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ECTA implements distributed leadership model

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ECTA implements distributed leadership model

June 24, 2024

The Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) is excited to announce its implementation of a distributed leadership model. The leadership team was inspired by a report from the Building Movement Project, Structuring Leadership: Alternative Models for Distributing Power and Decision-Making in Nonprofit Organizations written by Caroline McAndrews, Frances Kunreuther, and Shifra Bronznick.

According to the report, for this type of alternative model of leadership to work certain themes first must be present in the organization. These include high levels of trust, an investment in learning and development for all staff, and shared organizational values—all of which the ECTA team has.

What attracted the team to this model is that it promotes shared power and decision-making across the leadership team and within the organization. ECTA staff embrace the benefits of decentralizing power and authority and adopting values-based leadership, including promoting diverse ideas, leveraging leader expertise, increasing sustainability by sharing responsibilities, and increasing responsiveness to internal and external needs. This new model also reflects ECTA’s continued commitment to innovation, leadership development, and equity.

The leadership team will retain its organizational structure of associate directors. FPG Senior Technical Assistance Specialist Megan Vinh, PhD, will now serve as director and FPG Senior Technical Assistance Specialist Christina Kasprzak, MA, who had been co-director for 11 years, will now be an associate director. Kasprzak will work with Vinh and ECTA’s other associate directors, listed below, to support this transition on logistical questions and innovative ways to operate.

In addition to leaders within FPG, ECTA will continue to have four partner leads based at other institutions: Lise Fox, PhD, University of South Florida; Kathy Hebbeler, PhD, SRI International; Shantel Meek, PhD, the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University; and Alissa Rausch, EdD, University of Denver.

The ECTA leadership team is operationalizing the new model by using the core infrastructure areas of expertise needed to meet the demands of a national technical assistance center of ECTA’s scope and size. The six core areas and their corresponding leadership are:

  • Strategic planning and budgeting (Britt Williams and Kasprzak)
  • TA deliverables and activity planning (Curtis and Vinh)
  • Organizational structure, professional development, and teaming (McGhee and Kasprzak)
  • Communications, marketing, and product development (McCullough and Vinh)
  • Outreach, partnerships, and collaboration (Williams and Kasprzak)
  • Evaluation and reporting (McCarthy and Vinh)

“Distributed leadership has brought energy to the breadth and depth of our work as a large national TA center,” says McCullough. “We have aligned core areas with our individual strengths as leaders.  This allows us to be more nimble in our decision-making and has pushed us to be more transparent in those processes.”

To implement this model successfully, the ECTA team established clear roles and responsibilities, confirmed decision-making processes, and created a structure to include all aspects of the work. Topic teams, work groups, and core infrastructure teams will continue to carry out their work with their respective leaders and teams. Individuals are trusted and empowered to continue to make clear and transparent decisions within their domains, relying on staff and leadership for input.

When asked about the new leadership structure, the associate directors had many positive comments.

"Applying the distributed leadership model allows many voices to claim ownership of a shared vision of project governance by doing their part to ensure the overall success of the initiative," says McCarthy.

“Harnessing our diverse perspectives has enriched our strategies and made our planning more comprehensive and effective,” says Britt Williams. “It gives everyone a voice and the power to lead, which will help us be a more motivated and cohesive team.”

“I’m excited about the progress our team has made to redistribute power and decision-making to advance our commitment to equity,” says Kasprzak. “We are a diverse group with a mix of leadership styles and experience. This change will move us forward as we continue building a culture that emphasizes collaboration, learning, innovation, and equity.”