Redefining CEO: Chief Empowerment Officer

When I was hired as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County (BBBS) three years ago, my board chair at the time lovingly described me to the team as an "executioner;" nervous laughter ensued. He then corrected that to executor, and, in the end, what he (hopefully) intended to say was that I implement ideas. I am a change agent, which is why I was hired to lead BBBS.

I immediately stopped using the term "nonprofit," as it isn't a good description of what we do; instead I use social impact organization. We run in a parallel fashion to any highly successful profit-driven business. We just reinvest all of our retained earnings into serving more children each year.

Chief executive officer is another string of words I don't like--as a phrase, it seems redundant. I threw around the title of "Chief Execution Officer," but I didn't think it would win me any new friends. This was my first CEO title, and I was eager to own it in a way that made sense for me.

Finally, after living the day-to-day of my job and really thinking about what leadership means to me, I came up with a title that I genuinely liked: Chief Empowerment Officer.

Putting it simply, my job is to bring brilliant people to our organization and empower them. They are my priority and if I don't get anything done on my personal to-do list because I've spent the afternoon acting as a sounding board for my team, then I've had a successful day. They are the engines that drive us forward, and I only hire the best. They allow me to go out into the world, raise money and connect more children with mentors. They create the stories I tell, people invest in us because we make an impact and they achieve the greatest ROI for our investors as we possibly can.

We have adopted the Team 1 philosophy, introduced to me by Patrick Lencioni in "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." We have a senior team of nine (including me) and we are each other's first priority. Each of those individuals comes before your individual teams, every time. We have fierce conversations, disagree, debate and have each others' backs. We respect one another's talent and intelligence, and don't doubt their intentions. I understand this can be tough or seem counterintuitive--we spend incredible time and energy cultivating and supporting our own teams--but Team 1 is an absolute necessity for the overall organization to truly be high-functioning. Becoming part of our senior team is incredibly difficult, and we have almost zero turnover. Recently, we spent months filling a newly created position on the team focused on leadership development, as we are looking for candidates that are bought-in and will actively participate in our philosophy.

My role is to empower and engage, to continue to stoke the fire that each leader has for working for our organization, and to encourage them to lead and not manage. I do that by setting the vision, driving results, asking questions and thinking outside the box. Our pace is frenetic and our strategy fluid but we have the support of one another. Things aren't always perfect, but that's ok, that happens in every family, as they say, it makes us stronger and ready to tackle the next day.

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