Standing in the Gap: Leaders of Social Change and Justice

Standing in the Gap: Leaders of Social Change and Justice

Notes from the Field

America may be one of the richest countries in the world. However, many do not experience the flow of wealth, health, and love. There are people who live in the valleys of poverty, stand on the edge of addiction despair, or find rest in the shadows of the street. There are immigrants tangled and strangled by our laws, young people struggling to read, and the elderly seeking refuges of hope.

Does anybody care? These are members of our community hidden in plain sight, as others savor gourmet coffees, chatter on their cell phones, and drive by unaware. The gap between these two disparate worlds goes unnoticed by many, but discovered by others.

Yes, someone cares! They are called leaders and social activists, 20 of whom came together as part of a Masters Give Back offering of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, hosted by Cincinnati’s Leadership Council for Nonprofits. There were leaders who spend their lives Modelling the Way with acts of kindness and generosity, and leaders who help the addicted and mentally afflicted escape a life of darkness and despair. There were those who spend hours in court Challenging the Process so that children are not left alone and defenseless, and others who Enable Others to Act: teaching young girls teamwork, generating small wins, and instilling in them the confidence they need to work toward running a 5K, or representing social service agencies that enable individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to fully participate in their communities by providing jobs, assisted living housing, and homes. We also had leaders from organizations that provide shelter and meals for the homeless, others who Encourage the Hearts of students with dyslexia so they have an equal playing field of success by learning to read, and leaders who stand on the battleground of justice for immigrants.

So, who are these leaders who care enough to fill in the gaps so that the quality of life for men, women, and children can be better? Who are these leaders who shine a light into darkness while becoming better leaders themselves? Where do we find these leaders who on a daily basis live out The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®? In my community of Cincinnati, we find them at these agencies:

Over the two-days of our workshop, it was a privilege for both of us to help these amazing leaders build their leadership capacity as they wrestled with many of the daily challenges they face…
  • How to keep professional boundaries while still getting to know people on a personal level. 
  • How to survive in a ‘warm, fuzzy, and huggy’ environment when that is not your style. 
  • How to create a culture of innovation and how to be sure we are solving the ‘right’ problem? 
  • How to enlist others and break down team resistance to change. 
  • How do we make change fun? 

As we explored each of The Five Practices a participant from one organization shared a great example of how they Challenged the Process to improve the environment by reducing the number of paper cups that get used and tossed. Based on its current usage of disposable cups, the agency figured that if they stayed on the same path and stacked all the cups that were being used over a period of years, it would completely cover the 49-story, 574-feet art deco landmark in Cincinnati called Carew Tower. The solution: the organization started using mugs!


The group also practiced their coaching skills by helping each other work through a current leadership challenge, and left with great insights and ideas. As participating leader Jen Dorschug said, “I walked out with a clear plan and strategies to improve my skills.

And, of course, there was fun in the mix—what we call “leadership stretch”. Each person had to replicate the pose that was on the back of a card given to them. 


We were delighted to be a part of this wonderful group of leaders who are creating a legacy in their communities and inspiring others every single day! Great leadership matters to them and their organizations. They face the same challenges as leaders all over the world, but here in Cincinnati for two days, they had an opportunity to reflect and work through their challenges—thanks to Wiley’s generosity, Leadership Council for Nonprofits, and our facilities host, RetireMED® iQ.

  Valarie Willis, Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and a Trained LPI® Coach, is principal of Valarie Willis Consulting in Loveland, OH where she focuses on strategic management consulting. An accomplished speaker, facilitator, consultant, and executive coach, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, associations and nonprofits. Valarie can be reached at
Dwight Finch, SHRM-SCP, is a strategic HR consultant and Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge®. With 20 years of progressive leadership experience in private and public sector employee and labor relations, he currently works with organizations to increase employee engagement and optimize culture. Dwight can be contacted at



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