An Extraordinary CEO With Her Ego In Check

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 (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.  To 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 that’s on-point.  It was my first year as CEO, but I don’t remember if I was still serving pro bono or was permanent.  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 relationship.  So, I’ll make a deal with you.  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.

 

Doug Eadie