This observation from an old-school talent scout is featured in the book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. Until recently, this was what scouts looked for in a prospect; amorphous qualities that didn’t reveal much about a player’s true talents or value to a team.
Leadership is a similarly elusive idea. We all know it’s important. When things are going well, we praise the quality of the leadership. When things are going badly, we blame the absence of leadership. Yet despite its critical role in the success or failure of any endeavor, it can be difficult to describe effective leadership.
I should know, since developing social change leaders has been a significant piece of my life’s work. And, it was a large part of what drew me to the Nathan Cummings Foundation, where identifying and supporting promising leaders working on the front lines of social change has always been part of its strategy for social transformation.
Recently we decided to step up our investment in a particular kind of leader when we created the Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship. The Fellowship will support individuals who are also dreamers and visionaries, people with big ideas that can change the world.
We had another opportunity to think about what we mean by leadership when NCF re-organized our senior staff, creating the new position of Chief Strategy Officer and adding two Senior Vice-Presidents. Each member of our new team has, over their careers, earned the respect of their peers and colleagues. Through their work they have moved their fields in new directions and brought a particular style of leadership – insightful, creative, unorthodox, reflective and determined.
Peter Teague, who has spent a decade as program director at NCF, has been promoted to Chief Strategy Officer. His tenure has been noteworthy for his commitment to rigorous intellectual inquiry and his willingness to take a stand in the face of controversy. He will continue his leadership in the areas of ecological innovation and contemplative practice while taking on new work leading our strategic planning process and overseeing grants administration.
Maurine Knighton, who joined the NCF staff in 2010 as the program director of Arts and Culture, has been promoted to Senior Vice President. She has an unusual ability to see across and between fields, helping to break down the siloes that impede progress. She balances big picture with real attention to detail. These qualities will serve her well in her new position, which adds human resources and operations to her arts and culture responsibilities.
Bill Dempsey is one of the newest members of the NCF staff, also with the title of Senior Vice President. He will direct NCF’s financial operations and the investor engagement work that Laura Campos continues to manage. Many in the philanthropic community know Bill from his days at the Veatch Program and running community-labor coalitions in the Midwest. For the last nine years, he led innovative efforts in the labor movement to promote the responsible investment of union pension funds. Bill is particularly adept at finding unsung local heroes and taking risks on them, cultivating and inspiring new leaders. His NCF portfolio will include the health program grants as well as finance and external affairs.
Peter, Maurine, and Bill are an all-star team. I know they will strengthen NCF’s ability to partner with our grantees, funding colleagues and other allies to be help make social change work more effective, more courageous and more visionary. I hope you have a chance to work with them in the months ahead.