News and Commentary Ten Lessons Learned After Ten Years of Leadership

An excerpt from our Special Report of the President.

When I arrived at the Macy Foundation on January 1, 2008 I had had no experience in the foundation world. I spent my first six months visiting foundation presidents (who were uniformly generous with their time) to learn about foundation operations. I also visited with leaders in health professions education and health care to help sharpen my thinking about the priorities for the Foundation. I have continued to learn from conversations with current and prospective grantees, from guidance by my incredibly committed and talented Board and from working with Steve Schoenbaum and Peter Goodwin who blessed me and the Foundation with their more than 35 years of prior foundation experience. This ten years of continuous learning has been part of the pleasure and excitement of this journey for me. Below I have tried to summarize succinctly the ten most important lessons I have learned as a “new” foundation president.

1. Giving grants is not easy. It takes a lot of time and interaction to get grant-making right. I have learned a lot from those more experienced in the art and science of it than I was. The iterative process of agreeing that a grant is potentially worthy of board presentation and then getting it ready usually takes at 9-12 months, and sometimes longer. But that sets the stage for continued interaction once the grant is given. Once we support someone as a Principal Investigator or as a Macy Faculty Scholar we are committed to help them succeed.

2. There are good ideas and innovations in a lot of places. The best way to find them is to visit institutions and participate in meetings nationally. I always ask to talk to the leaders of the institution and to the principals in any given activity. During institutional visits I also ask to talk with learners and with leaders in more than one health profession. I also have had an open door to visitors at the Foundation. All of these visits and conversations are part of my learning.

3. It is important to stay focused. There are a lot of good ideas and good potential projects, but we have to stay consistent with our priorities to have a coherent body of work. Our impact does not come from a single grant or meeting, but from the cumulative effect of all of our activities. These need to relate to one another and build on each other. Our body of work in Interprofessional Education and its impact is one example of the benefit of focus.

4. The most important reward of this work is helping careers thrive and seeing others put changes in place. I believe foundations should see themselves as career developers. Our Macy Faculty Scholars, grantees and conferees are our greatest resources through whom we effect change now and into the future. They essentially are the Macy Foundation. I think my greatest legacy as a foundation President will be the careers that we helped to develop.

5. To be effective, our influence must go far beyond the amount of money we have to distribute. The bully pulpit is equally, or more, important. I take advantage of every opportunity to influence the ideas, programs and priorities of other organizations and to inform others about our priorities and philosophy. I do this through speaking, writing and participating in conferences and symposia. Our greatest leverage comes from having others embrace our ideas.

6. My time is my most valuable asset I have to manage. How to use my time for greatest impact and how to also allow time for my own continued learning and sharpening of judgment are things I think about constantly.

7. We need all the partners we can get to do our work. Whenever possible we should partner with other foundations, professional organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies. Though this is not always easy, it is worth working at. We also should promote partnerships and collaborations among academic institutions, professional organizations and foundations. Foundations can be and should be matchmakers. I am particularly proud of our leadership in the partnership of foundations and government that led to the creation of the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education.

8. Having a great Board is essential to our success both for the quality of advice I get and for our external credibility. Choosing and recruiting candidates for the board, getting to know the board members individually, keeping the board informed and making use of their expertise are among the most important jobs of the President. I have spent more time on this than I had expected, and it has been very rewarding and fulfilling.

9. Having a well-functioning staff who understand and embrace our mission and who have clear roles and responsibilities in achieving that mission is critical. They are our face to the world, and they must be nurtured and appreciated. Building a team takes time and attention.

10. Finally, foundations have a privileged position in society, and we must always think about how we are using this privilege for the public good. We must be catalysts to activate projects and people that will benefit the public. We also must do everything we can to see that the work and people we support will subsequently be supported by their institutions or other organizations. Catalyzing change is not enough, it must be sustained if it is to confer societal benefit. It is hard to ensure sustainability, but I have come to believe it is one of the most important responsibilities we have as leaders of foundations.

This has been a glorious 10+ years for me. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity that the Macy Foundation Board gave me. And also I am grateful for all the help I have had from the Board, my staff, our grantees, scholars, and conferees in this journey. It has been a privilege to be part of this Macy family. Because of all the wonderful people I had the privilege of working with, I am confident that this important work for the benefit of society will go forward, in perpetuity.

Read the full report: Special Report of the President

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