022 Leaders Building Leaders – Jamie Smith from YNPN

Oct 10, 2017

Jamie Smith is the Executive Director of YNPN, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. In this episode of Concord Leaders, Jamie shares about the skills needed at each stage of career growth: employee, manager, and executive. And she shares about her own journey from leadership positions to being the executive director of a large organization.

You can learn more about Jamie’s work and YNPN at http://ynpn.org/

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Marc Pitman: Welcome to the Concord leaders podcast, I’m Marc Pittman the CEO of the concord leadership group, today our guest is Jamie Smith, She’s the Executive Director, of YNPN, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Jamie, I’m so excited that you are here.

Jamie Smith: Yes, Marc and I am so excited to be talking with you. Thank you so much for inviting me on your podcast.

Marc: Well, I love YNPN, I’ve been following twitter handles and people that are YNPN members since I got in the field 20 years ago and, has it been around for 20 years?

Jamie: That’s right, this is the 20th year of, 20th anniversary of the founding of our first chapter in the bay area

Marc: Aha! Yay, so, just super thrilled to have you on the podcast. You know the thing that I like to ask our guests first is, what do you like about leadership? What’s your favorite thing?

Jamie: Yeah, this is a really great question and I was reflecting about this as I was thinking about our conversation today and I was thinking about some of my earliest encounters and experiences with leadership or being considered a leader and I’m a millennial, I’m a young nonprofit professional and so I’m part of a generation that grew up having maybe formal leadership opportunities a little bit earlier in life maybe than, than previous generations did, so know I was involved in clubs in high school and had leadership roles in those clubs and I have a really strong memory of when I was in high school, kind of having the feeling of, oh what I like about leadership is you know, is feeling like I matter you know, it’s feeling important…

Marc: ahhhh

Jamie: and it’s feeling like I can contribute and feeling like I have an agency that I didn’t normally feel you know, as a high school student or just as a young person moving around in the world and know you, that really used to be I think what, what attracted me to leadership positions. But as I have thankfully, matured since high school

Marc: (laughs)

Jamie: you know, I still get those, those feelings of you know, having the opportunity to have an impact of something and that being something that I really love about leadership. But I think that now a days what I love about leadership is getting to help other people have that feeling of discovering their agency and discovering that their work and their contributions matter and getting to experience thru the work that we do together, a different facet of what they can bring to whatever problem it is that we’re trying to solve. So, I think for me that has become, kind of what I love most about leadership is almost the like, servant leader aspect of helping to create the conditions for other people, to really get to shine and to go on and do their best work and whatever it is that gets them jazzed. It is you know, YNPN you know, our entire model is built on this idea of leaders building leaders and so for me it’s been a really great space to get to work in and play around in because, I spend a lot of my time, a lot of my days with people who are just so fired up to lead and to be a part of the work and for me I think that’s…

Marc: That’s awesome

Jamie: …where I really found probably, the greatest joy. Yeah! In leadership in the last couple of years.

Marc: What do you think shifted that for you, from feeling like your own personal contribution was what you loved about leadership to helping unleash that in others, or create the space for others to do that.

Jamie: Yeah, I think YNPN really was the inflection point for me, I will steal a line from my colleague, Tamir Novotny who’s the executive director of emerging practitioners in philanthropy our sister organization and he always says I’m not just the president of E-pip, I’m a client…

Marc: (laughs)

Jamie: you know, referencing the old hair club…
Marc: of course

Jamie: …for men line. (laughs) this may fly over the head of many of our millennial members (laughs) you know, it was the same of me for YNPN. I was a member for five years before I was one of our fellows and before I joined the staff and I think it was thru YNPN, I started to, I encountered a different model of leadership than I had ever encountered before and it was a model of leadership that was focused less on that single person at the top, you know whoever has president on their business card, or whoever’s listed in the year book as president. Moving away from that model to a model of more you know, distributed leadership and network leadership

Marc: hmmmm

Jamie: and really seeing what groups of people are able to accomplish when they care less about who gets the credit and when everyone has a piece of the problem to solve and when people are really empowered to do their best work…

Marc: hmmm

Jamie: …and YNPN was the first organization, really as a member where I encountered that and saw just how powerful it was and could be. So, it was really, I think just being exposed to new ways of leading and new types of organizations that really shifted that perspective for me, I think.

