Brown-Graham leads the Institute for Emerging Issues. On the organization’s website, it is described as a “think-and-do” tank “focused on tackling big issues that affect North Carolina’s future growth and prosperity”. The organization does this through bringing together business, community and educational leaders. Brown-Graham took the helm of the organization in 2007 after being a professor in the Institute of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill for 13 years. Prior to coming to UNC, she was a law clerk in California and litigation counsel in a Sacramento, California law firm. She has written several books and published articles on developing the economic base of distressed communities. She is an Eisenhower Fellow and American Marshall Fellow.
She’s being showcased and celebrated because:
Brown-Graham’s leadership of the Institute for Emerging Issues resulted in her being recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change in the category of Civic Hacking and Open Government. Under her leadership, the Emerging Issues Commons was created. The Commons is a physical space and online hub that allows North Carolina’s citizens to work together on the state’s biggest challenges.
The Leader Suite Conversation:
The concept for the Commons
Brown-Graham led the development of the space and explains how she came up with such an innovative concept. She said it was based on her great admiration for Governor Hunt and how much he cares about the people and the state of North Carolina. She explains that rather than have something static such as showcasing pieces he collected over his 24 years as governor, she wanted something that aligned with his strengths.
Brown-Graham: I was inspired by the way he tells stories and uses those to inspire people and capture their attention but also to give them little nuggets of information that allows them to go off and do things, good things. That’s the VOICES area. He is a very fact driven person. And I wanted people to have access to good reliable objective data that allows them to understand what’s going on in their communities. And it was important to me to deliver that at the county level. I love the idea that there are people all across North Carolina who can be on our platform here and also online who are inputting their ideas on what would make the state a better place.
It took a village. . .
Brown-Graham: It’s been really amazing to me to see how much national attention the Commons has gotten [and] how many people are drawn to it as a model for how we might do civic engagement in the future, and, how it took a whole village to do it. We had the IEI (Institute for Emerging Issues) team, but we engaged literally hundreds of people across North Carolina in the process whether they were giving us stories or writing treatments or telling us what data was important or financing, because it was all privately funded.
Most proud of. . .
Brown-Graham: I’m most proud of the fact that for years what IEI was known for was the Emerging Issues Forum. The Commons is not meant to replace the Forum and there’s no way that it could do that, but it strikes me that we were celebrated as an organization for bringing 1000 people together for 2 days every February and now, every day, there are on average 1700 interactions with the Commons which means that we can touch people all year round, irrespective of whether they can take two days off and come sit in the Raleigh convention center with us and touch them in a “just-in-time way with a just-in time” set of information.
Listening to your inner voice:
Brown-Graham said that as a lawyer, she is a chart maker and weighs the pros and cons when making decisions. She said that what she most trusts is her inner voice. She talks about how she is able to listen reliably to that inner voice.
Brown-Graham: I love my gut. It does not steer me wrong. [You] come to trust your own judgment only by a set of experiences. It’s why you can’t have it when you’re really young- even though you think you know everything, you can’t really have that instinct that’s built from many, many different kinds of experiences. As a child I wondered whether gray hair made people wise. I thought that my grandmothers were the wisest women in the entire world and I now know they were. The gray hairs were a proxy for years and years of experiences.
The Job of Leader
Brown-Graham believes being exceptional means you don’t have to compare yourself to anyone and that means you don’t have to wait for someone else to validate you. She explains why this is important for leaders.
Brown-Graham: In leadership there are a good many times you’re not going to get validation. Almost by definition a leader is someone who is in front of the curve. Your job is not to do the things that will make people love and affirm you. Your job is to take them to places they may not know they need to go.
Mentors and Sponsors
Brown-Graham: My mentors tend to be people who are already in my circle. I’m very intentional about picking them out and telling them what I need from them. Some of them are my emotional support. All of them are my accountability circle. If I do feel as though I’m getting outside of the zone or losing a sense of “me” or my purpose, these are the people who help me remember what I’m here for as a human. For my sponsors, I actually have never set out to find one. They have found me. One of the messages that I give to people who seek my advice is if you are exceptional every moment, even when you don’t think people are looking they will see it. If you think meeting people and getting them to support you is about transferring business cards and doing LinkedIn, that’s not really what cuts it. It’s about being the person who shows up to the meeting and is prepared and makes the best use of peoples time and goes off and does the things they say they are going to do, that’s what catches people’s notice over time. For more of Anita Brown-Graham’s perspective on leadership and for more about her role with Institute for Emerging Issues, connect with us on Facebook.