On a cold December night in Chicago, Fran Hutchins, our deputy director, and I hustled from our hotel to dinner with four executive directors who’ve stepped up to lead in their states in 2018. We’d just wrapped up the first of two intensive days of training at our New Executive Director Boot Camp.

As we waited to order, what should have been a quick peek at our phones found our new leaders down rabbit holes of emails and messages from their home states. Fran made a declaration: “Phone Stack! Everybody stack your phone in the middle of the table and the first one to touch their phone before dinner’s over is buying drinks for everyone.” Everybody laughed and piled their phones—after a brief negotiation that the state leader with a developing story on legislation in his state could have his on top, face up, in case reporters called.

From there we spent an evening sharing stories of victory and frustration, and connecting over the life stories that brought each of us to this work for equality and justice.

It was a silly moment, but it says a lot about why New Executive Director Boot Camp is so important to us. When someone comes in as an Executive Director, they step into a role with expectations from so many different directions. It can be both overwhelming and isolating. In the onslaught of emails and texts, it can be easy to get caught up in the crises of the day.

I certainly felt that way when I took the helm at Equality NC more than a decade ago. Boot Camp gives incoming state leaders the support I didn’t have, and a place to take a step back from the daily demands to look at the big picture of their organizations and their own leadership. By developing strategic thinking about their work, boosting a range of skills and building strong, supportive relationships with peers and mentors, we help these leaders build stronger organizations and the power to win equality in the communities they call home.

This year we welcomed Alex Smith from Equality Alabama, Mark Procopio from Free State Justice (Maryland), Adrian Carver from Equality New Mexico, and John Dawe from Equality Pennsylvania.

After we all flew home, Mark had this to say:  “Boot camp is an awesome experience for a new ED. The opportunity to learn with others who are facing similar challenges across many contexts was incredibly helpful!”

Each of these new executive directors came into organizations at moments of change and opportunity. Fran and I loved getting spend time with them. We can’t wait to see where they take their organizations in 2018 and beyond—even if we have to make them put their phones down to tell us about it.

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