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South Coast Leadership: Jennifer Downing

We have so many strong leaders here on the South Coast, we at Groundwork decided to do an ongoing series, featuring some of those individuals making a big impact in the community. The first person we checked in with was Jennifer Downing, Executive Director of Leadership SouthCoast (LSC).

A community leadership program, LSC provides leaders from the region with educational programming, networking, and connections that will help them in their ventures of continuing the growth and improvement of our community. More than 300 participants from the South Coast have graduated from the program, and I can tell you first hand how beneficial the experience truly is.

What have you enjoyed most since taking the role of Executive Director for LSC in 2015? What does the future look like?

Prior to becoming LSC’s Executive Director, I worked in philanthropy for over 12 years. During that time, I grew to appreciate community initiatives that attempted to address root causes and that embraced cross-sector collaboration. It was then that I had the opportunity to participate in LSC’s annual program. I recognized early on that LSC’s “Community Leadership Program” model possessed untapped potential and that if equipped with more capacity, could play a deeper role in developing a robust and diverse leadership pipeline for the South Coast.

When I was hired at LSC, I was charged to do new things – like develop an alumni engagement strategy and new program formats. While it hasn’t been easy, being a part of LSC’s renaissance in recent years has been so rewarding. I’ve grown in so many ways and have had the chance to infuse my passion and interests into the work. I have also expanded my network significantly. I have met so many amazing leaders across our region doing such inspiring work!

LSC is faced with a number of challenges common to small, resource-strained non-profits. Maintaining my resilience is always hard and I hear often how hard it is for other leaders as well. Learning to say no and not sweat the small stuff has helped, but this is certainly a work in progress!

The future is bright for LSC! We are reaching more audiences, our program has grown in both relevance and impact, and we have a lot of percolating ideas! I’ve also been so excited about the number of alumni who have started to re-engage with us. There is so much possibility with our alumni network and we intend to continue to focus on strengthening this aspect of our work.

People often look for inspiration to be more productive and effective on their career paths. With that in mind, can you give one piece of leadership advice that has helped you stay on track and reach your goals?

In my work with leaders, I’ve started to notice that so many problems they have stem from lack of alignment around purposes. They lose sight of the “why” behind their vision (strategy, direction, etc.), and it causes a lot of stress for them and their teams. When purpose is clear, you have a stronger sense of direction and where to invest your time and talents (leaders burn out easy, so this is key to our success!).

A couple years back, a mentor of mine introduced me to a simple exercise called POM (purpose, outcomes, methods). I use it ALL the time now (when developing meeting agendas, making decisions about my crazy schedule, determining if a strategy makes sense). It’s simple really: Before diving into a task, I take a few minutes to ask myself “why” I’m going to do it. What do I really hope to take away from the experience? After that’s clear for me (or the group I’m working with), I figure out what I actually want to achieve in the end and how I’m going to get there. So often, and I’m guilty of this too, leaders get hung up on “what” they are going to do instead of “why” they are going to do it. This little exercise has helped me tremendously! In 2019, what’s your “why?”

Takeaways: Success Begins With Setting Intentions

It is inspiring to walk away with this question Jennifer leaves us. Her insights are food for thought on the way we approach our to-do lists and still find the time, energy, and focus to make a positive impact in our communities. Leading by example, Jennifer is a force to be reckoned with and will no doubt steer LSC to success growing its audience and getting alumni more engaged. To learn more about Leadership SouthCoast, be sure to visit their website.

Caitlin Joseph