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On-Site Staff / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management / Sustainability

The Role and Vision of a CEO from a CEO

I have a lot of breakfast meetings these days, the hardest kinds of meetings.

Not the kind where I get excited about pitching a program to a new client or get to brainstorm curriculum and advocate for youth. Those meetings I love. No, lately my days are filled with meetings wherein I talk—or, more often, listen– to people expressing real fear and vulnerability about their present and future. Not just people: my staff.

In February 2017, I gave speech to my staff on “the state of Arc” that was about how we at Arc must work hard together in the face of political uncertainty and national division so that we can do the important work of caring for our students.

Just a few months later, this past August, I had to give a speech convincing our after school staff that Arc would survive as a company in the face of the perils promised by the Trump Administration’s threats to cut all 21cclc funding.  Over the past 3 weeks I have written numerous memos and had nearly daily meetings with staff to ease their fears about racism, white nationalism, DACA and deportation, and more. It has been exhausting and often infuriating to spend my working hours dealing with the impacts of our President’s late-night tweets and his administration’s threats to dismantle the infrastructure that enables us at Arc (and other agencies throughout the State and nation) to care for our most deserving and vulnerable: our nation’s children.

These meetings have lead me to need to use this blog platform to state the following. I believe the role of an Executive Director or CEO is to

  1. Set the vision
  2. Build the culture
  3. Ensure long-term viability
  4. Address threats and opportunities
  5. Get folks in the right seats
  6. Move employees from where they are to where they want/need to be This is not unique set of goals or guidelines, but they are all more complicated these days

If an employee fears their country does not support them, thinks of them as “other,” or supports people that hate them, then business as usual just cannot happen. That means that my job as a CEO—and also as a person of privilege, a white man—needs to recognize this fact. Instead of pretending business as usual, I need to slow down and listen, actively and with sincere empathy. I often need to give some hugs. … and, yes, buy lots of breakfast sandwiches.

The new job of the Executive Director and CEO is to take in an overwhelming amount of daily news (real and fake), synthesize it, and then help their teams to understand it.   The truth is that this is also the role of most citizens these days. It is hard and exhausting. And we need to recognize these real and felt impacts.

In the field of education, the situation is exacerbated. Not only is funding threatened at  every level—from the NEH to after-school for elementary-age students—but teachers now need to ease the fears of their students, Site Coordinators must make sure children feel safe at school,  coaches have to remind students that there are caring adults there for them, and parents have to explain it all to their kids.

We live in uncertain times. America’s most marginalized groups are being threatened, and our children are listening.

Even though I have felt depressed, angry, and broken as a person, parent, and citizen, I am also a CEO.  As an executive, I need to support and care for my staff. My team needs me to know that I have their backs.  They need to know that I do not support hate or bigotry, that black lives matter, that Dreamers have a critical role to play in our communities and future.  As I am doing here in this small way, I will continue to use my voice and position to promote freedom, democracy, and opportunity for all. I applaud the powerful Fortune 500-style CEOs, and Execs who are using their positions to take a stand, and want to express my appreciation for the real heroes: those who, though struggling to understand their own role in this country still wake up every day to support kids through teaching, coaching, tutoring, and mentoring.

You are exactly what makes America great.

I have a lot of breakfast meetings these days, the hardest kinds of meetings.

Photos courtesy of Arc.

Author: @blupien


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