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Meeting the Moment

A Conversation with Adair Mosley

Adair Mosley is the president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities—a community impact agency working to co-create enduring change toward a just society. Chanda and Adair share their thoughts on the ins and outs of leadership, why community engagement never stops, and what it means to meet the moment.

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Souphak Kienitz  00:00

Chanda sat down with Adair Mosley, a passionate change maker and relentless strategic innovator and President and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. You might have heard of Adair’s bold leadership and surprising the Minneapolis North High School students with scholarships of up to $10,000 to put towards their next step in education. I mean, how cool is that? But I won’t spoil all the fun. So, let’s get right into it. You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda, a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s readiness, most vexing problems hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.

Chanda Smith Baker  00:41

Adair, we’ve known each other for 12 years, it feels longer.

Adair Mosley

But that feels short actually, to me.

Chanda Smith Baker

Yeah, because we started out working together. But now you’re pretty much like family? Well, you actually like you’re definitely my brother.

Adair Mosley

You’re definitely my sister.

Chanda Smith Baker

So, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you, there’s a lot of reasons why I wanted to talk to you. But when we were at North High, a couple of weeks ago, and you made the announcement that the students were each receiving scholarships, I was so emotional, leading up to that. And then during that whole thing, and I recognized that it was multiple reasons that I was feeling emotional. And one of them was just how proud I was in the actions that you took following Deshaun Hill’s murder, you acted into that in a very different way than what everyone else did around that. I wanted to just talk about how you arrived at scholarships.

Adair Mosley  01:46

Yeah. So yeah, like you. I think it was a moment of both reverence that our collectively our community need needed a lift from all the sustained things that we’ve just experienced over the last two years, especially with acute violence and COVID. And the disruption to education. And something about, you know, that moment, I was actually in London, when I learned of D-Hill’s murder. I’ve often said, I don’t want to sit in the space of like hopelessness and despondency. And I think it’s important that we grieve, and we take the time to acknowledge that grief, and work through it. But I want to be able to use that take a moment of tragedy, and turn it into hope, and tell other young people and inspire them that you don’t have to be defined by, you know, the kind of external environment that surrounds you, what are the circumstances that you may come in contact with. And so scholarships felt like the right thing, it was the thing that was on my heart, it felt like that we could do it without conditions. I think what the other thing that struck me is that we oftentimes, and you’ve certainly said this, that we only acknowledge those that have, you know, academically achieved or athletically achieved, but we forget about those that are falling through the cracks. And so this was saying, How can we tell an entire class, tell an entire student body, that they are worthy, that we see them in this moment that we want to invest in their future, and found some allies in their narrative?

Chanda Smith Baker  03:26

Let’s talk about their response to the request, because I’m in philanthropy and recognize the different responses. And I even was part of some of the responses where people wanted to put the GPA requirements on, and they wanted to ask a lot of qualifying questions. I don’t know if you experienced that. But I did with a few people that called me about what we were going to do.

Adair Mosley  03:48

Yes, you know, and I’m so fortunate to, I think, be in community, have formed kinship with foundation to trust and believe in our work. But I know that that has been a decades in the working right, that I inherited from you. A lot of institutional relationships, a lot of people that say Pillsbury is about action. And we’re moving from this place of ambition to action. And so I was relieved and heartened that some just jumped on it and say, whatever you need. And then, to your point, right, there were a few, I don’t think philanthropy and I was hoping the things that we learned during COVID could be sustained, that we were extremely responsive. We tried to meet a moment, you saw foundations and institutions, you know, loosening their requirements, saying that they’re going to center community’s desires and needs in their philanthropic giving, and then we kind of easily revert back to our old ways and, and our institutional norms. And so the push that I got, you know, it was that people oftentimes want something linear. They want to know how you’re measuring it. They assume that you’re not going to do those things. They often ask you, what about another organization? Shouldn’t they be doing it, rather than just recognizing the moment that an institution is stepping up to be able to meet the moment. But I’ve also, I think, I’ve worked up this thing now in my career to be unapologetic about the things that we need and that our communities need. And you’re either on board or you’re not. And, you know, I think early on in this, I was personal, I would take a lot of time trying to convince people. And then what I recognize now, just at this moment, is I’m going to get it done. And you’re going to wish you were a part of it. And so I move it forward. And I think that both confidence around our ability to be able to perform, and of course, right, we’re demonstrating, and we’re exhibiting that. So the conversations that you and I both were a part of, of people asking questions, saying, you know, that they’re already making investments, I think we’re going to continue to get that narrative. And I’m going to say, but here’s what we need, you asked us to center community’s voice, you asked us to tell you what we need. And I’m doing that in this moment. So are you going to trust that or not? And so that’s how we’re moving it forward.

