President’s Message: Passing the Baton

Randi Gottlieb
Randi Gottlieb
President, LA-CAMFT

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Passing the Baton

It is with great pleasure that I announce on June 11th at our Chapter’s Summer Leadership Retreat, that President Elect Shelley Pearce will take the helm as President of LA-CAMFT and I will move into the position of Past President. Since this will be my last President’s Message, I’ve been pondering what it is that is most important for me to say at this precise moment in time as I pass the baton. I gave thought to doing an inventory of the goals set and met since Jonathan Flier passed the baton to me 2-½ years ago, but decided to provide that information in a different forum. I rather keep this message more personal and focus on the process and timing of the leadership transition itself.

So first, let me express what a pleasure and an honor it has been to be your president. I risked being myself with you — bringing in poetry, ritual, somatic centering, and challenging the chapter to broaden the lens of our clinical work to include a greater community and world context. I strived to write heartfelt and relevant monthly messages to connect with you across the impersonal internet distance, and to set a tone for our Networking Events that encouraged us to be mindful of the sacred space of our experience together in the here and now. I realize how “70s” these words sound, but as I said, I’ve risked being myself with you and this is who I am.

Now then, let’s shift the focus to the process and timing of the change that is before us. It is time for me to move into the wings, and for Shelley to take center stage; time for the chapter to benefit from the vision of someone with fresh eyes, gazing out from a different vantage point, someone who brings new energy, unique talent, and a different set of skills.

I came into the position with tremendous excitement about what I believed I could contribute from my past experience in executive leadership in other arenas, and prepared to devote a significant amount of time to the effort. At the same time, I knew it was imperative to the health of the chapter not to stay in the position for too long. Jonathan Flier had been president for six years while he rebuilt the chapter into a vital community. My goal was to pass the baton after two years, and to set in motion a new policy and practice of succession-planning for chapter presidents: a one year term within a three-year commitment that begins with one year as President Elect, then one as President, followed by one as Past President. Reflecting on my contributions to the chapter, I think this single practice shift may be the most important. Here’s why.

The longer the term of office, the greater the tendency to identify the role of the president with the person sitting in the chair. The more people identify the role with the person, the less likely they are to see themselves doing the job. The result: a classic Catch 22. The current president can’t leave because no one is willing to step up. No one is willing to step up because they can’t see themselves being the person in the chair.

Without minimizing the importance of having competent and reliable persons as chapter president, I believe it is critical to demystify the notion that only a few can do it. The way to ensure chapter sustainability is to develop a healthy leadership team culture, and build a solid infrastructure of supports, policies, as well as practices to keep the boat afloat regardless of who is at the helm. And a policy that is critical is a time-limited term of office for the role of president along with a protocol for reliable succession!

Another reason to have limited terms of office for the president is that a continuous flow of people in our highest leadership role enriches the chapter by increasing the variety and diversity of ideas that guide the formation of the chapter’s vision, direction, culture, and programs. The chapter needs continuity to be sure, but we must guard against the kind of continuity that fosters myopic uniformity of identity and programming.

Transitioning from a 6-year term to an ideal protocol of a 1-year term (within the context of a three-year commitment as described above) is a massive change to set in motion. As I stated above, I set a goal of limiting my term of office to two years, but missed the mark by 6 months because our succession policy was a theoretic ideal, not yet grounded in practice. Despite great effort, I was unable to recruit someone to become President Elect for the entire first year and a half of my projected 2-year term. And then, out of the blue, appeared Shelley Pearce!

On January 1, 2016, Shelley attended her first Networking Event to see if LA-CAMFT might be a community she would be interested in joining. Lucky for us, she had a positive first impression, continued coming to the Networking Events each month, and enrolled in the Leadership Development Workshop Series we offered to LA-CAMFT members. When Shelley attended the Summer Leadership Retreat in June, she had begun to see herself stepping into chapter leadership at some point a couple of years down the road. By the time she left the retreat, she had decided to join the board immediately.

I appointed her to fill a vacant position as Director at Large in September, and several months later she was elected to be President Elect. Although Shelley’s journey from first-time attendance at a Networking Event to LA-CAMFT President is unusual because it happened within a mere 18 months, it is nevertheless worth noting what factors were at play that allowed (contributed) to her making this commitment. Part of the answer is that Shelley already had decades of executive leadership experience prior to becoming a therapist and could see herself stepping into a high-level chapter board position; i.e. she recognized that she had the requisite leadership skills we needed at this moment in the chapter’s development. The second part of the answer is that Shelley spent the time she needed to get to know me and the rest of the leadership team, to recognize what a uniquely wonderful and cohesive team we have developed, and to trust the support she would receive from all of us were she to become president. Third, she understood that her commitment would be limited to a year-and-a-half term ending December 31, 2018. And last, but not least, she understood how being President of LA-CAMFT is an extraordinary opportunity that would bestow great benefit to herself as well.

So, let me ask, who else among you truly understands this last point about dynamic synergy; how being in service to the chapter is simultaneously an incredible opportunity of tremendous personal and professional gain? I am not asking a theoretical question. Within the next few months, we need to identify the person who will step into the role of President Elect, thus ensuring that person is ready to have the baton passed January 1, 2019. Might you be that person? I invite anyone who is inclined to explore that possibility — whether you have executive leadership experience or not — to call or email me right away.

Understandably, President Elect may be too big a step for you to take . . . and that’s okay too. What matters is that enough of you decide to get your feet wet. If there is to be a successful flow of leadership succession at the top, there must be a substantive pool of people downstream who are winding their way from smaller to greater levels of commitment and responsibility. I am passionately inviting you to challenge yourself, to move from thought to action, to make a commitment to jump into the water at whatever depth you can, and to become part of the team that supports the chapter that in turn supports you!