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How one Power of Change honoree’s leadership style evolved

Written on Apr 25, 2024

By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager  

Before Phyllis Seven Harris became a leader in the Cleveland nonprofit sector, she said starting out in her career she was shy and would rarely speak.   

“I've learned to be more assertive,” she said. “I like to talk, and I have something to say. I’ve made up in my mind that people don't get to hear my voice as much as other mainstream voices.”  

Now the executive director of the LGBTQ Community Center of Greater Cleveland, she said over the years she’s learned a great deal about leadership and making a difference.  

“It takes both inner work and inner confidence and continued learning of oneself,” Harris said. “It also takes support from others who see your leadership to acknowledge that.”  

Harris was named a Power of Change honoree at the OSCPA Women, Wealth and Wellness Conference in July 2023. The award salutes individuals who are advocates for women’s initiatives in the workplace and business community, serve as mentors or role models, make a significant impact on their communities and break barriers for other women.   

She said she loves the work that she does, and particularly enjoys teaching others about nonprofit management and how to build strong organizational cultures where everyone feels heard and recognized for their work.  

“In all the ways in which my intersecting identities come together, I’m leveraging any power and influence I might have and then making space for other folks to come in to get access,” she said. “How can I use it to clear a path for others?”  

It’s crucial to have people to lean on and who can offer you support and advice, even in times when you aren’t expecting it. She said one of the most impactful things a mentor said to her was to look at her leadership and ask herself if she was being as understanding as she could be to her staff. Now, Harris said she prides herself on being a compassionate leader.   

Harris said recognition from her community has also been meaningful to her throughout her career, which has included leadership awards from organizations such as the Cleveland Foundation, the Humans Rights Campaign steering committee of Cleveland and the Near West Theatre of Cleveland.   

“I won't sugarcoat the fact that as a black woman and lesbian feminist it has not been easy,” Harris said. “But as much as I had challenges, I also had opportunity and people around me to support me in my leadership and growth and development.” 

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