Chanda Smith Baker  06:15

Awesome. So I think about the students, right, and for those that would have put a 3.5 GPA requirement, or even a 3.0 GPA requirement on obtaining the scholarships, right, like I was a North High graduate, I sat in those seats, if that would have came with that requirement, I would not have received the scholarship. And there were other scholarships that I had not received, like, I wasn’t you as a student, you were like a student’s students, like I was, I was good. I was good, right? I was smart. And I often will say, I was a very smart kid, that just was uninspired with the delivery, right, like I had North High was a great school. For me, I was very good. Like, I’d love to read, you know, math wasn’t so much my thing, that’s where I plummeted a bit. But point being is that I took a bit of an untraditional path of you know, getting married, having kids and then going to school. And I have said this before, on the podcast that I applied for a job, Yvonne Olson called me and said, this requires a degree. And my response with a great deal of competence, which wasn’t really confidence, it was my, my straight up survival instinct of I have to take care of these kids basically responded with, I think you need someone to get the job done, I can do that you can decide if they also need to have a degree, call me back and let me know, basically, right, to Tony Wagner, who allowed me to unfold by presenting things in front of me that may not have been usual, I may not have had the pedigree at that particular moment, and I think you have a bit of that same story. And so often, I think we make decisions on who we think will be successful, or what those conditions are, and I’m 100% confident that I got the scholarship I would have, I would have succeeded.


Adair Mosley  08:11

You know, you’re pointing out so many things. And I just think the, the rewiring and the reframing of how we think about success, and how we define it, that just needs to be that needs to permeate all of our systems. And I think when we when we reconstruct that right, then kids will be able to see their full potential. But oftentimes, we put people in boxes, right, that just don’t allow them to flourish and realize their full potential. And again, back to that kind of without conditions and I think that so many things we do for people especially through you know, the human services and philanthropic giving is with conditions and how do we just give things to people direct investments in people that we know will work that have been proven time and time again, and not us forming what we believe is value and so I I really thought that there was an, I, and I believe eye contact I was in contact with a couple of young men in that audience through both of their them thanking us and the look in their eyes that said that they didn’t realize that something outside of you know graduating from North High was possible and that they didn’t have a pathway and us saying whatever you want to do we’re gonna make an investment and go and explore right take the class go to a two-year college whatever whatever that defined pathway looks like for you is the right path. And so I think that we need to do more of that right showing people it was a great example to have Houston White, Jamez Staples and you, people that came out of that school, right all taking very different paths to Jamez’s story Houston’s story but all successful in able to contribute back to their community. All who were probably would not like those two are definitely not four point out students, right. And Houston tells us in his own story, but our changing, you know what the face of North Minneapolis looks like, and rebuilding this community. And so it was by design to pick you three. It was by design that it was without conditions, all of that by design, so that every child could see their full potential.

Chanda Smith Baker  10:29

Mm hmm. Some of those young men have been to my home, and I’ve heard them talk about like, what’s next? And it’s a really scary period of life. When you don’t have clarity, and I can’t even imagine those seniors, their last normal school year would have been what their freshman year.

Adair Mosley  10:47

Yeah, or coming into sophomore. Yeah, freshman.

Chanda Smith Baker  10:51

Yeah. And so what does it mean to like, not be in school not to have everything that past students would have had in terms of interactions in terms of daily class, you know, in person, to being fearful of, you know, how was this pandemic and affect me and my family, just the instability? I can’t even imagine those conditions. And I do think that we need to be thinking differently, you know, and being inspired by what you did, but also being thinking differently about how we support these students knowing that they’re in conditions that we haven’t seen before. So how do we then max the support in the in the structure and the systems around them for them to continue to flourish? And what may not be normal for a while?

Adair Mosley  11:41

Yeah, absolutely. You’re right, these this, this is the new normal, and we’re constantly reminded daily of just the mental health strain. And also, when you’re living in a community that has been categorically disinvested in or narrative written about it, that starts to seep into your consciousness of how you see yourself and where you live. And so I think, the young people in North Minneapolis, but in other parts of the country, right, who are constantly bombarded with a narrative about who they are, and they’re in the place in which they call home, layered on top of being in COVID, layered on top of right, educators and systems that can’t get their act together, to better serve our young people, is just erodes and continues to erode, I think at that potential that we’re describing. Well, another thing I’ll add is, I know that this was the right move, because of the notes and the, you know, kind of stories that have come from parents, you know, a couple parents have reached out and said, I was sitting at the kitchen table, figuring out how I was going to make it at least overbear to verbatim words, make this work for my daughter, to go to school. And this came in and lifted. I’ve gotten messages from a kid that’s going down to Arizona, and said, I can focus on my studies, I won’t have to work as much, right. And so I can prioritize school, I got a letter from Kid kid who said, I left North last year I really need this scholarship. And so you know, it’s just reverberating throughout the entire community, and in just so many positive ways. And so how do we do it? 10 times over?

Chanda Smith Baker  13:33

Right, Adair did you expect the response?

Adair Mosley  13:37

Oh, you know, I think anytime, right? You give away money, I think you expect some sort of response. But I just have appreciated that authenticity, the gratitude that we often don’t show our young people expressing right teenagers. And so it has taken me back a little bit that they are out here writing notes and letters and emails and sending them and, you know, having some agency around that whether pushed by parents or on their own. But and so that that has been a little bit surprising, because that’s not oftentimes how we describe today’s teenager taking that level of initiative.

