I really thought my first CEO article would reflect a glamorous month of my professional coming out party. I envisioned tales of flattering introductions by an articulate and esteemed predecessor to the who’s who in the educational and philanthropic worlds. I expected to see first-hand the finished exhibitions, all-star resume accomplishments and celebrated trophies of JSF investments. I’d travel North America for a few weeks and return energized and inspired to dive into a month of professional development. I just knew these experiences would prepare me to lead and inspire a gifted staff.
Most of this happened, just not how I thought it would. I’m confident that none of us had the March 2020 we were planning for. There would be no travel. I’d spend much of my time glued to a 13-inch laptop monitor, fumbling my way around new technology that included a persistent visual of what my extended social distancing from my barber looked like.
My predecessor, Malcolm Macleod, and I would embark on reaching out to every grantee through video conferencing. Our meetings would typically last for 30 minutes and most were back to back to back. I would meet or be reintroduced to many of the rock stars in the educational and philanthropic worlds. Our meetings did not take place in prestigious office spaces, adorned with organizational accomplishments. Most conversations were held in living rooms, over kitchen tables, and a few in the front seats of automobiles.
The actual experience I’ve had in my first 30 days on staff, was far better than the glamorous month I had envisioned. The COVID-19 Crisis offered a candid look into the lives and callings of JSF grantee partners. These partners were sober in their assessment of the COVID-19 crisis, painfully aware of the havoc and change it would likely bring, but stubbornly resolved to serve their students and vigorously pursue their mission.
Most of our conversations revolved around some common themes:
Disruption—The COVID-19 crisis had turned their lives upside down. The means of their work had been changed dramatically, but the ends of that work had not. They remained staunch advocates for their organizations and the students they serve.
Loss—This crisis exacted a real loss -losses that included time with students, celebratory graduation ceremonies, refunded revenues, muted philanthropic giving from their donor bases, canceled fund raisers, and separation from colleagues, friends and family.
Adaptation—All of them were continuing to adapt to the changes around them. From their communication means to the schedules they held.
Resolve to be better—“We won’t waste this crisis.”
Optimism—I suppose this is a prerequisite to be an educator, advocate or philanthropist. Most grantees felt the crisis would yield fruit in their organizations due to organizational efficiencies forced upon them in the crisis. Some viewed the crisis as an opportunity thrust upon them to reinvent themselves or their approach.
Gratefulness—Our inquiries were met with such a permeating attitude of gratefulness. They all deeply appreciated the intentional outreach of JSF. It was very obvious to me their gratefulness resonated from the experience of many years with JSF staff, consultants and Board.
The month of March has ended. It has not been glamorous, but it has been remarkable. A crisis will often strip away the glamorous and reveal the underlying character and qualities of organizations and people. The staff I intended to inspire has inspired me with their own willingness to adapt and resolve to serve. The themes that resonated through the conversations with grantees have been echoed in correspondence with JSF staff, Board and consultants. I have learned a lot and been reminded of more. I’ve been emboldened to lead by the gracious deference and encouragement of our Chairman. I am so very grateful for my first 30 days on staff at JSF.
Robert A. Krause is an entrepreneur and business consultant to the Central Florida agricultural industry. He has served as a member of the JSF Board of Directors since 2013, most recently as the Foundation’s Treasurer. He recently was named JSF’s new CEO.