At a meeting with a colleague the other day, I was asked an insightful question, “How did you manage the strong personalities that surely emerged during board meetings at your agency, especially when you were planning to resign?” My colleague was referring to the time in my career when I transitioned to a full-time consultant from being a founder of an agency that I led for 16 years. As founder and executive director, it was my place to offer my recommendations, (but ultimately it was the board’s role to decide) how to fill the leadership gap once I resigned and, as gracefully as possible, galloped off into the sunset.
I think my gut reply to the question focused on how, after accomplishing what I had originally set out to do decades earlier, I was pretty satisfied with the results. I knew intrinsically that it was time for the community to embrace the importance of sustaining the services and programs we had developed over time. I think I also said that I arrived at a point where I did not really care what people thought of me. And even though there is some partial truth to that statement, the fact is that I do care what my colleagues think of me and my leadership style. I believe good leaders absorb the helpful and purposeful critiques, and learn, over time, how to discard the caddy noise.
I also stated to my friend that long ago, around the time I turned 40, I coached myself into taking my ego out of as many work situations as possible. This may be the aftereffects of raising a spirited toddler, or maybe years of implementing pivot praises to adults who are creatively brilliant yet have deep-seeded behavioral challenges due to their developmental disability. Taking my ego out became a coveted survival technique.
Non-profit, community service work should be about the people and the communities who are the beneficiaries of the effort. Every day I tried to make that my focus. Sure, personalities came into the mixture and steered me off course sometimes, but in the end, it was about the beneficiaries.
Selena Roe, a phenomenal Behavioral Analyst who I miss interacting with on a regular basis and who I loved working with, often told me “Grace, catch em’ doing something good!” Selena was so incredible, and helped our team solve so many issues over the years that you would often hear me say “What would Selena do?”
Navigating the non-profit wide world of personalities is tricky and can sometimes be exhausting. But it can also be enthralling and sing-it-from-the-rooftops amazing when things go right and you experience the exciting results of your hard labor. So, to my colleague who did not get the full extent of my answer to her question the other day, I’d like to retract my original response and say “I tried when I could to catch em’ doing something good, to praise their dedication, to put the focus on the beneficiaries and to discard the caddy noise.”