Marc: that’s so exciting because to my understanding to increasingly distributive sort of model

Jamie: yes!

Marc: which is great for everyone

Jamie: yes

Marc: ah that’s super, yeah. As we all know in leading, whether it’s, you know person at the top or more shared leadership, we’re human beings and things don’t always go the way we planned. When was a time when…

Jamie: (laughs) yes

Marc: …you tried to do something and it didn’t work out the way you expected.

Jamie: Yes, great question. So, I debated about which challenge to talk about when…

Marc: (laughs)

Jamie: …when you sent over the questions and you know there was a challenge that came immediately to mind and I was like, whoo! I don’t know if I can talk about that but, I think I’m going to, think I’m going to do it. And I would say you know, my biggest leadership challenge is probably one that Im in the midst of now. I am a new executive director. I just stepped into the role at the beginning of the year, and it is you know, I knew that it would be challenging, but I wasn’t prepared for the ways in which it would be challenging. You know I thought it would be an intense learning curve in terms of skills and the types of things I would be doing and it is. You know those things are absolutely true, but I you know, realize now is I’m kind of you know, nine months into this, is I’ve always had to, you know climb up learning curves I’ve always had to learn new skills. You know that is manageable that’s doable. But the challenge I kind of face now is I think, more of a midlife crisis, isn’t the right word for it, but it’s an existential challenge of what does it mean to be a leader in this way. What does it mean to be the leader with the ultimate accountability for an organization or for the success and results of the efforts of a group of people. And it is that shift going from you know, being a manger and a leader, but you know not necessarily the person who retains the ultimate accountability for everything. It’s a much bigger shift than I realized before I stepped into the role.

Marc: hmmmm

Jamie: And so, a lot of the work that I’ve been doing this year has been you know, learning those hard skills, learning how to do new things that I have had to do before. But it’s also been a lot of internal work about, you know kind of when I ask myself that question like, am I enough to be the leader of this network? Am I enough to be the leader that we need in these times? You know it has been me kind of asking that question repeatedly this year and then, trying to answer it (laughs) and talking to other people about how they answer it. Which is why I love your podcast so much, I think there’s, you know getting to hear from folks who have walked this path before and the challenges they face have been really helpful to me in terms of knowing this is not a unique challenge. Many, many new executive directors and executive leaders feel this way. And it’s also something that time helps. So being compassionate with myself and allowing myself the time to, to be acclimated to kind of have evidence bear out that I can (laughs) do this work, can do this job.

Marc: You’ve said you’ve been in leadership positions before and It resonated a lot with that, I’m a gen-xer but, a lot of in high school and college, a lot of leadership positions. But it’s different while you are the leader. The sense I get and maybe, I don’t know if this resonates with you but is that you’re really exposed. There’s no one

Jamie: uh huh

Marc: no one to like, no supervisor to give you feedback and your board as wonderful as they are often doesn’t provide the same sort of feedback, nor should they, that single supervisor or boss would in previous positions.
Jamie: uh huh. And I would say that I feel, you know I think there, when I sometimes get asked to talk to other professionals or you know, kind of give my advice, you know I talk about I think there’s a couple of stages, if you find a career that you are really passionate about and you want to move up in, you’ll move kind of from that stage of being an individual contributor, you know being an employee someone who is, who’s valued for you hard skills To being a manager where your hard skills are probably what got you there. But you’re going to have to develop some soft skills…

Marc: ha!

