• Ariana Friedlander

Kristin Riott: On following to lead and planting seeds of change

What happens when you follow in the footsteps of a visionary and disruptive leader (AKA Walt Disney Syndrome)? Such an individual is impossible to replicate, which is why many organizations flounder - some even falter completely - when their founder steps away. Yet it is possible to not only prevail but thrive!

This is a challenge I've struggled with and I have supported clients through. That's why I was excited to talk with Kristin Riott, Executive Director of Bridging the Gap because she's also been down this road.

In Kristin's own words, "it was a little bit challenging. And I think partly the gender thing had a role to play in that."

When Bridging the Gap was founded by Bob Mann (who also happens to be one of my mentors) in the 1990's it was quite radical. Yet, Bob successfully got buy-in and support from local corporations, government, and community members for many environmental initiatives in Kansas City, Missouri. After Bob retired, a few different Executive Directors did short stints with the organization before Kristin Riott stepped into the role almost 12 years ago.

Kristin reflects, "find your own way, your own management style, your own communication style, your own messaging, Bob, Bob had wonderful principles that he laid up for the organizations that we still adhere to...But I added my own to that."

In this Co-Creators in Conversation episode, Kristin shares how she's learned to uphold the principles Bob set in place while also bringing her own unique (and markedly feminine) perspective to the organization. For her, it's all about being of service to the mission while empowering employees to succeed.

Kristin explains, "I would describe my management style as kind of servant leadership, I really believe in that, that the leaders of an organization are there to make sure that their people have what they need to do to flourish."

We talk about the importance of moving past the ego. And what's possible when a leader willingly and openly learns from their team. Kristin shares how Bridging the Gap's CFO, Becki DeRusseau, advocated for new interviewing and recruitment techniques that have elevated the diversity of their workforce. She goes on to share how they've successfully reached people traditionally disadvantaged in securing gainful employment and steps they've taken to address white privilege at work.

One of the things Kristin learned, "we've realized we can't just go out and put an advertisement in nonprofit Connect, we need to go to unusual places where word of mouth might spread that could include churches, restaurants...point is that we have to go to unexpected places, especially to reach people who are lower in income, may not have digital connectedness."

Kristin wraps up by telling us about her experiences promoting change within complex, existing systems. Each step along the way is like planting seeds you hope eventually take root and grow. And she talks about how Bridging the Gap has built an eco-system of change agents who have become personally invested in championing environmental causes.

Be persistent and consistent. Kristin advises, "it takes years, in my experience, and you have to go at it in multiple ways to try and get that on people's radar...And so you got to believe that all the seeds that you sowed along the way...come eventually to bear fruit."

Kristin shares so many gems of wisdom with great humility - this conversation is sure to inspire leaders who are dedicated to forging a meaningful path forward while honoring the great visionaries who came before them.

Connect with Kristin and Bridging the Gap

Bridgingthegap.org




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