EP 45: How Big Changes Happen in Small Moments with Simeon Banister

April 4, 2024

Show Notes

If you were asked to pick a few words that describe ideal qualities in a leader, what would they be?

Maybe you’d choose words like, “focused, passionate, and confident”. All of these are excellent qualities in a leader. 

Would words like “adaptable” and “learning” also make it on your list?

In an era where change is the only constant, the essence of leadership is evolving. This episode presents a compelling conversation with Simeon Banister, the visionary President and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, who shares key moments of realization in his own journey toward redefining leadership.

Stepping into his role amidst a world clamoring for authenticity and inclusivity, Simeon shares the challenges and opportunities encountered in his inaugural year as CEO. He takes time to explore the nuanced, seemingly small moments of vulnerability and authenticity that have paved the way for transformation and defined his leadership journey. 

From leading through vulnerability to prioritizing psychological safety in the workplace, Simeon’s experiences shed light on the essential qualities of today’s successful leaders. His approach underscores the importance of building relationships and how small moments of genuine engagement and strategic reflection have become the bedrock for significant organizational and community impact.

Concluding with practical steps for cultivating a culture of listening, reflection, and strategic focus, the episode is a must-listen for leaders and change-makers looking to inspire and drive meaningful progress within their organizations and communities.

Tune in to gain a deeper understanding of how intentional leadership practices can create a fertile ground for small moments that lead to big changes, positioning organizations to lead effectively in the next normal.

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Tucker: Welcome to THRIVERS, Impact Driven Leadership for the Next Normal. I am your host, Tucker Wanamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. and if you’re listening to this, you are probably someone who doesn’t just wanna do nice things in the world, but you actually want to create positive change in people’s lives and not burn out while doing it. Well, Well, how do you do that? Well, that’s our mission.

It’s really to redefine what normal is for workplace leadership to be about cocreating impact from the inside out. We believe and know that burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we wanna connect you with impact driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s landscape. I’m joined as usual by my co host, Sarah Fanslow, our chief of impact. Sarah, it is so nice to be here with you today.

Sarah: It’s good to be here.

Tucker: I’m appreciating your new microphone by the way. Thanks for I know you’re upgrading your system.

Sarah: Fancy.

Tucker: Well, and today we have a guest that I have been looking forward to having on this podcast. He is an individual that we have been working with for quite some time. But let me just go ahead and introduce him real quick. He is the President and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation. His name is Simeon Bannister.

And, Simeon, before I invite you to share a little bit about yourself and and the Community Foundation, one thing I just want to appreciate who you are as a leader. And I know we’ve had some coaching times before and we’ve done a lot of work together as organizations. And the way that you so thoughtfully lean into vulnerability as yourself and the way that you are sharing where you’re learning and share where you’ve made mistakes, just the way that you have leaned in so you just go for it. You’ve leaned into that space. I never feel like there’s any kind of protection of oneself.

You just start leaning into this learning and vulnerability. And it has just been really inspiring for me to watch as somebody who has stepped into this role a little over a year ago. And so Simeon Bannister, Simeon, it’s great to have you on this podcast and be interviewing you today.

Simeon Bannister: Well, I am so grateful to be here, and, I think that description is an apt one. We can’t learn if we don’t lean in. And, I wanna thank you guys for really working with us to kind of cultivate that kind of environment, and to build the kind of trust, because that’s certainly a prerequisite for that kind of vulnerability. And, it’s making a big difference, and I’m glad to be here to talk to you guys about it.

Tucker: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Simeon, you know, I think our sort of organizing question for this podcast today is is really speaking to community foundation CEOs. And there are a lot of community foundations that are out there in the country. And, you know, it’s interesting as we’ve as we’ve been shifting our work at THRIVE IMPACT where it’s not just about nonprofits and foundations, it’s about being impact driven leaders. And that’s one thing that I’ve appreciated again about you is is that you’re looking at the work and saying, no, we actually need we really need to create positive change and know that we’re creating positive change, not just in our community but also within ourselves.

