One of the best-performing boards I have been on is the local United Way. The chief reason it performs so well year after year has been our Executive Director, Lisa. Lisa actually started in that position a couple of years after I went on the board. We felt that, coming into the job, she had some very big shoes to fill because our previous Executive Director was very strong. Lisa, though, stepped into the position very strong -- hit the ground running. The organization never missed a beat and has continued to grow and do well under her leadership.
Early this year, I started my stint as President of the United Way Board. Really, it looked like it would be a pretty smooth year. A lot of that was due to Lisa. A couple of weeks ago, though, she called and told me that she had a pending opportunity to possibly become President of the local Chamber of Commerce. Those words struck me pretty hard as "Why did this have to happen on my watch?" kept running through my mind. I suppose I could have worked to fight and try to keep her in her current position (I am sure I would have been unsuccessful) but, fact was, I saw this as a huge opportunity for her and for the community. I could not imagine denying others the opportunity to learn from and serve with her. I also could not deny the community the growth that I feel certain she will bring to it.
Lisa is very creative and visionary and a real strategic thinker. She has been able to use those skills in her current position yet the United Way is, realistically, pretty repetitive year to year. While there can be bright moments, it is not really the place for a creative visionary to shine. At the Chamber, her talents and gifts will be put to much better use than they were even at the United Way.
I am thinking about what I have learned from Lisa about leadership over the years I have had the privilege of working with her. Have meetings planned in advance, set a strong agenda, and keep to it. If a "normal" board meeting ever lasts more than 90 minutes, you're trying to do commitee work in a board meeting. Show constant respect to others, let them have their say, but stay on topic. Ensure that "to do's" are assigned before the meeting is over. Set a time table for future activity and action. Communicate meeting times and places well in advance. Be willing to get your hands dirty as you serve. Watch for opportunities always and everywhere. Keep your Mission front and center at all times. Encourage and inspire others but hold them accountable. Be awrae of the need to build new leaders, and have a process for doing so. The list goes on.
One of her greatest achievements with United Way was her vision, development, and implementation of an incredible program called Teens Taking Charge. Under this program, about 20 area teens were given $5,000 to give away sort of like a mini United Fund. They had to solicit and review grant applications for programs which had a youth focus. They had to determine which ones were worthy of being granted a portion of their $5,000. The students learned about leadership. They learned about organizational structure. (Lisa and others purposefully picked many kids who had never been in student government.) The students learned about social needs. They learned about servanthood. They learned how to have productive, though sometimes very direct, conversations with one another. They learned to stand for what they believe in. They learned how to celebrate their successes. The list goes on, but what a tremendous program Lisa developed. It is absolutely huge in my mind.
So, we have started the search for a new director. Very big shoes to fill. But, you know what, there are many winners here. Lisa, the Chamber, and our community are clear winners. Whoever United Way hires will be a winner, being given a great opportunity for personal growth. And I and the other Board Members are winners, too. We get to celebrate Lisa's successes and we get to reach for the future with vigor and excitement. We need so many more leaders like Lisa.