Chanda Smith Baker  14:19

Yeah, I hear that. So embedded in what we were just talking about, or you were just expressing is around narrative change. And there’s this thing of you know, I’m speaking for the voiceless or whatever, and that that phrase is always bothered me, because people are not voiceless people, you know, systems don’t listen. Right? And I’m here to help systems listen better to the people that have been speaking to you whether or not with their actions or their voices and a big piece of the work that you have been doing has been on narrative change, and we had the privilege of working together with rethinking North News. And I remember the moment like the opportunity sort of came, I was noodling on it, we talked about it. And I remember when it clicked for me, and I believe in this is, this is bad. But it was it was either Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. And I was listening to NPR, about how everyone now is a journalist. And people just repeat what they see. But there needs to be some critical examination on whether or not number one, it’s true number two, on the solutions, and just not like forwarding someone else’s words. And so what does it mean, to have a community that gets its news from social media? What does it mean to develop critical thinking? What does it mean to examine issues within the community, by people from community, and it was just a fascinating conversation that had me be 100% certain that North News was one of those ways to do that. And so you, you took that, and it really made it quite successful in the way that it is being implemented. But you’ve also been focusing a lot more expanded sort of that narrative change work? Can you share a little bit about that?

Adair Mosley  16:18

Yeah, you know, to your point, the narratives have just, and I see narratives, that’s one of those leveraged kind of systems change, right? Because it, it informs our perceptions of people place race, poverty, all the things in which we we oftentimes other as often described in the place, and the more we can, a have communities being able to tell their own story about people in place, right, that that authentic message coming from the people with lived experiences, I think it gives us a more enriched view into oftentimes what we don’t because it’s, it’s shadowed by sensational headlines through more mainstream media outlets. And so, exactly to your point, North News, KRSM, the theater, the documentaries work, all of which we’ve now been able to create our kind of own media enterprise, but centering communities voice, thinking about individuals who have not had their stories told in the most authentic and truest expressions of how they would tell us something about their themselves. And giving platform to people has been the most powerful thing that this agency is able to create the conditions to be able to lift up the stories of those, those sometimes unsung heroes, those who are, well have important narratives to be able to share. And now many people leaning on us to be the trusted kind of messenger. Because we’ve centered community’s voice, we’re allowing community to tell its own story. I remember when when Kinsey took over North News, she she did something quite unprecedented, because oftentimes journalists will not share their stories. One of the things that we did was, as we interview people, we share the story back with him before we published it. And we set did we capture you write? Are these your words? And that’s kind of somewhat unknown as in kind of journalistic integrity, right. But how important that is, how important to ask people, are we representing your story correctly? Is this how you want this to be presented, and that builds trust, confidence in a system that deeply is being polarizing, is deeply polarizing, you know, rapid growth of disinformation happening in it. And then at this hyperlocal level, we’re able to build trust and be a trusted source for individuals in this community.

Chanda Smith Baker  19:02

So let’s talk North Market because what just came up for me with that is I remember when we were doing North Market, Beverly called, I happen to know the caller, because I went to school with her. Yeah. And she calls the place. She calls our office, and she says, I heard there’s a grocery store coming. And you all are asking people in the neighborhood what they think. And I want to I basically want to tell you what I would expect from a grocery store. And I’m like, Oh, wow, we’ve turned a corner where people know that we are seeking their input. And they’re calling us to say I want to know more. I want to contribute to what I think will be a great thing. I also can reflect and say you know, I often talk about being fifth generation Northside and I could have very easily and you live on the north side, like we could have very easily just said we know what the north side needs and then created and built the store. But we went through. And you took us through a lot of listening and design sessions to include the voice of community. And I remember going to one in like, you want to compost class like I was like, I would have never in my wildest mind thought that on my own. And some of the other elements that have been embedded in that store came directly from community, I share that because here I am from community here, I am a black woman from the north side where my family has been invested in for generations. And I’m still clear, I don’t know enough about the community to make decisions without asking. Right, and I think we demonstrated that.

Adair Mosley  20:45

Yeah, you know, absolutely. From the from the design for the concepts to what’s being offered there today to write the names in the the aisles, being named after streets over North, to…

Chanda Smith Baker  20:58

Orange color, right?, they were like, we don’t want green.

Adair Mosley  21:03

I think it’s funny, right? Because we still have quite a few people who have been there since day one that continue to shop there, and can see their their imprints over the entire store. And us lifting them up that they were the contributors to making this. And you’re pointing out so many. And I think, with that just kind of level of humility, of saying, right here, maybe a seed of an idea. But community, if you allow the conditions to exist for creativity to flow, we’ll be able to take your idea or take that seed, and really, you know, no pun intended, right? Germinate it to something that will completely blossom and expand both of our owns perception of what we thought a grocery store would be what we thought it could what we thought it could do for an entire community. And that’s the beauty of it. I’m so fortunate that it’s now like embedded. It’s embedded in the DNA of North Market, that it’s constantly in this evolution of just kind of listening, pivoting, accepting feedback in real time from people and incorporating their ideas and suggestions. And that people don’t have to wait the long arc to be able to see that change, that literally the things in which you suggest or you wondering how you want to make this better can happen overnight. And that is the thing that builds affinity builds differentiation in this market, around other competitors. But people who say I want to be invested in this, and I want to make sure that it’s succeed, because this is an anchor institution and our community. So I say that, you know, in the community engagement never stopped. It has not stopped. We’re celebrating five years this year. I can’t even believe that. Yeah, five years at North Market. And it has been, you know, of course, right. You know, what, what the area looked like, a little over six years ago, dilapidated. It’s completely transforming today. It is because a lot of people say because the library made an investment there Hennepin County, and the North Market was there. And so now we’re able to talk about what the revitalization of the quarter truly looks like.

