Jun 23 2015 Podcast Series: An Interview with Scott Millstein of Coro New York Leadership Center
Coro’s Leadership New York program now accepting applications for 2015-2016 cohort
For more than 25 years, Coro’s Leadership New York (LNY) program has worked to equip thousands of New York’s top leaders with resources to lead meaningful change. Coro’s unique style of civic leadership is built on understanding complexity, listening to multiple perspectives, and driving change in complex, multi-stakeholder environments.
We’re big fans of Coro and are thrilled to announce that Coro is now accepting applications for its 2015 – 2016 LNY cohort, which meets part time September through May.
“Leadership New York is for the change makers of New York City. We ask participants two questions on the application. We say: What’s the change that you are looking to make in New York City? And how can Coro help you achieve your goals?”
We had the chance to talk recently with Scott Millstein, Executive Director of the Coro New York Leadership Center, about LNY. He shared valuable insights with us on cross-sector collaboration, the unique curriculum of Coro, and the outstanding individuals that participate in the program. Tune into our podcast below for our entire conversation with Scott. (For more information about LNY and the application process visit www.coronewyork.org or call 212-248-2935 ext. 304.)
The Intersector Project: Well, Scott, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you with us today. Let me start by asking you to tell us a bit about Coro, and about the Coro Leadership New York program, in particular.
Scott: Coro New York Leadership Center has been around for 30 years. It’s an organization for people who want to learn how New York City works so they can make it better. We run a number of different leadership training programs — for high school students, and young professionals, and more seasoned professionals — and we help people and leaders of the city, get them the knowledge about how the city really works, leadership skills to make change, and building networks of connected and committed New Yorkers, who share ideas, and information, and resources.
The network aspect is very important to what we are doing. We think that’s a critical aspect of success. We have 2,200 alumni in the city. Our alumni are the city’s commissioners, and council members, and executive directors, activists and entrepreneurs. It’s one of the most diverse and influential leadership communities we have here in the city.
The Leadership New York Program is one of our largest programs. We are now actually in the process of recruiting for our 27th cohort. We’ve been running the program for 27 years. It’s a program for, we call them, mid-career professionals, people who are in a senior role in their organization, who have a fair amount of scope of authority when they are trying to make change happen in their organization or in their community. Many people are running their organizations, and if they are not, they will be in the next five years. It is a cohort of diverse leaders from the city: a third from the non-profit sector, a third from the public sector, and a third from the private sector. That split across sectors is really, really important for us and for the success of the program (02:57).
The Intersector Project: Scott, that answer perfectly tees up my next question: The Coro Leadership New York program has a track record, as you described, of bringing together outstanding leaders from government, business, and non-profit sectors. Can you explain why this commitment to diversity of sector experience is so important to Coro?
Scott: Well, the people who come to Coro are the change makers of the city. They’re people who have vision and passion and ideas, and they want to get something done. And the change that they want to make and the challenges that they are working on are tough and complex. And we see participants come to us, not just with challenging issues that they want to work on, but New York is a challenging city; there’s a diversity and complexity of the city that can complicate the change efforts and the work that people are trying to get done.
“The people who come to Coro are the change makers of the city. They’re people who have vision and passion and ideas, and they want to get something done.”
Just to give you some examples, in the most recent cohort of Leadership New York, we had a senior leader at the Department of Education who was trying to manage the language access programs in all the public schools. We had a leader in the non-profit sector who was running community and school based programs on violence prevention in Crown Heights; an account executive from Edelman who was trying to help her company develop their CSR strategy; the Director of Outreach for one of the public libraries in the city, trying to get the library services more engaged with the community; a local banker from Harlem trying to expand services for the unbanked in that community.
These are tough challenges to work on. They’re important for the city, and at the core of what we believe at Coro is that the more you can work across sector and the more effective you are at engaging the resources, and the assets, and the connections in the multiple sectors, the more effective that you will be. The problems, and the challenges, and the work, doesn’t fit neatly, necessarily, in one sector.
“At the core of what we believe at Coro is that the more you can work across sector and the more effective you are at engaging the resources, and the assets, and the connections in the multiple sectors, the more effective that you will be.”
One of the things that we really try to instill in our participants and our alumni is the value of reaching across sector, and not just reaching across sector, but how to do that effectively. You will leave the Coro program with a deeper understanding and appreciation, I think, of what different sectors and different perspectives will bring to the table, and skill set to do that well, and finally, the actual network and contacts in the different sectors, across the city, that will help you make those goals happen (05:56).
The Intersector Project: Scott, what a great answer and a case statement for cross sector collaboration. Let me ask you, next, what unique assets, perspectives, experiences do you think government leaders versus non-profit leaders versus business leaders bring to the program and to solving these public problems we’re talking about?
Scott: I think our perspective … It’s an interesting question, I think our perspective is that the skill that leaders in the different sectors bring to Coro is in some ways just the skill of being successful in that sector. I don’t know we subscribe to say there is one way to be a leader in the business sector, one way to be a leader in the public sector, one way to be a leader in the private sector, and it’s a different leadership skill.
What we do work at with our participants is have them understand and appreciate what the different sectors can bring to the table. We do a fun exercise with our participants early on in the program, where we break everyone into the sector of their, that they come from, and we do some stereotyping. You ask everyone to create the stereotypes of the other sectors, and not surprisingly, you hear people criticize the private sector people as greedy, capitalistic, and uncaring, and the public sector as lazy, bureaucratic, and inefficient, and the non-profit sector as idealistic or unrealistic.
