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160: Leaders with Heart Lead from Behind

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Jane Fischberg, previously the CEO of Rubicon Programs. Jane explains how she learned many important leadership lessons. Each trait in her leadership style echoes the humility that she serves with as a leader. She provides beautiful personal examples of setting up her team for success. Her wisdom is apparent as seen in the advice she offers others on their caring leadership journeys. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Be a servant leader and lead from behind. 
  • Leadership is more important than money. 
  • Leave behind your legacy. 
  • Find a drive to make space for other minds within your organization-avoid formal education limitations on career progression. 
  • Leading is like directing an orchestra—help all the brilliance and talent shine together under your guidance. 
  • Stretch opportunities and development opportunities can be just as desirable as financial opportunities. 
  • It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top—be vulnerable enough to ask for help. 
  • Realize there is brilliance all around you→ break through that isolation if it exists in your organization.

Jane has been with Rubicon Programs since 1997 and served as CEO from 2009 to October of this year, when she transitioned into her new role as Senior Advisor. She is an Experienced social sector leader with deep commitment to social justice and dismantling systems perpetuating poverty.

Jane has led Rubicon through several major changes, including a restructure to sharpen our focus on ending poverty, adopting a theory of change, innovating new service models, and increasing advocacy. Prior to Rubicon, Jane worked in the public and nonprofit sector in San Francisco on initiatives dedicated to equipping people to move out of homelessness and into permanent housing. 

She received her BA from Williams College, her MPA from San Francisco State University, and additional training at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and at Harvard Business School. Business Times named Jane a Woman of Distinction, and the SFSU MPA Department recognized her as a Distinguished Alumnus.

The Big Risk

I’m at a really exciting place as I took the big risk. I was with an organization for a very long time and I felt that it was time for me to move on to my next chapter. It’s pretty rare that people who are CEOs of an organization decide to move on, rather than they’ve decided that they want to stop their working career. I got to the point where I realized that they needed a different leader, and I needed to be serving an allied mission, but in a different kind of organization. I am in the process of identifying that one,

It's important that we be there for our team and, at the same time it's okay to acknowledge that I can't do it all myself. – Jane Fischberg #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leading From Behind

I do consider myself a servant leader. I lead from behind, and it’s very important to me to be looking at sustainability in the organization. A lot of times people think sustainability is about money. But just as much or probably more important than money is leadership. Very important parts of what I’ve done in the last few years were putting other people forward, learning from them and hoping that they are learning something from me. One of my fears or one of the things that gives me the creeps is the idea of sometimes an organizational leader would leave and people will say that things just fell apart when they’ve left. To me, that means that the leader, unfortunately, missed doing a big part of what they’re responsible for doing. Sometimes you have the metaphor of an orchestra. How do you make it possible for all the instruments to shine, to come together, and to make beautiful noise? There are all these different people who have different perspectives and every one of them is true. How do we make them come together as an orchestra?

Create space for others to help you. – Jane Fischberg #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Make oneself vulnerable to ask (your team) to join with you in coming up with the solutions. – Jane Fischberg #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Making Space for Others

I want to leave the world in a much better place than it is right now. All of that is true, and I think a unique role I can play is to step back and make space for people who have incredible strengths and assets. A big part of what drives me is creating space for a new generation of leaders who might otherwise be overlooked, because they either don’t have the right credentials or people think someone needs a particular level of formal education for others to do a job.

For a very long time, we had limited space and resources to develop and provide professional development opportunities for employees. So much of what they wanted even more than pay increase often were professional development opportunities. We got to a point where we realized there’s a gut feeling that you don’t have the space for that. We’ve done the research and a good job of raising resources, but it doesn’t take that much to come up with creative ways for people to experience professional development. We’ve created an infrastructure for employees who we’re doing right in their jobs to have stretch opportunities to shadow other employees who will perhaps be doing the job they would be interested in doing in a few years. That’s a big part of why we have earned a lot of loyalty from our employees. They know that we’re invested in the long term. If they can contribute to the organization and if we can contribute to their professional development, then it’s a great match for the number of years that they’re with us.

Break through that isolation of feeling like you to need to solve it all yourself. – Jane Fischberg #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It's important to realize that there's brilliance all around you. – Jane Fischberg #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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