Chanda Smith Baker  23:23

Yeah, so the grocery store North Market, Pillsbury United. You your team just got recognized in New York say something what was that? I’m sort of looking at the newswire, but I can’t.

Adair Mosley  23:36

Yeah, newswire just just came out, Mutual of America, which does an annual Partnership Award, recognized five organizations for kind of cross sector partnerships and the ways in which they’re partnering to solve, you know, any disparities in our country. And so we were one of the recipients of the award, largely with because of our partnership with how we came together with North Memorial in the development of North Market. We were grateful to have one of the senior leaders at North Memorial present with us in New York to accept that award. And you know, the message there is that, and I continue to say this, yes, it healthy food access. Yes, it was the integration of health and hunger, of thinking about chronic disease management, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, yes, it was. But we also said it was the next community center. And it was the face it was the place to foster and build relationships and connections. And we see that day in and day out with people wanting to host their stepping classes, their you know, all the fitness classes that we’ve hosted. But I think the number one thing that it did was restore dignity.

Chanda Smith Baker  24:48

Say more because we talked a little bit about that during the process, but say more,

Adair Mosley  24:52

Because I didn’t I don’t think we recognize that it’s undignified to give get on a bus and go three miles outside of your community, like the basic thing of being able to access groceries. And I think we write in, you know, our people are resilient. So right, we’re going to do what we need to do in order to

Chanda Smith Baker  25:16

We had to survive, like we’ve had to survive, right? We’re resilient survivors. Yeah.

Adair Mosley  25:21

And I think it’s when you stand up, things like this, that, you know, in any other community, with a different social, perhaps social economic status would expect it. But it’s been long and systemically denied it, particularly in North Minneapolis, and telling people that, you know, what you’re experiencing is not right. Right, it is unjust, for you to have to not have this amenity in your community. And so I think that that’s the number one in addition to you know, we hear pride, a lot of pride pride in the place. But dignity continues to feel like it’s the number one thing that the store has done for community.

Chanda Smith Baker  26:06

Yeah, I remember going through that process. And people, funders, others would say, Well, isn’t there already a grocery store in North Minneapolis? And I was thinking, you know, when I would say, Well, when I was growing up, there were five. Right? There were four not including the convenience stores, not including the ethnic specific stores, but like full grocery stores. I remember there being five. Yeah, Woodberry, almost the same population. I can’t remember had nine or something like that. Yeah. But North Minneapolis, it was, isn’t there already a grocery store for North Minneapolis? And, you know, how are you partnering with these other nonprofits? And it’s like, well, they could come and shop there. You know, I can ask their opinions. But it was it was so fascinating, I think to move through all of that. And, and to your point around dignity and the number of seniors that live there that were food insecure, and had no way to get there. And I recall a story. were you driving and saw someone getting crushed? Can you tell that story?

Adair Mosley  27:14

Yeah, this was on 30. It was Wow, no, this would have been 20. I’m sorry, 2016, Fremont area. And an elderly lady who was in a kind of a motorized wheelchair, was coming back from the grocery store down at Cub, and headed back home and wheelchair died, right at 2016, Fremont. And so here, he or she is within, you know, inability to be able to walk home or push at home and stuck. And so us having to call the ambulance to actually get her home. And so that was the only only way we could transport her. And so I think it’s just like, right people that are again, survival and resilient, going to get go out and get it. But faced with just circumstances that are just absolutely unjust.

Chanda Smith Baker  28:08

So let’s talk about Pillsbury in leadership for a moment. I said a bit about, you know, Yvonne Olson. And, you know, Tony was the ultimate to right like, I just remember one day, like, he’s, he’s like, basically like, Yo, the job you’re in is ending in two months. So you know, pitch me what you think you should be doing next. And it has to include, you know, overseeing our charter school portfolio. And I’m like, wait, what? And here I am, right, single with the kids. And I’m like, I got two months to figure out what, and I don’t know if he knew, right, because I know his point of view was I gotta balance the budget. And I’ve got to figure out how to get this work covered when when Steven Oates left. But for me, I mean, it just, I mean, I had to reach deep to get there. But it’s been such great leadership lessons that I’ve gotten from him over over those years, and continue to get from him. And so here, I came into Pillsbury united in 2000. I was divorced with kids un-degreed, right. And then 10 years later, I’m the CEO, basically 11 years later, the CEO of have a master’s degree. Right. I’m remarried. I haven’t got it all figured out. But I’m certainly on the path. I still don’t. But I was I was on the path. But I was on the path because of the the leadership of Tony in the culture of Pillsbury that will recognize talent and nurture it. Yeah. And then I leave you become the CEO. It’s a bit of an unusual tale of an organization that has two successes that came from within unless you can think of another one. I can’t think of one.

