The Chrysalis Continues

AMP’s transition to Co-Executive Directorship

portrait of Jenny Lee

When the Allied Media Conference decided to enter a year-long period of reflection, known as the Year in Chrysalis, it set off a series of ripple effects within and beyond Allied Media Projects. Though we didn’t have the option of shutting the organization down for a year to reflect, we’ve continuously asked ourselves chrysalis questions: questions that open up possibilities for fundamental transformation.

One of those questions was, What structure of leadership will be most healthy and effective as we grow? In the course of exploring that question we also had to ask, What kinds of leadership does our vision for the world require? And how do we nurture the versions of leadership we need?

In 2020, as part of answering these questions, AMP will launch a search for a Co-Executive Director. The Co-ED will share leadership with AMP’s current Executive Director, Jenny Lee. Below, Jenny shares some reflections on the decision to pursue this new shape.

How did you come to this decision?

I started feeling the need for a Co-Executive Director about two years ago. Then, in the fall of last year, the feeling became acute — like, This isn’t sustainable for me, or anyone, very much longer. At that time, everyone at AMP was feeling the need for more support. We had basically doubled our workload, without doubling our staff capacity. So we needed to do a lot of hiring. We brought on 10 new full-time people in 2019, filling crucial capacity gaps in the organization and nearly doubling the size of our staff.

My desire for a Co-Executive Director is in part about adding capacity. Directing AMP is a huge role that could easily amount to two full time jobs. But it is also about alleviating the loneliness of being an ED. The kinds of decisions I have to make and problems I have to navigate are daunting and never-ending. I have incredible thought partners within and outside of AMP with which to discuss various challenges, but the weight of a decision is ultimately with the ED, and that can be a crushing weight.

I know a lot of Executive Directors who are exceptionally competent, and even inspiring leaders. But very few are joyful. I think the lack of companionship is one of the things that undermine executive directors’ ability to lead from a place of joy.

In pursuing a Co-Executive Director, I’m looking for a deep collaborator — someone who is fascinated by hard questions, and who can bring new insights to the wild adventure that is leadership of Allied Media Projects.

How does this change align with AMP’s vision and values?

AMP is a network, which is fundamentally a structure of distributed leadership. I think as the non-profit entity that supports the infrastructure of the AMP network, we have a responsibility to constantly pursue, within the limitations of the 501c3 container, forms of leadership that decentralize and distribute power.

It’s also important to remember that in its 20 year history, AMP has only had an Executive Director for the past six years. It was founded by a couple. Then it was led by a five-person staff collective. Then it was led by a tri-directorship. So the shift to a Co-Executive Director model is a shift back in the direction of the organization’s roots.

This shift is also an attempt to live into our organizational vision that we launched at the beginning of 2019. In that vision, we state that we’re working towards a world where we dismantle harmful systems, cultivate care and joy and assume responsibility for creating new liberatory ways of being. Because the non-profit industry grows in the soil of philanthropy, which in turn grows in the soil of supremacist systems, the culture of non-profit organizations inevitably bears the toxins of those systems. I believe it is possible to detoxify our organizations and the soil beneath them.

Co-Executive Director leadership models alone can’t accomplish this, but in the best case scenario, they create more space within organizations for the deeper, relational work of creating the world we need.

Why are you personally excited about this shift?

I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership and organizational development questions and right now it’s no one’s job at AMP to work with me on these things specifically. For example, a friend recommended Cyndi Suarez’s book The Power Manual to me recently; it’s fascinating and I’m excited to have someone to geek out with about ideas like that and their application within AMP.

There are exciting external-facing things I would love to be doing more of like writing, supporting the work and events of our partners, forging new collaborations, etc. And there are internal-facing things that are really important but often get deprioritized, like knowledge transfer around organizational history, training, and other kinds of staff development. With a Co-Executive Director I may be able to finally do some of these things.

And of course, I’m super excited about the ways in which this added capacity will support me to do more healthy work-life balance things: Like taking time off, being present with my rapidly-transforming 4 year old daughter, observing lunch breaks — you know, the basics!

We'll be releasing the Co-Executive Director job announcement in the next few months, so stay tuned.

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