Last Friday, I found out that my very awesome boss, Kevin Jennings, accepted a position to lead the Arcus Foundation, a foundation that focuses on making the world a more humane and just place for the vulnerable – with a focus on the Great Apes and LGBT communities. I am beyond sad about his departure – though he’s leaving for good reasons to go on and do good things – but I loved every minute of every day we worked together. Sometimes these transition moments pass us by and we don’t take the opportunity to tell people how we feel about them. Perhaps this is why we have funerals. But why wait for a eulogy to praise people? (Besides, I’m sure there is a long list of people who would like to speak at Kevin’s funeral, so I might not make the cut!)
Do, defer, delegate.
Kevin just does things. I think that’s awesome. Maybe it’s because he’s older and more confident than I am, but I think I second-guess things more than he does. He helped me get over my hesitation about delegating things I didn’t think were “interesting projects.” For example, he once calculated how much time I spent on our database, and said, “Do you really think it’s worth 10% of your week? What else could you be doing with that time?”
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
I told this to Kevin once, and he said, “Great, so I’m teaching you to be mediocre!” That’s not at all the case. Sometimes it’s important to remember that good enough might just be good enough, and to save your best work for the things that are really important. Perfectionism is paralyzing – for individuals and for organizations. I have had bosses before who have talked the talk about things not being perfect, but they didn’t always live it. Kevin says, “Looks good, send it.” unless it’s absolutely terrible. Now I try to do the same.
Conflict is healthy.
Kevin is not phased by conflict at all, both at the interpersonal level and at the organizational level. Conflict exposes issues that need to be resolved in relationships, and conflict points to structural changes that may need to be made or defined in organizations. If you avoid conflict, you can’t resolve it. And everyone has a preferred conflict management style – each has it’s place and proper use – so just own what you are.
The answer is usually obvious.
Sure, we solve complex social problems, but let’s not make anything more complicated than it already is. I saw him apply this principle to hiring, strategic planning, and fundraising. Why do a search for an operations manager when a long-time consultant wants to apply? Just hire her.
You don’t need to work 24-7 to be effective.
This was amazing to see. Kevin was one of the most effective leaders I have ever worked for at an organization, yet he did not work around the clock. If there were things that needed to be addressed off-hours, they were but I rarely got an email from him late at night or on the weekends. If I did, it was never with the expectation of an immediate response. Kevin managed his time and his workflow very well, and that allowed him to devote the most energy to the organization as possible.
You can be a leader and be yourself.
I never felt like I needed to speak the party line at work. If I disagreed with Kevin, I told him. Kevin also encouraged me and all the people who worked closely with him to pursue their own interests and passions. And he was always himself at work. He sent funny You Tube clips to make a point – and I mean funny ones! Before Kevin, I never would have felt comfortable starting a personal blog while working at an organization in a leadership role. I would have been afraid that I would “get in trouble,” or that my personal opinion and perspective was supposed to 100% align with the organization. Kevin encouraged me to take risks, speak up, and get my voice out there.
Let others go first.
This is a great one. Kevin has a rule about not giving his perspective first, because he’s the boss. If there is a decision we are discussing, he makes others give their opinion or choose a pathway before he shares his perspective. This forced me to give my opinion even if it might cause conflict with others. And it also taught me that disagreeing doesn’t necessarily mean conflict, and that it was okay to change your position after hearing other people’s perspective.
In the end, we are all just quirky humans.
Kevin invested a lot of time and energy into professional development for the management team and for the whole organization, and it paid off. In order to work well together as a team, we need shared language, shared understanding, and a diverse toolbox of skills to manage internal relationships with humans that are just so different from each other. As a team, we explored People Styles at Work, Thomas Kilman’s Conflict Styles, and The 5 Dysfunctions as a Team. And that was just in his first year. At first I resisted some of the touchy-feely, share yourself with colleagues approach, but ultimately I found that by just being myself and owning myself, I had more to offer to the organization – and was happier doing it.
So while I am sad to see Kevin go, I am grateful that I had a year to learn from him, and know I will be a better leader and manager and human because of it. Congratulations senior staff at the Arcus Foundation – you have a winner coming your way!