Building momentum for national service
When you meet with young Corporation and AmeriCorps leaders, what advice do you offer?
I have these sorts of conversations pretty often, and I find that young people today are very practical. They're always focused on the plan--the next step. It's great they are so practical, but I always advise young people to find their passion and really stick with it. I also encourage them to strive for excellence in everything they do. Whatever you're asked to do, do it well. Finally, I encourage young people to find opportunities that will push them out of their comfort zone and will test and force them to grow.
What are you doing to keep the momentum around national service going?
Nothing has been as important as getting a good team on board around a common vision. As a leader in a large organization like the Corporation, you cannot be in all places at all times. As a result, the executive team plays a particularly critical role as a megaphone, amplifying our vision and principles for service across the organization and the country. I've worked particularly hard to recruit the right executives and build consensus among the team for our vision.
What is the most important thing you want to accomplish at the Corporation?
It is a unique time for national service. After the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, this is essentially an "all hands on deck" moment for our nation that requires every American to make a difference in his or her community in some way. What's so exciting is that Americans are tilting toward problems instead of away from them--and that makes for stronger, more resilient communities. As a result, my top priority is to build upon and sustain the momentum around making service a solution to our major national challenges.
How does leading in the public sector differ from the nonprofit sector?
While many of the core elements of effective leadership are the same in any sector, I have found two big differences: scope and focus. I spent many years in direct service delivery, working first with migrant workers and later with adjudicated youth, HIV/AIDS patients and the homeless. Serving as a case worker you have daily, direct interaction with the people you're serving. I learned a great deal and found every experience rewarding. Even at the Annie E. Casey Foundation--working with grantee organizations around leadership and capacity building--I often had more regular interaction with the populations we were serving than I'm able to have now.
However, the scope at the Corporation for National and Community Service is nationwide and not an individual community, shelter or clinic. As a result, I now think about the American taxpayer in addition to thinking about those we serve. In fact, my responsibility as a good steward of taxpayer dollars is often primary in my mind. Of course, the hardest part for me is sometimes feeling disconnected from the job on the ground.
What do you consider to be a critical event--either educational or experiential--to your becoming the leader you are today?
I'm a Haitian immigrant, and lived in several different countries when I was growing up. Living in so many different places, in so many different cultures has given me a sort of cultural fluency. I'm comfortable thinking about others, and the best ways of working with them. That has served me well throughout my career--whether I'm with migrant workers or grantee organizations.
My experience traveling the East Coast as a case manager working with migrant workers also had a profound impact on me as a leader. Seeing those workers manage so many difficult situations taught me a great deal about managing difficult situations as a leader.
September 28, 2010; 5:30 PM ET |
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