And we work with the group to break those down and understand the assets that the sectors, and the skills of the people who work in those sectors really learn to hone. So that leads to conversations about how private sector leaders are efficient and have different resource structures that they can access and bring to the table; how public sector leaders can manage systems well and have different collaboration skills and certain levels of authority they can bring representing the government; how non-profit sectors are innovative and entrepreneurial and passionate. And we switch it to really talk about the assets, and make it more of an asset based conversation, and I think that really starts to shift the perceptions that our participants have about what’s possible and what value the other sectors can kind of bring. Then, of course, there’s the experience of actually working really closely with a cross-sector group over a nine-month, fairly intensive leadership experience. The personal exposure gets past the stereotypes pretty quickly. What we see with a lot of our participants, is that, in a lot of organizations, as you move up the professional hierarchy, you’ll spend less and less time with people that are outside of your sector, outside of your industry, outside of your company.
“Then, of course, there’s the experience of actually working really closely with a cross-sector group over a nine-month, fairly intensive leadership experience. The personal exposure gets past the stereotypes pretty quickly.”
One of the values we believe of the Leadership New York Program is that it broadens your horizons, your perspectives, your skill set. It broadens your network, and you will meet people who share a passion for making New York City a better place, but we come to that work from different industries, different sectors. And the exposure of a group of people from different perspectives does a lot to really build networks and understanding and appreciation of what each sector brings to the table (09:38).
The Intersector Project: Well, I’d love to be a fly on the wall for those exercises in sector-based stereotypes. That’s really interesting. Let me ask you, based your years of experience, both in public service in your career, and at Coro, what do you think are the most important skills needed to work effectively across sectors? And perhaps you can speak to how Leadership New York program really addresses and teaches those skills.
Scott: Sure. I’ll break that into two parts. I think there’s a set of skills that are important to be effective when you want to work well in cross-sector relationships — and we don’t always define the work here at Coro in terms of cross sector — but we say to work well, to be a leader, and move people forward, in a direction, with a purpose, the more effective you are at understanding and working well in groups, particularly diverse groups. There is a set of skills that I think, that we believe, helps leaders working on complex, diverse groups and teams and moving groups forward. There’s a set of skills that are involved, that I guess I would say are more introspective and really understanding yourself: How do you ground your actions, and your own values and beliefs, really getting clear about your own personal purpose? How do you recognize your own personal strengths? How do you recognize your own leadership style? That’s something we train on, as well. There’s not sort of one way to lead; there are different ways to lead. And it’s really important to understand both how you lead as a leader, what is your style, and be true to that, but also understand that your style has strengths and your style has weaknesses, and other styles have complementary and sometimes contradictory. So a big part of what we train on, that I think is an important skill, is to understand your own style and be able to appreciate others.
There’s a set of skills that involve how you interact with other people. How well do you listen and observe and evaluate information? How do you ask effective questions? That’s a big thing that I think is a really underappreciated skill. A tendency of leaders is, as they grow in authority, to have greater sense of confidence in what they know. As you grow in authority in an organization, you also have the tendency to be challenged less, in terms of what you think.
One of the things that we really train on is what we call DKDK, which is you don’t know what you don’t know. And honing that muscle to step back, to not always speak first, to listen, observe, to have a greater awareness of what is it that you don’t know, and where else you might be able to gather that information. Then, there’s a set of skills that, I think, have to do with how you and your organization may interact in the world. We train on how do you lead in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. I think that’s a really important skill. We, as I’ve mentioned earlier, talk a lot about the importance of network leadership and the importance of building diverse networks to help you achieve the goals that you’re trying to do. How do you build those networks? How do you support them? How do you sustain them? How do you work effectively with different opinions and different perspectives and different styles, and how do you negotiate and manage competing priorities and mobilize people in a shared direction?
I think that one of the takeaways that participants get from Leadership New York is — back to the sector conversation — different sectors do have different reward structures, different motivators, different incentives, and the more you appreciate the factors that drive success in the different sectors, is really important, as you want to think about how do you navigate competing priorities and get everyone’s interest aligned. That’s, I think, something that’s important, as well (14:13).
The Intersector Project: As our final question, Scott, tell me what qualities Coro is looking for in outstanding applicants for this year’s Leadership New York program? In other words, you spoke on this a bit, but who is this program really for?
Scott: Leadership New York is for the change makers of New York City. We ask participants two questions on the application. We say: What’s the change that you are looking to make in New York City? And how can Coro help you achieve your goals? If you work in the public, private or non-profit sector, and have a vision for a better New York, I can’t think of a better community to be part of and a better program for you to get a really deeper knowledge about how the city really works and an understanding of current policy questions that are being faced by the city; a set of leadership skills that will really help you manage and appreciate differences and diversity across sectors, across communities, and a network of really remarkable people that will help you achieve your goals long after graduation day.
One of the things I’m most proud of, in terms of the metrics that we track at Coro, is, what do the alumni do with the knowledge, skills, and networks that they’ve gained in Coro after graduation day. That’s really where our impact lies, and I’m very pleased to report that, among our alumni (we just recently surveyed them on our 30th anniversary) nearly two thirds of our alumni report that they regularly use their Coro skills and networks in their work in the city and the change that they’re trying to make happen.
They’re really foundational. We really try to tell people Coro’s not your, don’t view Coro as your professional development activity for the year. It is actually a community that you become part of, and I think a community that gives great value to our alumni long after graduation day (16:30).
The Intersector Project: Well, Scott, thanks so much for talking with us today.
Scott: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.