And so I’m using this distinction of how do impact driven community foundation CEOs, which is of course a juxtaposition, too. There are probably some Community Foundation CEOs who are frankly not impact driven. They maybe not want to measure their impact and they’re a little bit more about potentially egos or just staying comfortable, maybe just to keep it a little bit nicer, but really focusing in on this impact driven nature of leadership right now. How do impact driven community foundation CEOs make steps to build learning organizations and to lead in this next normal? That’s really our organizing question for this particular interview today because you’ve been going through a lot and you’ve stepped into this role of a relatively well run organization and we’re noticing that there is some shifts that the world was forcing upon us, including COVID and beyond, that you were noticing that, wow, there’s we need to make some shifts in our organization.

So I wanted to unpack that question a little bit, particularly starting with your 1st year as a CEO because you’ve been CEO since October of 2020 2. Is that correct,

Simeon Bannister: I believe? That’s right. That’s right. Yep.

Tucker: And I kind of want to unpack just a little bit what you came into it with. What were some of your hopes, what were some of your sorrows as you went through this 1st year of being a CEO? And then what made you feel like, wow, we do need to make some shifts, in our organization?

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. Yeah. So to me, the point of departure for philanthropy is is really in the word. It’s the love of humanity. And fundamentally, to lead with love, to be driven to make life better for folks that are in the community that I grew up was really the kind of north star for so much of our work.

And I have to take it aside and point out that I use the reference to the north star very intentionally. This is the city of Frederick Douglass, the North Star paper. And so there’s a huge legacy, frankly, that we have in this community to, to live up to. And so in that regard you know coming into the community foundation, I’ve been here for a while. I kind of started as a program officer working on what we described as our equity portfolio.

Rochester Area Community Foundation is pretty cool because even before I got here we were explicitly naming equity as a key, foci for our work and that was not common. So these days it’s more common to hear folks describe equity, and to focus on, you know, kind of some of the historic challenges that communities have faced and how we need to redress those challenges. But that wasn’t common back in 2010 when, RACF said that that’s really where we wanted to focus, our energy. And I have to give a a big nod of the, tip of the cap to my predecessor, for having the courage to step out, and to and to take it off. And, the world’s a really dynamic place.

Yeah. Things are changing constantly. And as I came into the community foundation movement and specifically our community foundation, I realized that, I brought a different set of experiences to the foundation. If I can tell you just a little bit about about myself I’m born and raised here in Rochester and Rochester, like many cities has its own kind of cultural mores and kind of ingrained behaviors and patterns. And a lot of times, in a lot of cities those tend to be geographically focused so right like certain neighborhoods get down with other neighborhoods or and so here in Rochester, it’s kinda east side, west side.

It’s kind of like a big Yeah.

Tucker: Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: Part of what it means to be. And if you’re from Rochester, you know what that means. If you’re east side or particularly from, the part of Rochester that, is the, is the African American community. You kinda know what it means to be from the east side or to be from the west side. So I had this really unique experience because I grew up, living on the east side.

That’s where I made my head at night. But Rochester, my dad and my family really lived on the west side. My dad was kind of a west side guy. And so I ended up with this kind of interstitial experience kind of crossing back and forth and in between east side and west side. Rochester is also a city that deals with, very thick segregation from an economic perspective, and that also, by the way, of course, registers in terms of race.

So, you know, folks that are doing well generally in the suburbs, folks that are not doing well generally in the city. Again, in this experience that I had growing up, we could traverse these boundaries. Right? That’s in the city, sometimes in the burbs. My dad was a manager for Xerox.

My mom was an educator. And what that all left for me was this ability to cross some of the boundaries that were typically, things that kept us separated and apart in Rochester. And so coming to the foundation, that was my experience that I brought to this building was kind of a deeper understanding, I think, of what was happening, on the ground, being from Rochester, but an ability to articulate some of those challenges in places where that was not usual, and uncommon to hear, that voice. And, and that’s really been, a robustness. So that was a lot of my aspirations was to do that work more effectively.

We thought about the kind of, the nature of the foundation, an endowment focused organization. Okay. A big old endowment, what are you gonna do with it? Right? We decided that we wanted to use it because there were some obligations that we had, and some of those obligations include being the community’s translator.

