Unlocking the Power of Co-Leadership: Part Two of A Candid Conversation with Rebecca Tye and Camaro West, Co-Executive Directors of Peace is Loud
The following Insights piece is Part 2 of an interview between Rebecca Tye and Camaro West, Co-Executive Directors of Peace is Loud, and Nora Cusanelli, Communications Manager at Philanthropy New York. You can read Part 1 of this conversation here!
Philanthropy New York sat down with Camaro West and Rebecca Tye, co-Executive Directors, of Peace is Loud to delve into the benefits of adapting a co-leadership model and why other non-profit organizations should consider it. They share lessons, pivots, and words of wisdom as they co-lead an organization that harnesses the power of storytelling through documentary film and support movement leaders on the ground.
Rebecca Tye and Camaro West are the Co-Executive Directors of Peace is Loud, sharing the responsibilities of strategic leadership, operations, and executive coordination. Before joining Peace is Loud in a co-leadership position, they shared a working history and a strong relationship from their time together at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
Peace is Loud is an intersectional feminist nonprofit organization that amplifies the stories the world needs now. Through its Speakers Bureau and film impact work, the organization connects people’s desire for change with opportunities for dialogue and action.
Nora: What are some of the major lessons from this co-leadership model that you two have learned?
Camaro: While a co-leadership model might financially cost more dollars, the return on that investment is high. When considering a co-leadership model, the organization needs to ask itself a series of questions, ‘What are the resources that we have to put behind this?’ And, beyond monetary resources, do you have support from the board and support from the staff to help them adjust to having two leaders and have a clear understanding of what it might look like.
Rebecca: There's so much value that the organization is gaining having the two of us. I don't have the data to prove it, but I can share, from a more intrinsic place, that having the both of us is improving the culture of our organization.
Working in the nonprofit sector can be exhausting at times, especially in the documentary space where our team, more often than not, has to listen to and grapple with difficult stories from our storytellers. We have to have the bandwidth together to really show up emotionally for the team we work in.
It’s great that there are two leaders that can show up for our team together. It also helps in the fundraising space where we are able to secure more funding opportunities for the organization. In the future, we hope to document that value and profit side of adapting a co-leadership model.
Camaro: Yeah. What else have we learned along the way?
Rebecca: Don't create a co-leadership model where both leaders assume part-time roles. It's impossible to be effective with two part-time leaders. One of my first a-ha moments in this role at Peace is Loud was my very first vacation. I went away for eight days, and it felt like forever. This vacation was within the first few months of starting at the organization, and I didn’t know what to expect when I returned from being out.
And when I came back from vacation, I had no emails. Camaro had answered all of my emails, and I was able to jump into real time and that was such a benefit. It just shocked me because that wouldn’t have been the norm in a single-leader position.
I was on a trip with a bunch of other women that were checking their work e-mail like, “Oh my God, I'm coming back to hundreds of emails.” And I didn't come back to any.
And it was this wonderful partnership, and this is a very, very tactical example and benefit of this but a key value piece.
Camaro: I completely agree. And, for me, there have been a lot of personal learnings from being in this role.
One, and this comes back to one of the strengths of co-leadership, is that I was really intimidated by the idea of taking on an Executive Director role on my own.
Peace is Loud was looking for Co-EDs, but they were also open to an individual taking on the role and then deciding what to do. I had been thinking about applying by myself because at first, I didn’t have someone to apply with but it felt so daunting.
And looking at the job description, I did the thing that many women and people of color do, which was like, “Oh, I don't know if I have all the qualifications to do this.” And then once I got into the role and I was like, I absolutely had all the qualifications to do this.
I absolutely could have as an individual, strictly from a skills standpoint, perform this job on my own. But I would not have wanted to because I really can't imagine, it's too much work for any one person.
It’s been really validating as someone who may have discounted myself or my abilities to get into this role.
So, I think having it be a co-leadership role was a huge barrier breaker because it's allowed me to step into this leadership role and really build up and own confidence that I might not have or I didn't otherwise.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s so good.
Camaro: A big question that I considered was how many other women, people of color, queer people, disabled people are similarly discounting themselves because they're looking at the job description and thinking to themselves, ‘but I'm not 100% all of these qualifications’, but who would consider it if they could share the role and then similarly, be able to build that confidence and understand that, “oh, actually you are very capable”.
Even with the fundraising, that was a big piece that I felt intimidated by. And being in the role and working so closely with Rebecca on the fundraising, realizing, “oh, actually a lot of the experience I had was fundraising, I just didn't see it that way.”
And so, I think that's been a really big lesson about how co-leadership can really benefit workplaces and people.
There's also the comparable of being in this role as a white woman and a black woman and figuring out how to also navigate race within our relationship.
When considering race, it can present a one-to-one comparison. For example, Rebecca is the extrovert and I'm the introvert. My tendency is to do my work and then show up publicly when I need to, but it's not always my go to. And so, I remember sharing with Rebecca like that's a dynamic in and of itself where in society, we sort of think about the charismatic leader as being the most capable leader.
And then to put on top of that, the race dynamic often presents a tendency to think that white people are more capable leaders. And so, one of my insecurities to flag was like, “okay, how do we navigate you being able to show up as you are? Because I absolutely don't want you to feel like you have to shrink yourself if it's your tendency to, I want you to be your full big self.”
But we need to talk within each other about how other people might be perceiving us and what we want to do about it. And so those are some of the discussions we have that other leaders may not have to.
Nora: Thank you for sharing that aspect of a co-leadership model. And that leads us to our last question, what would you recommend to other organizations that are considering or questioning this model?
Camaro: Organizations that are interested in a co-leadership model should definitely check out the report written by Ruby and Devi called ‘Mosaics and Mirrors’ I would say avoid hiring separately, especially in the sense where the organization does all the interviews, picks two people, and puts those two people together because it’s probably not going to work.
Rebecca: I absolutely agree. I’d also suggest connecting with other organizations with a shared leadership team or another organization who's tried the model first. To add to that, I would say building a budget around a co-leadership model is imperative. It’s important to invest in a few months of coaching, a few months of space or support for those two to get started and to work through that foundation they’ll need for the co-leadership role.
When we first started out, we focused on figuring out what are our values as a leadership team, what do we really want to prioritize publicly to our team? Is it transparency? Those may feel simple to some folks but they're really, really important to the foundation of this relationship.
Camaro: If an organization knows that they want to pursue co-leadership, either having a coach or maybe just having a protected budget line so that the co-leads can choose the coach that kind of jives best with them from the outset to help set that relationship up for success.
Rebecca: And when you do decide to begin the hiring process, avoid hiring the co-leaders separately. Camaro and I would be happy to talk to anybody about it! We are still learning, evolving, and adapting in our roles as co-leaders and sharing our experiences with others, whether big or small, will help advance this model as a viable option for success.