Board Chair Pat Nathan (left) celebrates the 4th of July with her family

When our CEO/President, Lori O’Keefe first brought forward the idea of a trial sabbatical, I felt a momentary drop in my energy. “Oh no, chairing Triangle Community Foundation is a pretty busy role already, what would it be like with out our Head Fred, or Fredette,” as the case might be?

After silently chiding myself for such an initial reaction I smiled and said, “that sounds like a brilliant idea — tell me more.” I am not sure that was what Lori was expecting, or frankly even wanted to hear, as it was clear that she had some trepidations herself. But the fact that I am writing this account of the experience, after Lori and Jess have already shared their thoughts and perspective, at least lets you know that we all survived this “pilot.” Here are a few key takeaways from a Board Chair’s perspective:

1. Jumping in at first is scary — you need to be a thoughtful cheerleader. Lori, in typical Lori style, had worked with the staff and put together some compelling information on how sabbaticals can improve team efficiency, leadership capacity, refresh the sabbatical candidate and so much more. It was my role to cheer her on!

2. Despite having all the data at hand, Lori had some reservations; it isn’t in her DNA to not be on hand to support the team, the Board, and our community. As board chair, I needed to help her identify any barriers and ensure they were removed so she could really separate during her time away.

3. Murphy doesn’t work at Triangle Community Foundation — nothing blew up, messed up, or went awry. No doubt this was due in large part to the very capable team Lori had in place as she stepped away, but it is also due to the solid systems, processes, and very detailed planning that went into plans we all prepared ahead of time.

4. You lose weight while on sabbatical; no, we didn’t weigh Lori when she returned but we did watch as we saw her staff take on work that Lori had done previously, and seamlessly integrate it into their work processes and product. In short, there were things Lori was doing that the staff became proficient in, making room for new, more strategic work that Lori brought back from her time spent with other foundations. And that’s really exciting!

5. Adversity, managed well, is strong cement. The Foundation experienced a stunning and unexpected loss of former … well you name it… Dr. Phail Wynn, Jr. was a former almost everything to the Foundation. This was the moment where the Board, particularly in Lori’s absence, needed to step in and ensure the staff was supported as they grieved. It was a time where we all realized how much we appreciated one another; how fortunate we were to be working together, and how important it was to lean on one another. We were strong before; this experience elevated our appreciation of and commitment to one another and to our work in the community to new levels.

6. There are happy endings sometimes. While everything was well managed, the team exercised new muscles, found new efficiencies and skills, and got a huge amount of work accomplished very well — we were all delighted to see Lori when she returned. Her time away made all of us even more aware of what a strong and valuable leader she is, what deep experience and knowledge she holds and just how vital she is to our community. It was a great experience for us all, and for the strength of our organization — and we are so glad to have her back.

This post was written for the Foundation by Pat Nathan, Board Chair.