Tucker: Well and as you as you really became, you know, the the president and CEO, I’m curious. What were what were your original hopes? And then Yeah. As you went through your 1st year, what were some of your I mean, maybe sorrows is strong, but I’m curious, you know, what were the the hopes that you originally stepped into it with and then some of the sorrows or maybe even the shifts that you made, as you’re like, oh, oh, this is what we’re I’m dealing with. Oh, this is me being a president and CEO.

Both the individual, you know, hopes and sorrows and and also maybe the organizational ones.

Simeon Bannister: Alright. So, you know, I have been here at the foundation for, like 5 years before becoming CEO. So, you know, one of the things I’m sure this is true for a lot of folks stepping into new roles, you kind of figure like, man I got a head start because I already know everybody. Right? And they already know me.

And so, which was great. I mean, so I could kinda hit the ground running and came in with a lot of big aspirations. Again, a really, idiosyncratic view of how we could leverage that endowment to start to create even more impact in the community, how we could use this position as a trusted voice in the community to, you know, bring more people together, how we could start to build our infrastructure internally, particularly around data and analysis, so that we could deliver more value to our community, and have more perspective. So I expected, man, like let’s go. And I’m the kind of guy that kind of likes to move quickly.

You know, I just be here to kind of get this up and running as you guys know. Yeah. And, and to get this thing, cracking. And so I had, you know, kind of bit my mind, you know, alright. Here’s what we’re doing at a month.

Here’s what we’re doing at 3 months. Here’s what we’re doing at 6 months. Here’s what we’re doing doing at a year. And we were just gonna flow and flow and flow and go and go. And, of course reality puts a check on that.

And so I recall one of the first meetings I had as a CEO, we had done some things because we were coming out of the pandemic we hadn’t been together in space in a while. And so we did some activities, it was actually a lot of fun. And folks were were, you know, really excited and there was a lot of exuberance. And so I was like, all right, we’re all exuberant together. Let’s get cracking, you know?

And folks said, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, buddy. You know, we’re excited, but we still need to pace ourselves. And so I’ll tell you the story where that happened. We had just launched Microsoft 365 here and teams and all these different tools and you know I’m a a widget kinda guy, so I was super excited about, like, how this is gonna improve our communications and, you know Yeah. And so I went to a meeting, that we were having a staff meeting to tell everybody about 365 and how we were gonna use it.

And the first, response was, why I like email? So why do I have to switch? And I was like, well, but you don’t actually have to, you know, you you have to do something, different. It’s like it’s a complimentary tool. And they were like, yeah.

But I’m not buying that. I just like what I what I’m doing is working. You know? That’s what Yeah. No.

But it’s but it’s better. It’ll make us more efficient, and it’ll be it’ll do all the bells and whistles. And, and, you know, I under, kind of, sometimes the inclination in a moment like that is is to just try let me just throw my shoulder into it harder. You know? Let me just try to push it even back.

And if I can just get people to see it, then we’ll be in good shape. And that was not what needed to happen there. At the same time as I was going through that experience, I had started talking with you guys, with, with you, Tucker and Sarah, and was learning about, some of that pacing and particularly this idea of what it comported was to create a sense of belonging and psychological safety. And what I realized is that even with these technology tools, right, my even all that enthusiasm and excitement, we had skipped over perhaps some of those steps from creating psychological safety that it was like, look. I got something that works, and I’m holding on to that.

My email situation, I got it structured the way that I like it. Mhmm. And that’s all good. And I like it, and it does what I want it to do, and it works. And I was saying, well, does it work?

How do we know it works? Do we wanna test that? Do we wanna probe that? And that was introducing for folks a sense of the unknown. And what I think we’ve started to learn here was that we do have to do that.

That’s important. We’ve gotta explore the unknown. We’ve gotta embrace curiosity. But as a prerequisite to that, we’ve really gotta think through how we set the culture so that the room is there for trial and error. And and I’ve learned a lot from you guys about that.

Sarah: Well, I’m I’m curious, Simeon, on that piece. You know, you have a relatively large number of staff, I think close to 40. Is that right? Something like that?

