MNA Executive Director
I’ve been at MNA for seven years this September. Wow. I kind of can’t believe how time has flown. I still remember the (extensive) interview process, getting that phone call from Jono McKinney, Board Chair at the time, and wondering how I would ever fill the shoes of outgoing Executive Director, Brian Magee. A lot has happened in seven years, and every once in a while, I ask myself if I’m still in. Do I still have fire in the belly for the work? As it turns out I do, and I feel exceptionally fortunate for that. But the work is challenging, and I admit – some days I’m really not up for it. Today I had a brief exchange with the Executive Director of one of our member organizations; we talked about times when we’ve had to recalibrate and recommit to our work, especially in the face of change and challenge. It’s not a topic we talk much about, that process of taking an internal temperature reading and making the decision to reinvest in the work. However, I think it’s an important conversation for several reasons.
First, maybe there is the occasional person who accepts a leadership position and never looks back. But for the rest of us mere mortals, occupying a leadership role isn’t a decision made just once. It’s a decision made many times over. And just knowing that normalizes the experience of wondering if we’re the right person for the work. I regularly talk with executives who are sorting out where they are in relationship to their position. Do they want to stay in? Are they ready for a change? Do they still have what it takes? Most of us experience doubt, get tired, and wonder if we are the right one for the job. The fact that we’re hesitant to talk about it leads us to imagine we’re the only ones. We’re not. And it can be helpful to understand that.
Second, the question “Am I still in?” is legitimate and deserves attention. Last fall I had the chance to spend an afternoon with a mentor of sorts, a retired businessman who agreed to go through MNA’s business plan with me. After several hours of talking through various aspects of our work, he made a recommendation he knew would be challenging for me. And then he said this, “Go back to your office and ask yourself these two questions: Am I the right person for the job? And am I up for the job?” I have those questions printed and hanging in my line of sight. I regularly ponder them, and I think it’s appropriate to do exactly that. So far – I’m in. But not simply because of an employment decision I made seven years ago. I’m regularly thinking through the choices available to me, assessing my heart and aptitude for the work, and making an informed decision to show up to the best of my ability.
And this brings me to one more note about this process of taking stock and recommitting to the work. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, my attitudes, energy, enthusiasm (or lack thereof), and commitment level seep into every corner of MNA. It’s incumbent on me, and on every one of us who says yes to leadership, to understand as best we can our impact on those around us. That basic level of self-awareness is the first step in choosing how I lead. My ability to shape or influence MNA’s organizational culture starts with self-awareness, which includes having a decent understanding of how I feel about my work, my effectiveness, my sense of meaning and efficacy.
At seven years in, I’ve come to understand that my questions and uncertainty are a gift to be mined, not a weakness to overcome. I’m stronger for them. With that in mind I’ll close with gratitude – for our staff team, our board, our many amazing partners, and for you – my colleagues and peers. We’re in the fray together, friends, and I for one am extraordinarily grateful.