and drive meaningful change.”

As previously mentioned, the original idea for 40ish Under 40ish was rooted in relationship management — trying to help these young leaders build relationships outside of their respective disciplines. This is important because of the divisiveness and complexity of issues inherent in the political arena.

The intentionality behind this group becomes even more significant in the current COVID-19 environment. Growing your network seems impossible; you can’t just go to an in-person business conference or industry convention to meet new people. It’s a frustration that many have articulated, and organizations need to take action.

With 40ish Under 40ish, the Edward Lowe Foundation is trying to be a catalyst and bring individuals from different backgrounds with diverse opinions into the same room (or in this case, Zoom meeting). I think we’re off to a great start, and it was encouraging to see that group members found commonalities in the midst of their diversity.

The bottom line: Building your network may be challenging during the pandemic, but it can be done. What’s more, it needs to be done, now more than ever. Relationship management is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence and a critical tool for leaders. Nothing gets done in a vacuum.