Adair Mosley  29:53

It’s funny because I am to coming right off of a conversation exactly about this. With our dear For in Susan Dreyfus, who was in New York as well. And she even noted, right that right, this kind of it was meant to be, that doesn’t happen often. And you know, just acknowledging just this, both the synergy the serendipitous kind of and intentionality of fostering leadership. And, you know, her push, and I believe it is like, you know, Adair well, you know, at some point, you’ve got to start thinking about succession. And what are you creating the types of same conditions for the next leader to be able to emerge? And how do you ensure that what Pillsbury has a special, what’s in its DNA is special, and that it cannot be touched, right? That that cannot be disrupted. Because it’s the thing that’s carried us over the last century. And now it’s codified, it’s it’s packaged in a way that the next leader needs to know that that’s deeply embedded inside of this organization. And I am so you know, I’m so fortunate, I say this often right to have been under your tutelage of, of both seeing my future, my and my possibility before I could see it, and how people and being surrounded by people who can certainly do that, and then pour and make the intentional investments to make that happen. And so I think about that, as you know, we are only but stewards of for a moment, and in this moment, and for a time, and what does that look like? I will say that I don’t think that the last two years have helped. And just with the level of like transparency around what it means to lead through a lot of uncertainties that ambiguity, ambiguity, global pandemics, civil and social unrest. And so I think that that weighs a lot on it, it certainly weighed on us, right, as leaders to be able to do that. And how do we make sure that we are still fostering the next generation of leaders amidst all of that, but I also go, what, you know, I can imagine, yes, we’re dealing with something’s certainly unprecedented. But those that came before us had to deal with something. And that just by nature of taking up space on this earth, that you will be faced with something that will shake your core that will challenge you, but it’s most most importantly, do you have the systems and the support around you? Are you prepared for that moment, and to be able to lean in and and lead through it? And so I, I think exactly what you’re saying is that I am every day, challenging the folks that are in this organization, and especially the my immediate, you know, the senior team that’s around me to take on stretch assignments, giving them new ways of thinking. Like you changing their titles, giving them stretches, those stretch assignments that really expand their competencies and capabilities. And so whether they continue to bestow it up on Pillsbury United Communities are taken elsewhere. I know that we were we are preparing. And I finally asked, because I heard from another executive leader, a CEO of an organization that took one of our leaders and go, it was it was very clear that we needed this leader from Pillsbury because of the way in which you all develop talent.

Chanda Smith Baker  33:56

I just love that Adair. And it’s like, there could only be one CEO, at least in the model that exists right now there. But Pillsbury United has a lot of people that have come out of it, that are running organizations and leading and government moving into into other spaces and doing it very successfully. And recently, someone asked me a question, and I’m like, I want without a doubt, that when someone is on my team, when they want to make a different choice, I want that to be known that they are top tier talent, like that is my job to make them or to support, support their vision of their leadership in a way that people can know that it is dependable, that it is forward leaning, that it is responsive, but it’s connected with community. Like I’d see that as my personal responsibility of doing that. And I know that it was because of the investment that Pillsbury made and me and allow me to be me, right? Like, it’s not a conformist place, like there’s things that you have to do that are consistent. But I felt the freedom to do that in a way that allowed for my voice to mature in leadership and the way that was most authentic to me,

Adair Mosley  35:17

You know, just an I’m now meeting with every new staff that comes through the door and been doing it. And that’s the one thing that I, you know, it’s so great to continue to carry the values forward and an organization that you’ve kind of inherited and benefited from, and now being able to steward as a leader, and telling people right, and I asked the question, are you able to show up as your full selves? And and do you feel like the organization allows and creates the conditions for you to be able to do that, and very explicitly getting and asking people and looking them in their eyes, and people seeing valued and heard, we have a staff person, non-binary and who was very new into the role with probably a month or so, and needed to go through a medical medical leave and other issues, and nervous about whether the job was going to support them. And were nervous about whether they could actually go and do something that was deep and personally meaningful to them, and coming in and saying, Don’t you worry, like, we are here to support you in whatever you need to be able to go do and that you come back, and you come back? Because you’re the true you. Right. And so and to get a note from this person saying that that cemented like that was it for them to know that they had finally landed in a place that truly saw who they were, that they could fully show up as themselves? And so, like, how do we continue to do it over and over right? Everyday? It’s not perfect. But I’m certainly I inherited it from you, and we inherited from Tony. But it’s that it’s that thing that we don’t mess with.

