NARAL Midpoint: Finding My Leadership Style

Six weeks after my first blog post, my job at NARAL has swelled to encompass a new set of managerial responsibilities. In addition to doing substantive work – helping my supervisor brainstorm creative field operations, draft LTEs, and strategize political campaigns – I now manage a team of nine interns, and am responsible for distributing them to our four-plus priority campaigns. This task is surprisingly complicated; I have to take into account more variables than I initially thought when I began drafting my interns’ schedules. On a daily basis, I have to consider whether or not the interns have a car, whether or not the campaigns are accessible by public transportation, etc. Last week, I finally managed the interns’ schedules such that they are traveling to work on each of our priority campaigns at least once a week.

I embarked upon my journey this summer hoping to learn how to effectively negotiate varying relationships in the workplace. Many of my interns are graduate students, and I was initially worried that I would not be respected in my supervisor role, given the age differential. However, through conversations with my supervisor and other members of the staff, I have learned how to act and how to speak so as to seem an older, more confident supervisor. In my first few weeks here, I would apologize to my interns for making strict demands. Now, three months in, I have gained my footing and have realized that, although my interns may be older than I am, my three years of experience in this field has given me the qualifications I need to be an effective worker and supervisor. I have learned to unapologetically set high expectations. During one-on-one conversations and midpoint check-ins with my interns, I make sure that I am offering strong, constructive feedback. In the office, during meetings, I am firm and assertive. During lunch breaks, walks to the T, and coffee runs, I allow my more informal, personable side to show through; I inquire about the interns’ weekends, offer tricks of the trade, and share a bit about myself. By balancing the “friendly” and “professional” moments in and out of the office, I am able to command the respect I need while also showing my team that I am approachable and understanding.

Throughout the summer, my work has included holding one-on-one meetings with community leaders and lobby meetings with elected officials. I have met with a variety of elected officials on the Public Health Committee in support of our Healthy Youth Bill (which would implement comprehensive sex education in public schools). Armed with research and statistics, I quickly learned in my lobby meetings that elected officials will only fully support a bill if the bill will directly improve the lives of those in their district.

Similarly, my one-on-one recruitment meetings with community leaders have shown me that, while organizations are willing to coalesce, they will only do so if the impact on their clients is tangible. I recently had a one on one with a staff member from an organization that raises low-income women of color out of poverty by providing jobs training, peer mentorship, and professional development services. Only when I explained the impact of Crisis Pregnancy Centers on communities of color specifically was I able to garner her support for our initiatives.

Through these meetings, I have grown to understand that true coalition and relationship building must be founded on reciprocity. Organizations like NARAL are too pressed for time to engage heavily in an initiative that does not cater directly to their membership. In future lobbying and meeting efforts, I will be sure to come armed with facts, data, and anecdotes that directly address the constituencies of those I meet with, be they geographic districts or a certain demographic of people.

I am consistently amazed by the amount of organization and attention to detail my job requires.  Serving at NARAL in this capacity has increased my managerial abilities tenfold. I have grown to feel comfortable delegating tasks to my intern team, although some are older and more experienced than me. The staff has been exceptional in their eagerness to accommodate my needs and treat me as one of their own. I sit in on staff meetings, assist in building strategy and blueprinting campaigns, and am privy to exclusive conversations among the Political, Communications, and Field teams.

More than anything, this internship has given me an in-depth look at the machinations of the political non-profit sector. Though I previously worked at NARAL for a year, I have never understood the extent to which fundraising and membership building are critical to the maintenance of a non-profit. Sometimes I become disenchanted by the reality that a significant proportion – if not a majority – of NARAL’s work is dedicated to maintaining the structures that already exist instead of directly propelling forth a pro-choice agenda. In this field, progress comes more slowly than I expected, and victories are few and far between. I often find myself wondering if the political non-profit venue is the most effective means of pursuing electoral and legislative success.

This doubt is bolstered by the hyper-partisan nature of the choice debate. Upon accepting my summer internship, I stated, “I hope to use my duties at NARAL…. to learn how the organization makes the pro-choice debate less partisan using creative messaging and framing.” Interestingly, my experience at NARAL has taught me quite the opposite. NARAL is a non-partisan organization, but our political inclinations are clear in the work we do. As the choice debate has become more polarized in light of the Supreme Court rulings in the Hobby Lobby and Buffer Zone cases, Republicans that we had once considered allies have begun to vote against our bills in the state house. We cannot endorse legislators with an anti-choice record, so although the staff does not want to endorse electeds along party lines, we find ourselves doing just that. Nonetheless, I am still searching for ways to make the debate less partisan in my conversations with others. I hope that continuing to work here, and having one-on-one conversations with community leaders and stakeholders more often, will teach me how.