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TD Friends of the Environment Foundation Leadership Grant and Impacts

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In the summer of 2015, ReForest London applied for funding from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation to improve one of our staff member's leadership skills. This is Skylar's story on her experience.

I started at ReForest London in November of 2014 and loved the emphasis for staff to seek out professional development opportunities. Whenever there was a relevant conference or Pillar workshop, I was encourage to attend and develop my skills in areas such as engagement organizing, volunteer management, communications, storytelling and fund development. 

When the opportunity arose for ReForest London to apply to the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation's Leadership Grant, I jumped at the chance to design my own leadership education. I was able to spend up to $5,000 on whatever I thought would improve my leadership abilities.

In my roles at ReForest London, I've focused a lot of my time on volunteer management, event planning, outreach and public speaking. I decided to hone in on improving those areas. I chose to learn more about conflict resolution (because conflict terrifies me), improving my communication skills and learning more about my leadership style and how to build on my weak areas.

I decided on a mix of in class learning through Western Continuing Studies and one-on-one coaching with Chris Moss. This allowed to learn best practices and theory in class while being able to focus on my personal leadership goals with a coach. I completed five courses through the Professional Certificate in Leadership at Western Continuing Studies. I'm required to take two more courses to complete my certificate, and hope to work on those courses over winter (when it's a little quieter at work because we can't plant trees in the winter!)

The courses I selected were really interesting and I loved working in groups and learning from other people's perspectives. I have an entire book of resources from the classes that I turn to when thinking about how to active listen or resolve conflict. I also enjoyed meeting other professionals working in a variety of industries (since I spend so much of my time with other non-profit workers, I rarely hear about struggles and success stories from public administration or business industries).

With the one-on-one coaching with Chris Moss, I was able to work on identifying my leadership styles. I learned I was an ENFJ, preferred to address conflict with an Expressive or Amiable style, found out my Strengths were Communication, Input, Learner, Woo and Activator. These quizzes helped me identify where I excelled or what styles I felt comfortable with. I know that I enjoy working in teams, talking through problems and trying to be friends with everyone. Learning this has helped me identify where I can best use my strengths, and where my weaknesses are.

Chris also assisted in developing my skills at conflict resolution and making space for other people. As much as I love to communicate, I dislike upsetting people and therefore avoid conflict. Chris taught me different strategies to use, and now I feel like conflict (although scary) is worth addressing and usually quite manageable. As a talker (and hater of empty space in conversation) Chris taught me techniques to make space for other's voices. 

I've been able to apply a lot of what I've learned directly in my day to day work at ReForest London. A lot of the concepts relate well to volunteer management and I'm getting better at actively listening and managing people in a way that they also enjoy. I'm more aware on how to develop individual staff and volunteers. I'm getting better at addressing conflict in a timely manner and learning more on how to give good feedback. I also feel more confident to do public speaking, mostly because I've figured out where my strengths are which has given me more confidence.

I'm extremely grateful to TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for giving me the opportunity to improve my leadership skills. I believe it is important for environmental agencies to have strong leaders since the environmental sector plays an incredibly important role in London (and the rest of Canada). What our sector does today will impact generations of Canadians, and by improving our leadership capacity we are able to better serve the environment today and in the future.