Chanda Smith Baker  37:13

That’s right. So every day is not great, right? Like we’re talking Utopia right now. But I’m always you and I’ve had a couple of moments. But but we made it through Right. Like a lot of times people will take those moments and do something different with them. What, what could you say about what do you say about us? Like, what do you what would you say about those moments, right? Like, what I say about you is like I loved working with Adair, because I would always start with one thing. And he’d be like, well, I don’t know about that, right? Like to have someone who is deeply in your corner and very clear, like we, we would start on the same page sometimes, but not most of the time. But we would always land in the same place. We would land in the same place not in the places we started, right? Like we would have sort of a merger of ideas, or we would test them out. And then there were just moments around it. But it’s not like Adair let’s go do this. And you’re like, Okay, let’s roll.

Adair Mosley  38:17

And you know, and I think that that’s the thing that we you know, some so many organizations and people in general, right, we’re conflict avoidant, and we don’t want to tension. And so you either surround yourself with people who consistently say yes to you, or, or don’t, are those that don’t challenge you. But I think we, you know, struck this right chord of saying tension is good, it gets us to the best end. But right, it’s rooted in a tremendous amount of respect for each other. And that it’s about the issue, and this thing that we’re ultimately trying to solve, and more and more that if relationships and people actually in institutions actually embraced that better outcomes with would actually flourish. But that’s a lot of both mental, you know, like the mental mindset, the your comfort, level, your vulnerability, to be able to be in that space, it takes a lot to be able to just absolutely foster that thing that actually, you know, will will yield better results. And I will tell you, right, I didn’t naturally inherit that I’ve always, you know, I came into Pillsbury with a very traditional sense of both hierarchy, both decision making. And, but being open and allowing yourself to just reframe, recalibrate the ways in which you think about those that are around you, building teams out that actually support that and people it’s one of my You know, probably one of my top 10 questions that I’m asking interview, will you push back on me? What will you say to me? And when you don’t when you believe that there’s perhaps you have a different opinion, and surrounding yourselves by people, but that does take a lot of vulnerability and leadership.

Chanda Smith Baker  40:19

And it takes time. Right? Like, if you have to, you can’t come into a meeting feels, Pillsbury was notorious like you can’t come to a meeting and come out with the answer all the time, like you got to have you got to build in some room for dissent and processing. Which, you know, the meeting, I think the point was always let’s get to the best response for community not let’s get to the answer before the end of this meeting. Yeah, yeah. So I do remember, you know, one time and I don’t remember what what we were going at. But I remember just saying, Can we meet at Broadway pizza? And can you bring your Myers Briggs? Can we just walk through like, what’s happening right now? And, and I could laugh at that. But I think their response was, you know, we each have a different leadership style that shows up. And like, here’s a moment where I can see where showing up in different ways. So let’s just try to figure out what what are the strengths that we bring? What do we need to understand about each other? And how do we continue to learn as we evolve, right? Because I was not the same leader when you started with me in 2011, that I was when I left in 2017. And neither were you. Yeah. And so the investment was also allowing for each other to evolve. And, you know, I’m really stressing this point, because I think that right now, culture matters, especially in the type of environment and context we’re in now. And people are really weighing where are they getting full benefit? Yeah. Do you remember that moment?

Adair Mosley  41:56

I do. That and other moments? Yeah. And, you know, I appreciate that you both took control creative to space for that conversation to happen, rather than avoiding than avoiding it, saying, you know, and one of the certainly your specialties is in building teams organizational design. And so knowing all the theory, kind of behind what what is happening in moments like this, and I think I mean, me bookmarking an article and saying it, and then you actually saying what the article said, about the kind of mentor mentee relationships.

Chanda Smith Baker  42:42

That one cracked me up. Yeah.

Adair Mosley  42:44

And so, um, but exactly, exactly, to your point that, you know, leaning into that, and asking, and probing and actually spending sitting in that moment, and asking leaders to both understand their own personal kind of leadership, and then seeing right how those things actually work together and focusing on how do you build the right teams are just kind of all crucial and vital steps to leadership. And you’re right, our leadership evolves, right. And it evolves because of the external kind of circumstances that are around us and our ability to be able to meet the moment and then we just evolve as humans, and that evolution is okay. And and sometimes I think we, we see it as, you know, as as negative, negative, but actually saying yes, as people as leaders, we should be able to evolve, and very, very fortunate that those were the conditions. You know, one of the other things Chanda that I think has been so important, probably one of the I keep saying top 10 lessons, but I think my top 10 is not like that. I got so many like insights. But one of the things about leadership that I have learned and carried and now understand more than ever as sitting in this seat, is that I don’t know that I that sometimes people that work around you and under you don’t understand and we get extremely frustrated. We with perhaps other leaders styles, the decisions that are being made, I am more empathetic as a leader today of other leaders that are have absolutely ever been. And one of the things that I try not to do is judge people’s leadership. But no matter what I see as because we don’t have full context, and we don’t have full the full picture. And we oftentimes don’t have all the details of why a decision ultimately needs to be made. Now, I think that there are leaders that could have better communications strategies right for us to be able to understand the full context and picture But I am today face and I think this was our relationship but face today with some of the things, you know, it’s kind of like you’re the mom and like I told you like you’re here to say that. But I’m today I’m like the frustrations that I have and the the walls that sometimes I hit as a leader. And rather I feel like I’m communicating some things 10 times and making sure that people understand it. And the things that I think I was unforgiving about, uh, you know, even under you that I’m like, Well, why isn’t this in today just have a deep appreciation for that once you’re in the seat, right? People People will rarely understand like the full context, they’re really, really understand the decision sometimes that have to be made. And so I think that extension of more empathy is.

