1978 – Leadership Support Process

‘The education is that we had to change the nature of how women learned and make it communal and familial. We set up a community-based college because otherwise our education systems were draining all the best leaders away from the community, making them not appreciate their community and families. Then we created leadership support and women had to learn how to work with each other and support each other and not be competing with each other. They also had to learn how to do that. We established methods, tools and basic agreements on how women could work effectively to build and operate organizations. We saw that women leaders usually stayed in one place and they couldn’t delegate. They were leaders doing all the work and not learning really how to build real organizations, and learning to move within their communities.

Jan Peterson, NW Founder

The Leadership Support Process (LSP) is a group process in which women who lead grassroots development work in their communities support each other and become more empowered. LSP aims to deeply honor women’s roles in their families and communities. Women use this process to support each other to strive towards a vision for their community and for their own leadership in a way that fulfills their personal and collective values.

LSP is a set of skills and tools that women use to reflect and listen to each other about their successes, obstacles and dreams. It encourages women to share their experiences and feelings with others through deep listening in the safety of basic agreements among the participants. The process has tools that create space for women to talk about their experiences and to express their emotions through crying, laughing, shaking or any other form it may take.

Grassroots women leaders use LSP to run leadership support groups and many organizations have found it useful to integrate in into regular meetings and into the ways that their organizations and communities function. When used to its fullest extent, organizations and communities develop a culture of LSP that permeates their work and relationships. The culture is based on values and on the overcoming of the effects of all forms of oppression. In this way, LSP provides tools to run an organization or a movement with a vision based on collective values and mutual support among women leaders.

NW LSP Training of Trainers 2011


‘LSP means that I know the question that can be asked, not the answer!’

Lisel Burns, NW Board


Summary 5 LSP Elements

  1. We start with values and vision.
  2. We set group standards together. We make basic agreements.
  3. We support each other as leaders.
  4. We become allies and principled partners by honoring diversity.
  5. We use appreciation and participatory meeting methods.

Four Major Steps

  1. Articulating our vision:
    • Leadership is necessary and desired.
    • Women can find women’s ways of being excellent leaders.
    • Women leaders are particularly unsupported.
    • Women’s leadership deserves support.
    • Support means appreciation, listening, acceptance and challenge.
  2. Determining what holds us back: obstacles to realizing our leadership potential.
  3. Becoming aware of and contradicting “internalized oppression:” socially conditioned negative messages that we have internalized.
  4. Sharing the strategies that can work.

NW LSP Manual 2006

LSP History

In NW’s community development efforts in Brooklyn, NY, USA, women encouraged each other to take control of local development by demonstrating their own leadership. Instead of “helping” to develop an important local project led by others, women began to see themselves as capable of making major economic and political decisions that affected the projects (and their lives). NW also focused on dealing with the rich diversity in grassroots communities in a sensitive and constructive way. The women in NW came from different class, race and ethnic backgrounds. Unlike the leaders of many organizations, no one at NW pretended such differences did not exist. The challenge was to find commonalities, dispel myths and fears, and work together to create communities in which everyone could live decently. To do this, women had to truly get to know each other in a personal way, learn about each other’s backgrounds and work through their personal conflicts. In addition to its local organizing efforts, in 1979, NW initiated a national leadership development and support program for a small group of 15 key grassroots women leaders from Williamsburg and around the country. This group came together on four weekends over a two-year period to develop a process for working together across racial, income, gender and ethnic lines. Leaders reflected that each time they met, they sat together and shared food and laughter, tears and fears as they offered their experiences and thinking. They talked about everything and anything. And they listened to everything and anything. They asked each other questions to get at the heart of the issues they were dealing with in their lives.

They realized that they needed this process, and that it was an innovative model. They knew that the “neighborhood approach” could submerge women’s issues, and that the traditional feminist approach could emphasize women as individuals without including their shared community issues. Leadership Support Process (LSP) would include both the concept of community and the women as individuals. It would recognize grassroots women’s brilliant thinking, by making space to hear everyone. The techniques in LSP evolved from the local NW activities, including peer counseling training in the NW college program, as well as personal experiences with feminists consciousness-raising methods, popular education methods, self-help groups, re-evaluation co-counseling and the Institute for Cultural Affairs. Some of the methods and philosophies from these organizations have influenced LSP and have influenced the women who developed and continued to lead LSP. NW used LSP in their different groups in their communities and in conferences with grassroots women from across the country, called National Institutes. NW has recognized the common links to grassroots women’s organizing efforts in communities around the world. The LSP has grown and evolved as it has been influenced and used by poor and working women in many communities from the global North and South.

NW LSP Training of Trainers 2011

For a reflection on the Leadership Support Process after 30 years of the NCNW please visit the The Kathleen Ridder 2004 Conference at Smith College page.

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