First In Families of North Carolina believes in customer leadership and in fact is managed by customers.
What is "Customer Leadership?"
Historically, in public agencies, professional offices, or other places where people receive help, the people getting help are usually called: clients, patients, consumers, or recipients of services. The professionals are in charge, and their role has been to decide if and how people who ask for help, get it.
- Customer leadership represents a different perspective on who should make these decisions.
- Customer leaders let the people who work in public and private agencies, or the government, know about the realities of their lives, and how the helping services can best meet their needs.
- Customer leaders sometimes work in collaboration with "like-minded" professionals, sharing the gifts and expertise that both bring to the effort.
For many years, the person receiving help held much less power in his/her relationship with an agency. Customer leadership requires a change in thinking by both the professionals and the participants. Ideally, they form a partnership based on mutual trust and an understanding of each other's roles.
Why be a Customer Leader?
- Customers do know best, through their real life experiences.
- It is empowering to be a customer leader, and through a sense of empowerment, we can better support others to become leaders.
First In Families of NC and the local First In Families (FIF) Chapters have been demonstrating true partnerships between customer leaders and professionals since 1995.
First In Families of North Carolina (FIFNC), as well as the local FIF Chapters, are managed by boards with a majority representation of customers. The boards of the local Chapters are called "management teams."
Both customer leaders and professionals have to learn about customer leadership. This process requires commitment on both parts to listen and learn from each other while building something strong together.
Customer board members are supported by FIF staff and each other to learn what they need to know to be effective, informed leaders, not just token representatives.
Other important examples of customer leadership:
Both FIF staff and management teams consider that the families and individuals they work with are experts at knowing what they need to thrive in the community. FIF is there to help find the resources to help these customer "experts" get what they need.
FIFNC actively supports the hiring of staff who are family members or self-advocates as well.