Sharing Leadership at TransForm

Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Headshot

Jo Ann and Ann speaking at our 2019 event, All AboardThis post is co-authored by Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Farrant and Ann Cheng

It’s been two months since Stuart Cohen stepped down from being TransForm’s Executive Director after 22 years. As the new Interim Co-Executive Directors, we’re very proud that all of our hard work preparing for this big transition is paying off — it’s been a smooth process so far!

For those who weren’t able to make it to our fabulous event, All Aboard!, we want to introduce ourselves and share some of what you can expect from TransForm going forward. Our role as Interim Co-Executive Directors is to lead this transition in a way that sets TransForm up for long-term success.

To do this, we have a guiding principle as an organization. It’s a big part of what makes TransForm so effective AND such a great place to work. It’s the belief in shared leadership — in each person's ability to shape their own community, whether that's their workplace or their neighborhood.

As co-directors, we’re modeling the principle of shared leadership by creating complementary roles to guide the strategic direction of the organization. Ann is focused on our policy and advocacy work and institutional fundraising, and Jo Ann directs the internal operations of the organization while working closely with the Board and the individual fundraising team. Sharing executive leadership responsibilities allows for more manageable workloads and increased peer support. Co-directorship is a creative and collaborative formation that fits TransForm’s values and culture.

Both in our program work and internally as an organization, TransForm invites people to find their voice, speak their truth, and share their opinions about the direction of our future. In that spirit, we want to share a little bit about ourselves and how we came to this work. Then we’ll come back around to how TransForm will continue strengthening shared leadership moving forward.

Ann Cheng has been a leader of the TransForm team for 12 years, founding and directing the GreenTRIP program. She’s now leading our More Homes, Less Driving initiative to take many of those innovations to scale. Ann says:

I grew up in El Cerrito, and as a middle schooler I had a golden ticket — or rather, a pink BART ticket. That was a discounted youth transit pass, something TransForm has been fighting for at the state level for years. That transit pass gave me the freedom to explore San Francisco with a friend, and more importantly, with no parents!

I appreciated that freedom even more when I moved to San Ramon for high school. Despite being deep into the surburbs, I found the Iron Horse Trail that connected to the free Bishop Ranch Shuttle, which got me to Walnut Creek BART. And from there, I could go anywhere.

It turns out lots of people would love to live where you don’t have to drive everywhere all the time. But we haven’t kept up with the demand. Over the last decade, the Bay Area has grown by 450,000 people and added only 50,000 homes. So the housing crisis should be no surprise. In the absence of real solutions at scale, people are being priced out and displaced farther from jobs and transit centers, which has increased inequality, traffic, climate pollution, and dependence on cars. This is a huge reason why I fought as the former Mayor of El Cerrito to ensure that our city would do its fair share of smart growth. To this day, I’m so proud that El Cerrito is one of the few cities in the state that has reached and surpassed their housing production goals.

Part of the solution is our More Homes, Less Driving initiative, which is built on the success of our GreenTRIP program. Our initiative is creating more affordable opportunities to live next to transit and empowering communities who are not normally at the decision-making table to participate in shaping their future. Our goal is to support the creation of 50,000 homes with great transportation choices across the Bay Area in the next five years, while saving $2.5 billion on one less parking space per unit.

Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Farrant has been a member of TransForm’s executive team for three years, led our operations and administrative teams for five years, and is earning her Doctorate in Human Development with a concentration in Inclusive Leadership for Social Justice. Jo Ann says:

I look back at my time growing up in Los Angeles and I can see how TransForm’s work would have benefited our community. Angelinos know the song “Walking in L.A.,” where the refrain goes, “nobody walks in L.A.!” There was a real stigma for anyone getting around without a car, but my family is bus-dependent. For many years, I took the bus to get to most places. My mother has never driven, and my father no longer drives today.

That’s why I love what we do at TransForm. We work to ensure that car culture is not the only option for people… and we’re beginning to see that change, even in Los Angeles!

Where I grew up, people were struggling to survive. Long commutes and long work days took my parents away from us, and we had to fend for ourselves as kids. I saw how gangs replaced families for some of my friends and neighbors.

Now I know there’s data proving that commute time is actually a major factor in the odds of escaping poverty. I’m proud to have made it to this point in my career, helping lead an organization advocating for transportation improvements that have a huge impact on people’s lives. We’re supporting kids and adults to speak up for safer streets and affordable housing, in ways I didn’t even know were possible when I was waiting for the bus in L.A.

So, what’s next for TransForm?

TransForm has a very clear sense of where we’re headed, and how to get there. We’re making great progress towards our 2020 Priorities, growing our incredible staff, and launching exciting new projects and partnerships. We took positions on more legislation this year than we have in the past. There is more urgency and interest in our work than perhaps ever before.

As we build on this momentum, we’ll keep improving how we do the work. The idea of “shared leadership” is about building a collaborative culture where everyone holds power to influence decision-making, and is invited and prepared to do so.

A just organization should cultivate mutual respect among staff, as partners with shared power. We make space for everyone’s perspective to be heard and taken seriously, whether a veteran expert or a new staff member. With a strengths-based approach, we identify each person’s unique contribution to our workplace. We challenge ourselves to remain curious and open to different approaches, and not privilege the loudest or most senior voices at the organization.

As we build trust, we can more readily expose and challenge power dynamics and injustice in the workplace, and in the field. For example, we train all staff to recognize that everyone holds unconscious bias and ways of being that may be unintentionally harmful, and create regular opportunities for reflection and feedback to disrupt these behaviors. In the field, we work in close consultation with partners and coalitions, sharing power and decision-making, and even financial opportunities. We have often helped win grants and government contracts for our allies on key shared initiatives, making room at the table for new voices and to introduce and weave stronger relationships between those with power and those who need more of it.

We’re also continuing to refine our Social Justice Action Plan, which we plan to share publicly this year.

It’s important to teach and refine the practical skills staff need in order to take full advantage of a shared leadership approach. So we’re getting more thorough and systematic about realistic work-planning, budget forecasting, efficient meeting preparation and facilitation, and pitching and proposing for new grants and contracting opportunities. This also means practicing self care, not operating from a scarcity mindset, and giving ourselves permission to work sustainably and avoid burnout.

When we are engaged and respected at work, we know how it feels to have our voice be heard, we can then see how our collective thinking can affect change. And when we know and practice this ourselves, we can better bring this into communities where we work. It’s about leveling up how we operate and make decisions, to be driven by values that are also guiding our advocacy.

Inside and out, we are building on a very strong foundation laid not just by Stuart, but by all TransForm’s staff and board members, past and present. Not to mention the many organizations and individuals who collaborate with us. Moving forward into our next chapter, shared leadership will continue to be a guiding principle for our work, and we’ll be looking for ways — and people! — to keep taking it to the next level.

 

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.