Opportunity, agility, and the kitchen cupboard: Lessons in leadership from Kris Kewitsch

main.jpgHave you ever gone to an event so awesome that you just wanted to run around and tell everybody you know about it? Normally, when I complete a thought-provoking and inspiring experience, I want to shout what I’ve learned from a mountain-top! (Or, more realistically, bug my cubicle neighbors with tidbits.) So please imagine that the rest of this post is conveyed mountain-top style, with perhaps a yak for good measure. 

Like many people, I spent Halloween with variously costumed friends and coworkers. However, early the next morning, I traded doctors, lumberjacks, and Disney characters for a different crowd: researchers, nonprofit staff, and other YNPNers, all gathered for YNPN’s monthly “Bring Your Own Breakfast” event. We had an appointment with Kris Kewitsch, recently-appointed executive director of Charity Review Council.

Seated in CRC’s new collaborative workspace with coffee in hand, we settled into a discussion on change, networking, and nonprofit and philanthropy careers. Kris didn’t limit her conversation to professional tips. She also spoke to the broader philosophies that have brought her to the leadership position she holds today.

The first pronouncement from the mountaintop: Change is an opportunity. In her journey from Piper Jaffray to a mass lay-off, to re-entering philanthropy at Target Corporation to Charity Review Council, Kris draws on a set of principles that would serve any young leader well. Her positivity was contagious and her reframing judicious.  “As long as you learn something from a choice, it was valuable,” Kris said. She said of the lay-off, “The company offered us a chance to do something else.”

The second mountaintop declaration is: Build a network of people who speak into your life in different ways. Some changes happen to us, and others must be initiated. While you should be intentional about professional development and ensure you are getting to do what you enjoy and excel at, there is a lot to be said for networking and seeking out different perspectives. One way to think of this is a “kitchen cupboard” of people to turn to with different questions. Kris’s openness in sharing wisdom gained from mentors also demonstrated her gratitude and willingness to pass along the favor—two qualities that I appreciate and hope to emulate!

A third piece of advice from the snowy peaks: Be agile, adapting to remain relevant and find the support you need. I gained a lot from Kris’s knowledge of philanthropy and nonprofits. She noted that it is often easier to find a job in corporate philanthropy by making a transition from within the company. The first 90 days are critical when beginning a new role. Board membership is a valuable way to gain leadership experience. And when it comes to fundraising in a tight economy, as donors say “No” more often, we must be creative: Change the way we think about changing the world.

Kris ended with an encouraging reminder: Each of us is intelligent and capable; we can likely excel in many different roles. The question to ask when considering a change, beyond “Do I have the right skills?” is: “Do I have a passion for this organization’s mission?”

One friend noted Kris’s “quotability.” Here are a few closing thoughts:

  • Push yourself: Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable—that’s when you can do great things.
  • Find shared value and meaning: An organization's mission may be valuable and necessary, but if no one cares about it, your work won’t get very far.
  • Know and advocate for yourself: Articulate what you want to do and become—ask for the opportunities that you are passionate about.

I appreciated Kris’s humble and humorous, frank style, as well as the way she has identified and articulates the driving forces in her career. I am so glad we had the chance to talk with her and other staff at Charity Review Council. The breakfast with Kris was worth the sacrifice of getting up in the dark and relinquishing an extra hour in my costume the night before. Thank you to YNPN for hosting it and for allowing me this mountaintop outlet (I’m sure my cubicle neighbors will be grateful).

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