Chanda Smith Baker  46:00

I used to say, you know, I would be you know, and I would come to you sometimes, and I’m like, I just had a full meeting of people that said half of what they wanted to say, and then they’re expecting me to make a decision with half of it, right? Like, I get the most edited version, because no one wants to say anything about someone else’s work. But it needs to be said or something needs to be amplified. So you can address an issue. So I’m like, I’m always getting the edited versions of things. And then people expected me to have a full answer. And it used to just like, what does it take to like have the condition of like elevating what is not working is not personal? Right? It’s a business imperative. So that’s one one thought that I had about it. The other one is, is that I do believe that people will take a decision that maybe they would have approached differently, if they feel like they have been heard or seen, or they’re in an environment where it is high trust. I think it’s very, very different. Right? I agree, actually, you know very much with what you’re saying in terms of the leadership role, you don’t have the context of what you’re managing with the board, you don’t have all of the all the information. And when you get in these roles, you become the leadership, right? You’re not Chanda from like, you know, the neighborhood, your leadership is doing this to be exactly Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, you’re like, wait, wait a minute here. Right. Right, are you? Right, exactly. Like I didn’t like like my last position, I was down with everything. And this one, leadership, right, like, that’s very hard to navigate when you have the mind and heart and intention and the receipts of like supporting and being in community, but you still have to understand that people have their concerns with leadership and institutions and systems that have had been oppressive, right. So, you get sort of burdened into that. Or people are thinking about what’s coming up tomorrow. And your job is to think about where are we heading for in our future?

Adair Mosley  48:01

Yeah, no more needs to be said there.

Chanda Smith Baker  48:05

Okay, so before we wrap, what do you think has been your greatest leadership lesson?

Adair Mosley  48:14

You know, I think one of the things is certainly that there’s, there’s probably quite a few is that leaders need to be present in specially moments of uncertainty and calamity. And that that matters. And while sometimes we rebel against it, I in some days, I question right, am I being too transparent? Ultimately, I know that it is a good thing. And so leadership is transparent. Perhaps getting people to understand and not conflating. Sometimes the business decisions that need to be made, is not is not an indictment on how I feel about people. But I do think that decisions need to be made with care, and a great deal of concern for people and making sure that people truly understand that I that I do care. I believe that you can do this work and lead with a tremendous amount of grace and extend a lot of grace and so that it is yes there there the business components and business kind of principles of leadership and right making sure. But then there’s these things that are just those intangibles that are so important to to life to the success of organizations, and leaning in and making sure that you spend time and care and attention to those things. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, it is it that’s the thing in which you know, propels us. I’ll also say the the role of the leader is to define reality, but give hope to tomorrow. And I’m asked in times in this place of just saying defining the reality, but giving hope, for tomorrow, and that hope is on the horizon. And I think that those two things can live together. And that people need that, right people need the kind of the truth, but also knowing which which, and all the ways in which you’re going to steward and people want to be surrounded by in in a place that is of hope. And so, yeah, that’s a few.

Chanda Smith Baker  50:42

What are you looking forward to? Right, like, I know, you’ve got some big things. So what’s on the horizon for Pillsbury? Let’s leave there. Yeah.

Adair Mosley  50:50

You know, so much in so many things are on the horizon. Hope is on the horizon. In 2019, we launched our strategy that you started, were present. And it was things that were perhaps a little bit unconventional, because it didn’t focus on increasing more access to, you know, expanding food shelves and other things. That was systems level work. And, you know, that’s where my mind is oriented. And believing that that’s the work that’s left on the table. And so, we’ve been able to accelerate so many initiatives that standing up policy thinking about cross sector partnerships around social determinants of health, this narrative change work, and amplifying that. This fall will lead some work with Minneapolis College and Dunwoody for a career career in training, technical education for opportunity youth, but also focusing internally on the systems and capacity, you know, how I felt about choice change in connection. And so on day one, I was like, we’re getting a new mission.

Chanda Smith Baker  51:53

And that mission, I love that mission. That was one of our ongoing things. But anyway, it’s your organization now, you could change it.

Adair Mosley  52:03

Well, we did but I, you know, I think it’s it’s really in like I think in like all institutions and organizations, right? Everyone needs to gavel right galvanize around something. And I think it was inherent in the words of right justice lives here and co-creating enduring change towards just society. Right? Those are not new words. And it was already in the DNA of an organization and just putting them on paper. But it is certainly I think, allowed us to express who we are, as an organization more confidently elevate our brand and mission. You know, taking and thinking about data science and evaluation and predictive analytics are capacity-building things. So I say all that to say is that by this fall, the strategic framework will be up fully implemented. And all initiatives will be have done plus more, right of law, launching justice build communities, which was not initially on the strategic framework.

Chanda Smith Baker

Yeah. And what is that Adair?