Jamie: …and, yeah deepen those soft skills of working with other people, engaging them, bringing out the best in them, and I think there’s a third jump of moving from manager to executive, where it’s not just helping people contribute their best work, it is to me, I feel a responsibility to create the kind of work environment where people feel like they can bring their best selves. And you know that is a whole, whole other level of you know, engagement and being. You know not just doing the work but relating to people in a different way in order to be effective at that very very lofty goal of trying to create a space where people feel like they can do their best work and be their best selves. But yes, I would absolutely agree that it’s a transition that until you gone thru it we don’t talk a lot about what it looks like or how to prepare yourself for that transition.
Marc: Well and part of it I think is because if you’re not in it, if you haven’t experienced it, you’re not…

Jamie: right

Marc: but a couple of years after coll.. after marriage. a couple of years after college but it was a couple of years after I’d been married, I went to a marriage retreat with my wife and there were three other couples that had gotten married about the same time and one couple that was engaged. The married couples were shocked. What? How did they know what we’re fighting about? Cameras in our, in our kitchen? Are they reading our mail? And the other, the engaged couple said, well. we’re just taking a list of things we’re not going to do when we get married (laughs) and it sort of like, you know oh isn’t that sweet…

Jamie: uh huh

Marc: because, if we are, we would have said the same thing had we not been in the, this situation, I think leadership is often that way there’s a level of that
Jamie: yeah

Marc: executive level you have to experience it to know

Jamie: uh huh

Marc: what you are dealing with. Interesting

Jamie: Yes, and there a proverb that I love because it’s very amusing, I’m sorry that I can’t properly attribute it right now, but its, experience is a comb that wisdom gives to bald men. So, kind of like you…

Marc: (laughing)

Jamie: …you have the experience, you have this wisdom but, only after you have gone thru the experience that it would have been most helpful to have it in.

Marc: Oh, my goodness! I love that, this is so good

Jamie: (laughing)

Marc: Wow, well I will now attribute that to you because I hadn’t heard that before

Jamie: (laughing)

Marc: That’s great. So now we have come to the end of our conversation. If there’s one thing people listening to this, they are resonating with what you are saying, what would be one thing that you’d recommend that they do. If they do nothing else after to listening to this?

Jamie: Oh, that’s a great question. I’m going to selfishly; can I give two? I’m obligated to plug YNPN, if I haven’t

Marc: Please do

Jamie: done so enough already (laughs) and I want to be clear you know, folks often ask is there an age limit to participate in YNPN, and I usually respond No, and then with a joke about the young at heart nonprofit professionals network. But really it’s, it’s a resource for anyone in the sector, we have lots of great training and events in our 44 chapters across the country. So even if you are not an emerging leader and you are listening to this, you probably know emerging leaders, you may manage or lead emerging leaders, so I really recommend YNPN as a resource and we’re connected to lots of other great organizations in the sector. If the particular resources that we offer are not the resources that you need at this time in your career I’d still recommend checking us out. And I think would say that, you know probably the thing that has helped me most in dealing with kind of the challenge I described today and then past challenges has been coaching and space for reflection. So if you are able find affordable coaching, which I know is a challenge, or if you’re able to even just carve out a few hours a couple of times a month to set aside some space to think about the work that you’re doing and your personal values. I’m a big fan of like, my method for solving problems is like, make a list, and or buy a book. And I think just having some time, if you do nothing else, if you set aside a couple of hours a month for you to really reflect about your leadership, maybe work your way thru a book, maybe find an accountability buddy, but just, just some kind of space for you to something that is not work, but is just thinking about work, I think will have a huge impact on you know, you’re confidence, you’re effectiveness, you know pretty much, you name it. I think that is been the one thing that has helped me the most in dealing with challenges.

Marc: that’s is wonderful, well Jamie that you so much for being here, where can people find YNPN?

Jamie: Yes! We are on line, at YNPN dot O R G

Marc: Super and I know people are going to want to listen to over and over, I’ve got three pages of notes here for this episode along with all episodes of the concord leaders podcast can be found at concord leadership group dot com slash podcasts, until next time remember that healthy nonprofits start with healthy leaders.