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This Is What Leadership Looks Like: For Lani Shaw 1967–2014

By Ellen Friedman

We spend a lot of time in philanthropy trying to define leadership—at the Compton Foundation, we have expanded the way we think about leadership to use a transformative lens: what does transformative leadership look like for those of us working for progressive social and environmental change?

Lani Shaw was the embodiment of how I think of transformative leadership —she lived it without having to define it. Lani showed us what leadership can and should be: kind, values driven, collaborative, dependable, expansive, generous, and brave. Leading a family foundation can be an isolating endeavor, but Lani always looked for opportunities to partner in her work and to share the internal learning from her foundation, the General Service Foundation (GSF).

One of my first opportunities to work with Lani was when she offered to host a conversation between the board chairs of GSF and Compton; next she invited a few of us—foundations and grant partners—into a learning session with the GSF board. In recent months, she initiated a funder group called the “How Club,” which grew out of her recognition that we needed a space in which to think about how to do philanthropy differently and colleagues with whom to experiment. Through her leadership at GSF, in a variety of spaces, she built community.

Even when facing challenging situations, Lani was considerate and compassionate, looking for solutions instead of fixating on what was wrong. She was constantly driven by her deep belief in the possibility of change and in the potential of philanthropy to advance more understanding, justice, and equity in the world. She supported others to be their best selves, and celebrated the achievements of everyone around her—coaching, nudging, and delighting in their efforts.

Lani appreciated the importance of contemplative practice, balance, fun, family and community. She valued relationships and believed that authentic engagement could generate important and significant change. Working in a field that tends to try to quantitatively measure progress, see specific outcomes, and stick to rigid program definitions, Lani was a voice for trust, for the possibility of magic happening when people worked together, and for the understanding that all our work is connected in a complex web of human connection.

I grieve her loss deeply on a personal level. I am also inspired to have had her show me that it is possible to lead effectively and powerfully from a place of kindness, generosity, humility, and love. Lani taught me that, she demonstrated that in the philanthropic sector, and we are enriched because of her presence in our lives.

Handwritten signature of Ellen Friedman

Ellen Friedman

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