Adair Mosely

Injustice built communities as a community development corporation that we started following George Floyd’s murder, thinking about the revitalization and rebuilding of our urban core may, you know, Main Street, the high streets of our communities and bringing in more black and brown businesses, place based economic development, the things that I think we’ve done for the past century, right in in big and small ways. And this is really, you know, we’ve acquired quite a bit of land on West Broadway, some really innovative ideas that are coming forward of what we’re going to do with those things. And again, back to that community engagement. We’re proposing in one spot, FinTech hub, but it’ll be the first of its kind in the state that’s focused on the innovation of financial technology for entrepreneurs. And it’s vertically integrated with banks, and venture capitalists, for for for black and brown entrepreneurs. And, you know, the the world says that everything will continue to be more digitized. And all of us on this call, right this morning, probably send money via Zell Cash App Venmo, something to a college student or somewhere, right, and investments and entrepreneurs to be able to unleash that. But I say that to say, we have this idea, we brought together five or six black entrepreneurs, venture capitalists in a room who took the idea and took it to the next level. And said from from the integration of technology, how they would use the space. And so even the seeding of an idea, the ceiling of an idea, they were able to really catapult into something that I could have never imagined and now we’re talking about family and friends funding to Series Series A capital investments. So justice built and so even with all of that Chanda, I’m not satisfied. I’m not satisfied, because I think that there’s so much more in you know, we know that there’s more to be done. I don’t I still think that I’m dreaming small. And so it maybe it’s the the thing that’s in me, that says that we can go bigger we in so now I’m in this do I have it in me again to do another strategic plan, this time strike at the root and go even bigger? And can I galvanize, in certainly there are lots of initiatives that are happening in our region, and we’re going to meet them all. But how does this community based organization do what we’re doing today, and go times 10. And so that is that is my orientation right now, and thinking about ways in which we can do that, and things like the scholarship fund justice build communities, you know, big initiatives, where we’re part of the big proposal for the redevelopment of the cedar Riverside neighborhood with greater MSP building a bio Innovation Hub over there, attached to our coil center. So all of those things tell me that we are positioned to go times 10.

Chanda Smith Baker  56:17

Go times 10. What I love about your leadership, what I love about those very united communities and others is that, you know, you could stay with the core tenants of what makes that organization great, right, the co-creation, the centering of community, right, reciprocity, like all the things that we learned that come through, like what a settlement house is, right? Like, we didn’t talk about that, but folks can look into that. But what are the tenants of a settlement house still remain? But understanding right that, like, you have to continue to move as community moves. Like it’s, you know, I think that that’s what’s been so great. And I think it’s why it produces so many leaders, because there’s always a new idea, there’s always there’s always an exploration of something there. And I think exploration and building of something that can make a difference inspires and builds hope, you might have to do some other stuff that you maybe are more challenging. But when you have something that you are building within community, you’re building trust, you’re building relationships, you’re building upon possibility. And it’s an organization that has a an ability to lean into risk that is calculated. And it has just benefited so many people. And so I could not be more proud of you taking the helm and taking it to the next level. Even when I make faces about you changing the mission that I loved or moving a program that was moved into a building or something like, you know, like I remember, you know, at the beginning, I was like, What in the entire you know what? And then I’m like, No, this is exactly what it is. And this is probably what Tony Wagner was feeling. And it was probably, you know, like this is what actually supposed to happen, right is that you leave a place and you allow for it to move to the next phase, it can’t continue to live in the way that you lived into it. It has to live in the way that the community needs it to, and the next leader brings it to you. And so I just celebrate your leadership. I’m grateful for you being in this conversation. And I probably, I better see you this weekend.

Adair Mosley  58:35

Well definitely see each other and know that thank you for creating such a tremendous platform to elevate these important narratives. And I believe we hadn’t seen anything like this in this certainly in this region, before this podcast came along. And so many truly authentic conversations have been unearthed and people’s stories. And so you are just this natural ability to be able to pull up pull out a very authentic and meaningful dialogue that I’ve heard time and time again and know that I certainly stand on your shoulders. So thank you.

Souphak Kienitz  59:11

And that’s Adair Mosley, with our host Chanda Smith Baker. If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know @ChandaSBaker, or @MPLSfoundation on Twitter or Instagram. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco. And Darlynn Benjamin. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening.

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About Our Guest

Adair Mosley

Adair Mosley is the president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities, a pioneering community impact agency guided by a vision for thriving communities where every person has personal, social, and economic power. A passionate change-maker and relentless strategic innovator, Adair seeks radical and inclusive solutions to the community’s most urgent needs, co-created with the people most affected.

In 2019, Adair was selected to represent the Twin Cities region at Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program. He’s been named one of Grist’s 50 Fixers—” individuals cooking up the boldest solutions to humanity’s biggest challenges”—and received the Local Legend Award from the General Mills Foundation for the embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision and legacy.

Currently, Adair is a candidate for an Executive MSc in Cities from the London School of Economics. Adair attended the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan’s Executive Leadership Institute. He was an American Express Leadership Fellow in 2014 and earned a certificate in Human Centered Design at Stanford’s