Back to School Lessons

by Sherry Heuser

At some point, we have all started a new school year with excitement, anxiety, and wonder. We are excited about the things we know, anxious about the things we don’t know…and wonder about which is which. Will we see old friends and will they still be our friends? Will we find new friends? What will our teacher be like? Is the homework really going to be that hard? In fact, we never really outgrow these questions, we just change the scenery.


As organizational leaders, we develop our networks in the community and work to enhance and expand them deeper and further each year. We talk to our old friends, reminding ourselves how we enjoy the company and rely on each other in challenging times. We seek out new colleagues, building connections and planning new partnerships. Our “friends” may be professional peers, organizational volunteers or donors, or personal acquaintances, but we continually strive to keep the contacts we have and find others we value. Surrounding ourselves and our organization with people who make us feel good about ourselves and who recognize the beneficial work we do is essential to our success.


Although some leaders have been identified for us (board chair, CEO, mayor), the people who will actually lead us by influencing our decisions varies widely. We have all learned something from someone who has supervised us, but also from someone we have supervised—a role-reversal in the traditional sense, but actually a typical occurrence. In fact, many organizational leaders note that the most powerful lessons they have learned have come not from directors or staff, but from the individuals their organization serves. We recognize and admire personal strength and seek to emulate it, but need to remember that it isn’t always found where we first expect it.


We never stop learning. We identify problems and look for solutions. We take information presented to us and figure out how to apply it. Sometimes, these are life lessons that come hard, after a struggle to make sense of it. Other times, we register for continuing education classes, eager to learn a new skill. However we are presented with it, we need to embrace the opportunity to grow and become more knowledgeable, more empowered individuals. This continual evolution makes us stronger, more capable, and more interesting—in short, better. Although the process might be daunting, figuring out what we need to know to solve a challenge is rewarding.

So, even after many years of the cycle of excitement, anxiety, and wonder that come with the start of a new school year, the lessons we learn never get old. Our scope and perspective may have changed, but deep down we still focus on who our friends are, who will teach us, and what we will learn. We know these are the core of our success and happiness, and worth the effort it takes to understand them.

Bottom Line: Heading back to school reminds us that although we may face new situations, what is important never really changes.

Sherry Heuser is president of Capability Company Consulting, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm supporting nonprofit organizations' searches for key hires.

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