Boys & Girls Club of Elgin about to have their “Lion King moment”

cathy malkani3Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Born, Not Made,” John questions an assumption he made early in his professional career about whether or not leaders are born or made. He also introduces the concept of “servant leadership” and sets it apart from other ideas pertaining to leadership. John frames the central question as: “Can caring, and a willingness and commitment to serve, be learned and/or developed?

This November 2012 post came back to me because I’ve had “leadership on the brain” for the last few weeks.

On Monday, April 15, 2013, the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin will have its “Lion King moment” as it holds its new executive director on high and introduces her to the community. Click here or on the YouTube video below to remember what that moment looks like.  😉


Her name is not Simba. It is Cathy Malkani. I’ve known her for more than a decade. She has been an executive director of a Boys & Girls Club before. She and I worked together at Boys & Girls Clubs of America on a 3-year project in Indiana called the Lilly Endowment Capacity Building Initiative. She was the leader of that project.

Cathy isn’t just a Boys & Girls Club professional. She replicated her leadership and success in other places like a homeless shelter named Hebron House of Hospitality in Waukesha, Wisconsin as their resource development director.

I’ve seen Cathy lead, and I’ve seen it up close and personal. While I think she is a “different kind of leader” — servant leader — the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what I think. The reality is that the Elgin area community gets their opportunity in the next few weeks to make that assessment for themselves. Essentially, the Club (and Cathy) are entering into a critical period of time because:

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

servant leadershipHaving watched the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin’s board search for its new leader, I am struck by how important “process” was in making this decision. After all, if you believe that leaders are born and not made, then it becomes fascinating to watch a volunteer board do the following:

  • identify and recruit an applicant pool,
  • develop interview questions designed to tease out an applicant’s leadership skills, and
  • ultimately decide who they will hoist above their heads and proclaim their leader.

I am also a believer that leadership is situational. So, I found it interesting to watch this non-profit board decide what their agency needs at this point in time and how they matched those needs up with a variety of different well-qualified candidates.

Do you think leaders are born? Or do you think they are made? Have you seen non-profit organizations go through an executive search? Do you have any observations or best practices to share from that experience? Please use the comment box below to share.

ALSO . . . please use the comment box to welcome Cathy and wish her well. Do you have any good advice about what her first 90 days should look like?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Congratulations to Cathy Malkani and welcome home to the Movement!

    I do not believe that leaders are born. I think many people have traits that lend them to leadership roles, but it’s a skill to hone those traits. I remember being told since first grade that I was “a born leader” in school. I wasn’t born. I made lots of mistakes (still do!) and had to fix every single one of my mistakes. I had to critically think through issues that didn’t go well and figure out how to do better the next time. I had to build my group of personal mentors to call upon for advice and counsel when necessary. I had to learn when to remove someone from that personal mentor list as well. Those are all skills that had to be learned.

    I remember tripping in a ditch at camp and telling my camp director “Wow, that’s dangerous they should fix that!” She asked me who “they” was. Let’s just say that it ended with me getting a wheelbarrow and a shovel and filling that rain runoff ditch myself. That was a leadership shaping moment in my life. Not that I always should do things myself, but that there are always problems to be solved and we can’t depend on a figurative “they” to come in and fix our issues.

    About 9 years ago I made a really difficult decision to leave the Girl Scout organization and the camping world. Until that point in time I did feel that I was riding the wave of born leadership. I was the perfect vision of succession planning at my childhood camp. Leaving that safety and security was scary! Also jumping into a new organization that HIGHLY values longevity was interesting. (Everybody at Boys & Girls Clubs introduced themselves the same way. Hi, my name is Bob I’ve been working at my organization for 4 years and I’ve been with the Boys & Girls Club Movement for 8 years).

    My whole leadership model had to change again when I joined the BGC Movement. That was a skill, not a gift that I was handed at birth. LOL Coming to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Milwaukee and returning to the camping world has been another re-defining leadership experience and a great challenge. I am surrounded by great leaders at all levels at camp and within my organization now that challenge me every day.

    I believe the “thing” I was born and raised with was a personality and my leadership style has been a series of choices, a result of paying attention to the needs of my organization and surrounding myself with positive people/ideas while still seeing reality.

    Hope you’re having a great day Erik! Love the Lion King moment analogy, but I also just got back from Disney last week so I’m still singing the songs in my head!

  2. Congratulations Cathy! I knew that photo looked familiar before I even started reading!
    What an exciting time….and with a new baby, i see. adorable.

    I think that both answers are correct. I think some people are just born leaders and I think others can become great leaders with a lot of hard work, respect, perseverance and gratitude.

    I think Cathy’s first 90 days should be that of:
    a. Acting like a sponge and soaking up what staff currently does, while making notes, of course

    b. Meeting with board members individually to gauge their participation and willingness to make necessary adjustments

    c. Being introduced to the organization’s biggest donors – GREAT TIME for stewardship visits and what a better reason to do so.

  3. Thanks for your continued support Sarah! Love your stories about leadership 🙂

    Teri…thanks for the advice…my sponge is dry and ready for full absorption!

    John & EA….thanks for having a spare room for me to crash in when needed until my transition is complete!

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