Virginia Jacko, President & CEO of the Miami Lighthouse
for the Blind, is a truly outstanding nonprofit chief executive. She’s also blind, by the way. On her watch, the Lighthouse has dramatically
expanded its revenues while launching a number of innovative new programs. I originally got to know Virginia well when I
served as her governance consultant at the Lighthouse, helping her to transform
an already good Board of Directors into a higher-impact governing body. A couple of years later, we wrote a book
together telling her inspiring and amazing true story – largely in her own
words: The Blind Visionary (www.theblindvisionary.com). This brief excerpt from The Blind Visionary
illustrates one of the traits that has helped to make Virginia an extraordinary
nonprofit CEO: Keeping her ego in
check. And after you’ve read this short
piece, you might want to listen to Virginia talk about leading change at the
Lighthouse in this recent podcast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VdiFyEzOnY&feature=player_embedded.
A skill that’s made a real
difference to me over the years is not to be ruled by my ego, especially not to
personalize things or hold grudges.
me, it’s the future that matters, not the past, and you can’t afford the
negative emotion of nursing grievances or, worse, looking for revenge.
Over and over again taking this positive
approach has paid off.
You reminded our
readers of the department store dining room incident, and earlier in this book
I’ve talked about other times I could’ve gotten huffy, like dealing with
security people going through airport check-points.
Keeping my ego in its place has paid off on
many other occasions, and it’s probably helped me age a little slower.
Let me tell you another story
It was my first year as
CEO, but I don’t remember if I was still serving pro bono or was
One of our volunteers said to
a Board member, talking about my appointment, “Can you believe the inmates are
now running the asylum?” referring to me as an inmate.
I didn’t hear this directly, but another
Board member I trust repeated it to me, and a blind Board member who heard it
was outraged and asked other Board members, “Can you believe what so-and-so
said about Virginia?”
At the time, I
just chuckled to myself, it didn’t seem worth getting angry about.
Well, this particular volunteer who’d made
the comment came to the Lighthouse to see me one day and said, “Virginia, I’m
so upset with you that you can’t take a joke.
This whole thing is being stirred up with the Board.”
I responded, “I’m really sorry.
What you said was pretty inappropriate, but
I’m not the one who’s been talking about this with Board members.
However, it’s not going to do you or me any
good if we hang on this, if we don’t work together and try to have a collegial
So, I’ll make a deal with
I’ll forget what you said, and then
you forget what some of my Board members said about you.”
It seemed to me that the meeting
went well; I wasn’t sure, but I thought I’d turned him around, which felt good
and worth the effort. I didn’t really
share that with anyone because, you know, you say negative stuff and it becomes
like a snowball. So I just forgot about
it, and I’m really able to forget about stuff where some other people might
dwell on it and think about it. By the way,
the ending was happy. I was so honored
when the fellow who’d made the bad joke called me a couple of years later and
said, “Virginia, I want to nominate you for an award.” Then I knew it’d ended the way I wanted. You know what? It wouldn’t have done any good for me to have
gotten huffy and taken him on with, “How dare you say something bad about
me!” Instead I kind of laughed it off,
and we made the deal to forget the whole thing and move ahead. As I say, it’s an approach that’s worked well
for me over the years.