United Way of Central Alabama’s (UWCA’s) Young Philanthropists Society (YPS) is a group of young professionals who live and work in Central Alabama and are creating their legacy through United Way with an annual gift of $1,000 of more. This group of go-getters regularly tackles volunteer projects and enjoys lunchtime opportunities to learn about community needs and the work being done by UWCA partner agencies.
One recent event with community leaders was a lunch & learn hosted on UWCA’s campus on November 17th. The topic was “How to Become a CEO” with discussion by a panel of nonprofit leaders facilitated by Drew Langloh, President and CEO of UWCA.
Carlos Aleman, Ph.D., CEO of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Susan Sellers, CEO of United Ability
LaRhonda Magras, Ph.D., CEO of YWCA Central Alabama
Chris Stewart, CEO of The Arc of Central Alabama
The insight and advice to aspiring CEOs in the room flowed freely. Several common threads emerged in the discussion, such as the importance of finding a mentor and not being afraid to make your professional aspirations known.
LaRhonda Magras said, “Look for mentors not just in your field, but also someone completely opposite from you. You want to have someone who can empathetically understand your position and also someone who can kindly challenge the way you think.” She also emphasized the value of LinkedIn as a networking tool, a thought echoed by all panelists.
Chris Stewart offered perspective on how leaders look at potential hires. “In order to be a good leader, you have to know how to follow,” he said. “When you’re looking for someone to promote, you look at how they treat their boss. If they don’t respect those in authority over them, they won’t respect people they are given authority over.”
Drew Langloh pointed out that the duty of a CEO is often to tell a story that, to the outside world, has a million moving parts. The ability to narrow this into a cohesive narrative is essential. Carlos Aleman added that “When you become a CEO of an organization, you will become the face of it, whether you want to or not. You have to know how to talk to different audiences. How you talk to staff versus your board versus your donors will all be different.”
Echoing this sentiment, Susan Sellers emphasized the importance of staying connected internally. “Stay in touch with your staff,” she said. “You often speak on their behalf, and you don’t want to accidentally say something outdated or untrue.”
Another common piece of advice was to “just go for it.” The panel suggested looking for mentors, accepting challenging tasks and letting those in positions of authority know your career aspirations. You also have to be willing to listen. Drew Langloh said, “If you ask, ‘How do I get your job?’ then you have to be open to honest feedback about how to work on your professional development.”
Being a CEO means knowing and encouraging your staff, being passionate about the values of your organization and taking complete responsibility for, and ownership of, all outcomes. Members of this panel packed years of advice and experience into a convenient hour-long session that YPS members could absorb during a lunch break. Don’t miss out! Visit Young Philanthropists Society to learn more about how to join today.