New Nonprofit Leadership

Chrystal Kornegay, deputy director of Urban Edge, speaks about developing leadership within nonprofit organizations – supporting emerging leaders to support the development of leadership skills at all levels within organizations.

Chrystal Kornegay, deputy director of Urban Edge, spoke at TSNE MissionWorks’ 11th Nonprofit Workout Luncheon Plenary (November 17, 2007) about developing leadership within nonprofit organizations – supporting emerging leaders to support the development of leadership skills at all levels within organizations.

Getting the Job Done

Hello everyone. I work for Urban Edge, which is a community development corporation that focuses a lot of its efforts over the past 33 years in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. We do affordable housing development, our own property management and, what I call, community programs. [These include], first-time home buying classes, lending to folks who are not necessarily marketable for banks and more.

The organization? We have about a $5 million budget in the combined activities, have about 80 employees, and our executive director has been with the organization 30 years, 22 of which have been as ED.

I’ve been with the organization 8 years. I started out as a project manager and gained increasing responsibility about every 2 years and [recently have] taken on a new role.

I’m responsible for the programmatic part of the organization.

I don’t think I started out with the intention of leadership. I started out wanting to do a good job, and I wanted things to happen in the organization, so I just did those [things].

And then, the more I did those, the more people expected me to do those. As I’m sure you understand in a nonprofit, don’t raise your hand with a good idea, because you then have to do it.

Providing Responsibility and Authority

So for me it isn’t just about leadership. It really wasn’t about leadership. It wasn’t really about intention.

About six months before the executive director went on sabbatical with the Barr Fellowship Program, I began to say to myself, I’ve got all this responsibility and all this expectation and I have no authority to do anything. So I’ve got to negotiate with everybody about everything to get anything done. Everybody wants change, but nobody wants them to change.

So, it was crazy, and it started to feel crazy. Then, the opportunity for the [executive director’s] sabbatical came along. And it came along fairly quickly because I believe there was a call like in February, and then we had to decide. It just happened really quickly, which is not always what happens in our organization. Especially around a thing like that, because our executive director has been there for so long. And not intentionally, but [over the years he has developed] a lot of power in the organization.

So, he asks everybody in the organization, both the key staff in and outside the organization – should there be a leadership team [created] as part of the sabbatical? Or should there be an interim executive director? And most everybody said, “There should be an interim and it should be Chrystal.” That was very powerful to me. It made life easier, because I had half the organization invested in my success.

Sharing Responsibility and Authority

It was intentional on the part of the organization to put me in a leadership role. Of course, they’ve been fighting with me about that ever since, but… but that’s okay. So part of what I had to develop was to articulate where my leadership style was. For me, my leadership style is to always be working myself out of a job. Because in a leadership job where you have the control and you have the power, it means you’ve got to be there all the time.

I don’t want to be there all the time. I want to go home. I want to see my son. I want to hang out with my friends. But, if [a staff person] can’t decide [if he or she] should go to a meeting, then I have to help [them] make that decision, and that’s not helpful to me. And at the end of the day, that’s not helpful to you. 

And so, it’s worked out in a way that’s good. And at the end of the day we now have a team of folks that can make decisions together. Over time we have to understand together what’s important to each constituency and what the long-term is, but I don’t have to make every decision.

Working for the Common Good

It’s also very challenging because I don’t necessarily have the authority. The board has the authority to make big decisions. I’ve got to [work with] a bunch of people to get things to happen that people say they want to happen, but not necessarily want to do anything about. This journey has been interesting for me, but I have to say leadership for me wasn’t necessarily intentional. It was just responding to what I saw as a void within the organization.

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