Simeon Bannister: A little over now. Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah: Over 40 now. So I’m curious about, you know, what are some ways that you have, built that psychological safety? And then to put that question back on you, how do you know you built it? Right? Like, what are the ways that you’re measuring that within your own organization?

I’m curious.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. Well, sir, I’m so glad that you asked that question, particularly around this idea of measurement, because it is so critical and so important. And it’s another space for innovation and Yeah. Another space for curiosity, because, there’s some elements that are very easy to kinda put your finger on, and, know, we’ve tried to do some survey work and and that kind of thing, which has been really helpful. But some of it, I wouldn’t describe it necessarily as just kind of like visceral or gut instinct, but some of it is being observant and substance in your own head, kind of quantifying the experiences that you’re having with folks as you’re watching them start to come out of, you know, some of the, kind of psychological crevices that we don’t build for ourselves to try to hide out when we feel like change is afoot. And and so, just in terms of some of the the tactical things that, frankly, we learned from you guys that really helped us to to make some progress. Number 1 was embracing the spirit of appreciative inquiry. You know, here, we asked a lot of times questions that we would ask would kind of, have a little bit of, extra meaning to them.

Say it that way. Hopefully, diplomatically. And, and and frankly, there was at times a little bit of that kind of gotcha sensitivity, you know. And, and that’s really challenging, for to encourage folks to, you know, try new things that they feel like, well, if I make a mistake, someone’s standing there to get me. You know?

Tucker: Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. And, and frankly, in some cases, that wasn’t really a malicious part of the culture, interestingly. It wasn’t like, you know, we were just sitting here sharpening knives ready to take everybody down.

Sarah: Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: But it would it had become part of this, perception of the need for perfection. Right? Yes. That as a organization like ours, we gotta be perfect. We’ve gotta, you know, cross every t.

We’ve gotta dot every I because that’s what the donors expect from us.

Tucker: Right.

Simeon Bannister: They expect perfection. But funny enough, in a lot of ways, we hadn’t really tested whether that was even the expectation. Right? Like, we presumed that it was the expectation that if we did anything wrong, everyone would take their money out and run away from the foundation. When in fact, I think what we’ve come to learn over this year is is that people actually really appreciate when we try new things.

They appreciate our innovation. Mhmm. They appreciate, when they’re coming to our events and they feel more authentic. Yes. And not perfect, but real.

You know?

Sarah: Yes.

Simeon Bannister: And, and so if I would say anything, to folks that are that are listening as as CEOs, you know, we sometimes dance on this nice edge, trying to make sure that, you know, everything is, you know, together, and that’s what we even try to articulate to our boards. You know? It’s kind of like that meme, where the fire is going in this the little dog, and he’s like, there’s nothing to see here. It’s all good. It’s all good.

It’s like not actually. I can’t even use some water. You know? Yeah. And even when it’s not necessarily a fire, you know, there’s still room to say, like, we’re learning and we’re growing together.

Mhmm. And that’s been really critical for our team. I’ll tell you one of the just quick story, that was really helpful. Yeah. I’m the kinda guy when I was when I was a kid.

I had a job and, one of my first jobs. And I remember saying to my mom, that I didn’t like the job. I said, ma, you know, this job, you know, it’s not it’s not it’s not fun, and I don’t really like it. My mom said to me, as, you know, a mother would do, you know, trying to equip her child to go out into this world of work, she said, Simeon, jobs aren’t about liking. Jobs are about working, and work works.

Yep. And so that was really the work works, you know? So that defined my career for, you know, the the first, you you know, good chunk of it was just running through walls, working. You know? Yep.

Doesn’t matter how it feels. Doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. You just gotta get the job done. And, a couple years back, I realized that that wasn’t, it was good advice actually for a young person starting out and, you know, that kind of thing. But, maybe that advice was missing in the dimension of the humanity that we need to be able to bring, to our work.

And, and so, you know, one of the things that we’ve really tried to embrace, is, is is more of that humanity. So I said to our team, I said, you know, guys, you know, set a staff meeting. I said, I want everybody to, you know, be clear. We gotta take vacation. You know, take your time to recharge, and that’s important.

