Bill Traynor is a leading theoretician and practitioner in the field of community development. He is currently the Executive Director of Lawrence Community Works, an initiative that’s rebuilding the struggling city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, his hometown. He was the Director of Community Development for the Boston Community Training and Assistance Center, and the Executive Director of the Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell, where he raised over a million dollars to support organizational growth and to implement several housing and economic development projects. The author of numerous articles on community development and community organizing, Traynor received a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University in 1998. During his tenure with LCW, Traynor grew the organization from a staff of two and a deficit, to a staff of 45 and an operating budget of over $2 million, while leveraging over $25 million in public and private project investments for affordable housing, infrastructure investments, a city-wide youth network, and a range of family asset building and community organizing initiatives.
The Nonprofit Quarterly features this article in its current edition. Read the full article: Vertigo and The Intentional Inhabitant; Leadership In A Connected Environment: « The Value Of Place. Excerpts:
I have had to grapple with trying to find a way to lead when many of the traditional levers of power and decision making are neither handy nor useful. Moving from a traditional environment to a network or connected environment can cause a kind of vertigo because the environment is so radically different. It operates by different rules and responds to different stimuli. To try to lead in a network environment armed only with the perspectives and skills honed in traditional settings, is unsettling and disorienting.
It’s About the Space
A network environment is dominated by space, and so it is the space that should dominate your attention. The leader in a connected environment has to understand that the power of these environments comes from the space, not the forms that populate the space. Therefore the critical function of the leader in the network is the recognition of, and the creation, preservation and protection of space.
What is meant by space in this context? Well, it’s time and opportunity mostly, as well as accessibility, flexibility and options. It is the time for unfolding, time for adaptation, time and opportunity for intentional and random bumping and connecting, for creation, for response, for listening and reacting, for deconstruction. It is the space in between, around, behind, on top of and underneath the all of the action, the commitments, the transactions – these things are all forms. Networks die when the space closes because in the clutter of commitments, expectations, structures, programs, partnerships etc, there is no more space for adaptation or response.
At LCW we try to build language, tools and systems to help us recognize, create, preserve and defend space. We try to resource the demand environment in lots of different ways so that we can get better at resourcing real life opportunities rather than concepts and ideas that we or funders come up with. We try to keep all of our teams and committees loose and flexible and leadership moving from person to person so that we can stay focused on ‘what we do’ rather than ‘who we are’. This creates space for experimentation and allows things to grow and also allows for things to go away when they aren’t useful anymore. We try to do the routine things as efficiently as possible so that we can save time for the complicated stuff.
Over the past several years I have found that there are three ways to create and preserve space in a network environment.