Hello! I’m not Joan Garry. So who the heck am I? And what am I doing here?
Well, please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Glennda Testone, the brand-new CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, which Joan founded in 2017. And when I say “brand new”, I mean I start tomorrow, February 1st!
I have devoted my entire professional career – 24 years and counting – to the nonprofit sector, the last 14 years as the Executive Director of New York City’s LGBT Center. I’ve had other senior leadership roles at GLAAD and The Women’s Media Center. Plus, I’ve been a board leader at CenterLink.
Bottom line, I have been you. I know how hard the work is, how exhilarating it can be, and I know the toll it can take on you personally. Self-care? That seemed like a distant cousin I saw way too infrequently. Been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it.
What should you know about me? Through my work, I have become a deep believer in the power of connection. I’m a fierce social justice champion, an authentic storyteller, and an unwavering ally. I plan to bring all of those traits to my new role.
Wondering about Joan? Not to worry – she’ll definitely be in the virtual house for sure. She is a woman with a mission to strengthen the impact of nonprofits and the sector as a whole. And writing, coaching, and advocating for the sector – well that’s a big job too. So, I’ll be taking the wheel at the Lab and feel quite excited about it!
I feel grateful for the opportunity to teach, guide, coach, and write. I have a lot to share with you that I believe will be helpful. And I am confident I will learn from you too because you all are amazing!
I stepped down from the Center in December and took some time just for me. Look! I’m modeling self-care!! 😀 The time gave me the opportunity to reflect on leadership transitions in general.
We have all seen leaders that seem to stay too long or leave too soon. But how do you truly determine when the time is right to move on?
A NAGGING QUESTION STARTS TO FORM
Let’s say you’ve been leading your organization for a while and have racked up some accomplishments. Things are generally going well and you still enjoy what you do. Maybe you even love it.
Why the heck would you leave?
But in the back of your mind, in the quiet moments, a question begins to form… When is the right time for me to go?
That nagging question definitely hit me, more than once.
The first time was in 2016. It was fall, hope was in the air, and the organization seemed to be in a really good place. I had been at The Center for seven years and we had come out on the other side of some serious challenges.
And maybe soon the cause wasn’t going to need me as much anyway. After all, Hillary Clinton was soon going to be the president of the United States, right?
Then, we all know what happened…
When the results of the 2016 election came in, I knew there was no place I would rather be than on the front lines fighting for all the people who would be under attack. It was time to double down, not move on.
It seemed right for me and the organization so I happily stayed.
THE QUESTION WOULDN’T GO AWAY
The second time was at the end of 2019. The Center was again in a good place. We had just successfully celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall with a virtual monument in partnership with Google – that was a big accomplishment.
On a personal level, I had been at The Center for ten years, and my life had changed since 2016. I had a young child and lived really far from the office. I had a two-hour commute. I wasn’t home nearly as much as I’d like.
I started, once again, to think about leaving.
And then came March 2020. The global pandemic raised questions and challenged assumptions for everyone on our planet.
There was a silver lining for me personally. The pandemic meant we were all working remotely. My commute was put on hold. And honestly, with that kind of challenge, I didn’t feel like it was the right time to leave.
HOW I KNEW THAT IT WAS TIME TO LEAVE MY LEADERSHIP ROLE
In 2023, I was in my fourteenth year as executive director at New York City’s LGBT Center. Why did I decide it was finally the right time to leave?
It was not one reason; it was a number of them. I came to understand that there are two main questions you should ask yourself as a leader from time to time, and a whole list of other questions to consider.
- The personal question: Am I happy and satisfied enough in my life and my job or does something need to change?
- The organizational question: Is my organization ready for an executive leadership change?
On the personal question, I realized I wanted more time for myself, more time to be with my spouse and our sweet, spunky kid.
Plus, the hours of commuting, which were manageable, were not remotely ideal. I was split between two places that I loved, and felt like there was not enough of me to give to home, work, or certainly to myself.
And on the organizational question, I realized that – beyond the reasons I mentioned above – there was another key factor that had kept me at The Center previously.
The organization had been, for all of its existence, led by white, cis folks in the Executive Director chair, on the board, and staff leadership positions. This mattered to me. I wanted the organization to be ready for its first leader of color and/or gender-expansive leader.
But it wasn’t.
The first time I considered leaving, in 2016, we had just started to do this work. By the second time, in 2019, we were more focused on it, bringing in experts and with a leadership team that could honestly accelerate our progress and ensure that racial equity became foundational.
By 2023, the acute crisis of the pandemic was receding and the organization was squarely in the midst of our racial equity transformation. I took a look at the organization again, and though this work would go on forever, we were arguably in a much better place than we had been at every level of the organization.
THE LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITY I COULDN’T REFUSE
So I was feeling it. I wanted to be home a lot more with my family. I didn’t want to commute so much. The organization had come such a long way. It felt like it was time to go.
But it was still really tough to take the plunge.
And then, an opportunity came my way, one that completely lit me up and intrigued me in a way that nothing else had. It was the final piece I needed.
Joan and her business partner Scott Paley asked me to consider being the first Chief Executive Officer of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, and I was thrilled. Leadership is an obsession of mine, something I think about and practice all the time.
I’ve been a reader of Joan’s blog for years and I value her insights AND her practical advice. And so as I join the Lab and add my voice to this blog, you can expect the same from me.
10 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE LEAVING YOUR LEADERSHIP POST
So here are 10 questions you should ask yourself if you are thinking about leaving your leadership post at your nonprofit:
- Does this job allow you to have the life you want to live? Do you have enough time and energy for your highest priority wants/needs?
- Is the organization in a good place? Is it financially stable? Is the leadership pipeline strong?
- Is the board in a good place, with stable leadership and the ability to take on the search for a new leader?
- Have you accomplished those things that you set out to achieve at your organization?
- Do you still have enough appetite to tackle challenges and take advantage of opportunities brought to you through this organization?
- Is there someone that you imagine taking over the organization that you would be excited about?
- Can you afford to leave without another job? If not, what would that other job be and how long might it take to secure it?
- Is there something else that fuels your passion the way this organization or job did and would you have to leave your organization to pursue it?
- Do you see the future of the organization going in a direction that does not best leverage your unique skills and talents?
- Do you want to go? Are the things that used to excite and inspire you not doing that anymore?
These questions are not a quiz with right and wrong answers. And the answer to any one of them does not mean that it’s time to go.
Rather, these questions might help you articulate what is important to you and your organization. And you can then ask yourself if you can achieve these things in your current role at your current organization with some intentional changes.
These questions are meant to make you think, feel, and imagine. Only you will know if the answers put you on the path to transition or to stay.
I suggest that you keep this list of questions front and center on your desktop and review it once a year and take some real time to reflect. If it works better for you, print it out and keep it very handy.
I have no doubt that periodically asking yourself these questions will improve your life in ways big and small. Over the years this contemplation has led me to rediscover my passion for my organization, to make substantive changes to improve my job and my life, and ultimately to make the bittersweet, but correct, choice that it was time for me to go.
Tomorrow I begin the next leg of my professional journey in a new way – supporting, coaching, and advocating for each of you as you journey to change the world.
I can’t wait to begin this journey with you.