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CEO Log Part 4: Nonprofit Leadership Transitions

 

How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

by Jonathan Zeichner, CEO of A Place Called Home

Stardate: 2022.6.17  Days to Transition: 45ish  CEO Search: Ongoing

Jonathan with APCH Founder Debrah Constance and APCH members

In Part One of this four five-part series I covered my reasons for leaving A Place Called Home and the job I love. In Part Two I wrote about why leadership change is healthy, and four guest contributors addressed sector dysfunctions around leadership transition. In Part Three I got into logistics and internal change dynamics. For this month’s episode, I intended to introduce you to APCH’s new CEO, but since that isn’t meant to be… yet… I’m going to riff on how awkward it is to be feted, especially when I’m not leaving just yet. Maybe this can be helpful for some of my peers out there wrestling with similar issues.

Don’t be so humble… you’re not that great. – Golda Meir

“It’s not about me, it’s about the work!” was my inappropriately strident response eight months ago when a board member called to say, “We’re throwing you a farewell tribute event.” I definitely did not want to spend two hours squirming and sweating in front of an audience while people got up and gave me way too much credit for everything. Once we established that it would be a fundraiser to bank $1,000,000 for our Technology Transformation initiative, of course I got on board. That I know how to do! 

But, there was still the “me” part of the event to contend with. 

I am an introvert who has learned to act like an extrovert – a useful skill when a large part of your job is to inspire and move people, institutions and resources in service to a mission. My years in the theater have served me well, particularly when persuading rooms full of donors to open their wallets to give millions of dollars to the three nonprofits I’ve run (buckets of flop sweat, notwithstanding). And, there are always going to be moments when being “large and in charge” is called for, but the most rewarding part of my job by far has been shining light on others. At the end of the day, I would much rather be producing and working an event than be the center of attention, so I was still feeling a little queasy about the event.

Meanwhile, one of our messages to the APCH kids is that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things – it’s not necessary to be rich and famous to be happy or to change the world. And, while aggrandizing oneself is obnoxious, diminishing oneself can be even more counterproductive. We encourage kids to own their power, develop their values and talents, and go on to live meaningful, generous, fulfilling lives. And, we enthusiastically celebrate their achievements with them. 

So, with that in mind, I reframed the planned JZ farewell events as opportunities, not to inflate my ego, but to commune with colleagues, constituents and stakeholders in a rite of passage for all of us, and to make a call to action. Through acknowledging my years of service with youth, adults, families, veterans and incarcerated folks struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental illness and PTSD, we could celebrate and honor the choices that millions of people make to prioritize their core values as the arbiters for their life choices. We could celebrate the teachers, mentors and those that inspire us to be our best selves. 

As I visualized the thousands of young people that have leveraged their time at APCH  as a springboard to launch their destinies and break generational cycles of poverty, it grounded me enough to imagine sitting through whatever overpraising might come, and, like Golda said, without being too humble, because, y’know…

Over the past month, we had our annual (my final) Board and Leadership Retreats as planned, but with the wrinkle that the CEO search was extended and I agreed to extend my service another month to the end of July. And, now there’s the sweet, but somewhat awkward dynamic of my long goodbye. (Just in case you missed it, this blog’s title hyperlinked: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

But, hey, I can’t control exactly how things unfold, and I’m confident that our patience in the CEO search process will be rewarded. I will use the extra month to “clean out my closet” some more and to find the opportunities to provide extra measures of support to my colleagues. 

In the meantime, we have laughed and wept through a staff lunch/open mic and our tribute/fundraiser (we met our $1M goal!) with the board and donors, and there is just one final farewell event to go… this one with the kids and families. I’m legit nervous – will be bringing two hankies.

Gotta run. Lots of notes and cards to write… passwords to cancel… forwarding messages to program… See you next time – hopefully for my final APCH blog entry, and to make a highly anticipated and important introduction to our new CEO! 

Changing the world starts at home.

Jonathan

P.S. My consulting contact info is up and running and I’ll start accepting appointments in September, 2022. [email protected] – jonathanzeichner.com

 

Jonathan Zeichner has served as CEO for APCH since 2009

If you’re reading this you’re likely already a member of our APCH extended family and you are aware of the upcoming transition of our beloved CEO Jonathan Zeichner. What you may not know is that Jonathan’s departure from APCH is one of dozens of important leadership transitions that will impact the Los Angeles nonprofit sector over the next several years.

True to APCH’s commitment to transparency as a core value, Jonathan, the Board, and senior staff have spent a year engaged in conversations and planning for leadership transition in alignment with our mission, and have partnered with colleagues and advisors to determine what APCH will need to continue thriving into its next chapter. It has been a wholehearted effort that will continue in the hands of the new CEO, senior management team and Board.

As part of this open process, we have created this space for our leadership, beginning with Jonathan, to speak directly to our community.

 

 

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