Systemic change is a marathon. Make LeadBoston your running club.

Kathryn Henderson, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships
LB is a running club (1)

“I’m moving forward with the annual 5K I organize”, 2019 LeadBoston alum Thaddeus Miles shared during a recent class reunion on June 23. Moments later, a classmate expressed interest in running and registered a LeadBoston team. After the Zoom reunion, other classmates chimed in via email having each registered to join the 5K team.     

Zoom reunions are one of the many ways LeadBoston graduates keep connected with the LeadBoston community. LeadBoston is YW Boston’s cohort-based inclusive leadership program. Participants spend the year building skills that enable them to analyze root causes of diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges faced by their organizations and communities. The program culminates with the development of a project that will drive equitable change within the participants’ organizations and communities. Upon graduating, LeadBoston participants join a robust network of over 1,000 alumni dedicated to equitable change in Boston.

The 5K-organizing alum’s commitment to his community activism and his classmates’ response reminded me of the saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Though it may be overused, the saying is a helpful way to think about any effort that requires changing deeply ingrained policies, practices, and thought patterns such as those required to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both types of effort – running a marathon and advancing systemic change – are challenging. They require long-term commitment and grit to overcome inevitable roadblocks.

For many marathoners, their running club is what sustains them through the highs and lows. In LeadBoston, leaders also develop connections to successfully advancing systemic change. A core component LeadBoston is the development of a cross-sector network of peers. During these recent months of unprecedented disruption, civil unrest, and demands for systemic change, alumni have tapped into the network for guidance, support, and connection.

Like a running club, the LeadBoston community provides:

Accountability Partners – When we run alone, it is easy to shorten our route on a tough day. Feeling an obligation to show up for one another, we’re more likely to push ourselves. For example, classmates recently gathered via Zoom to share progress on the action plans they developed and to offer support to others.

New routes and fresh perspectives – Familiarity is comfortable, but can often lead to stagnation. Running the same flat route every day won’t prepare us for a hilly road race. Coming together across difference, like one does during the LeadBoston program, challenges long-held beliefs and ways of doing things. This can lead even experienced professionals to growth and innovation.

Coaching – When we encounter those inevitable roadblocks, words of encouragement and new approaches help us keep moving forward. Since March, my inbox and social media feeds have been full of alumni amplifying each other’s successes and reaching out to support one another through challenging moments.

Friendship and Camaraderie – Like sharing the goal of running a marathon, LeadBoston participants share a commitment to inclusive leadership. Through dialogue and shared experiences, they build a lasting foundation. After George Floyd’s murder in June 2020, a 2011 LeadBoston alum organized a reunion with his classmates to connect and process because, “This is the group I’m most comfortable having candid conversations with.”

Marathons are far more about mental toughness than physical stamina. You can train to make a body strong, but if you aren’t ready to mentally face adversity, you’ll never finish. Supporters help you break the miles into manageable segments. When you are working toward a goal such as advancing equity in your workplace or advocating for a bill at the State House, you can’t stop at the next water station, but a support system can make a seemingly insurmountable challenge more bearable. Having peers with whom to note the small victories along the way can sustain leaders as they work towards deeper, systemic change.

Since 1991, LeadBoston has been increasing our numbers and logging the miles as we equip leaders with the knowledge, skills, and network needed to advance inclusion in their workplaces and throughout Boston. Applications to join the LeadBoston Class of 2021 are open now, with rolling admission through November. Lace up and join us!

Kathryn and Erin’s LeadBoston Class of 2011
About the Author

Kathryn Henderson is VP of Strategic Partnerships at YW Boston and a 2011 LeadBoston alum. Limited to 5Ks, she tapped the wisdom of her LeadBoston classmate, and marathoner, Erin McGrath in writing this piece.


About LeadBoston

Become a part of YW Boston’s LeadBoston program and join a network of over 1,000 inclusive leaders in Boston. During this 11-month program, participants explore and learn how to address barriers to inclusion through facilitated dialogue, expert speakers, and peer learning. Through experiential activities, participants delve into the socioeconomic realities of Boston and explore innovative solutions to inequity. Reach out to Rachael McCoy (, LeadBoston Managerwith any further questions about LeadBoston.