So I said that. And then a couple of meetings later, I noticed that people weren’t really, you know, doing that. And so I said to everybody again, you know, we gotta do our work and, you know, and and I kinda casually mentioned. I wasn’t really making a point with this, but I mentioned that I was gonna be going on vacation, you know, the next week to go and and do my thing or whatever. And a bunch of people came up to me after the meeting, and they were like, listen.

When you were saying go on vacation, that didn’t really mean that much. And when we saw you do it yourself Oh. That that was really what we needed in our culture. We needed you to model that, to show your own willingness to take a break, and to catch yourself. And that’s really become definitional for a lot of my leadership It’s trying to be, as honest and authentic as possible, so that people feel that they can do the same, and in so doing, unlock the whole range of possibilities for us.

Sarah: Yeah. You can’t just say you’re gonna do it differently. You have to do it differently and let people walk. Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: That’s the same. Right? That’s exactly right. Otherwise, they don’t believe you. You know?

It’s like because we live in a culture where, you know, there is so much, you know, deviation between what people say and what they do. You know? And so as they say, you know, the old efforts and actions speak louder than words.

Sarah: That’s right.

Tucker: Yep. Well, in in this making of this shift that you’ve been going through and that your organization’s going through, I wanna speak a little bit into that experience that we all had where we brought the whole organization together. It was the first time, I think it was ever, that the whole board and the whole staff was all in one big room together, in however long, you know, the Community Foundation has been around for many, many years, many decades. And and to your point of not wanting it more, perfect, people want it more real. Tell me about what that experience was like because that takes courage.

I mean, that takes Yeah. That takes some which courage means that there’s vulnerability. It’s like we’ve never done this before. What if what are they gonna think about it? And, you know, one of the things that your your whole, especially your main leadership team, brought forward were, some reflections on the previous year of 2023 and around sorrows, shifts, and celebrations.

Simeon Bannister: Mhmm. There

Tucker: were things that they were sorrow that had sorrows and disappointments around just in and of themselves. Right? The shifts that they made around where they realized they’d learned something, and because of that learning, they made a shift accordingly, and then things that they did wanna celebrate. But I remember the, you know, the feeling of some of that and, I mean, it was it was close. You know?

I was like, it’s like everybody’s nervous system was a little bit a little bit going in overdrive. You know? And so I just wanna I wanna hear your your side of that story of, like, what did you notice? Like, how you needed to lean into this more real approach? How did you do that and ultimately help the staff to get to that place to where they shared some of these with the whole board, which was unheard of before.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. So this organization is now 52 years old. And in some sense I saw a, a little, quote the other day that said that old is the new, new. And so we were you know when we were really really small, I imagine that there were times when, you know, we’ve got 2 people that were working at the foundation, and we were just getting started. Everybody was in the same room together because they had to be because there was nobody no place else to to to go.

But, but certainly as we’ve grown and we’re a foundation that grew really fast, and, and so what what’s interesting is that you have some vestiges from, the the cultures that evolved that were not, necessarily attended to, that we needed to really kind of focus on, and that’s some of the culture questions. Also, just thinking through continuity was a big question for us. So, you know, it’s really easy for organizations. You got your mission and your vision. You’ve got, you know, your strategic plan or whatever, you know, tool you use, which are usually in my experience more like goal setting than it is true strategy.

And then you’ve got you know your budget and you’ve got some form of perhaps a work plan. And then of course the dreaded performance evaluation. Right? And, it’s organizations for many of us. Those things operate almost autonomously from one another Mhmm.

That you can’t really see the line from the mission and the vision all the way through particularly to the performance evaluation question. And maybe performance evaluation might not even be the right language that we want to use for that moment. And so, you know, for us, as an organization, what we realized was that there was an opportunity for us to kind of jump in here to get everybody together back in the same room, just like perhaps even way back in the old days here, but now with a lot more people in the room and a lot more perspective. And and it did take an act of courage, because what we were asking folks to do was to come into the room and, hey, be vulnerable. Right?

Don’t come into the room so that we can, you know, genuflect and, you know, describe how everything is going well. But to come into the room and to do some true strategic thinking, which is identifying where there were challenges, where there were barriers, what was going great, what things we needed to learn from, and where we could grow. And, that’s not an exercise that, that we typically do. And I wanna be clear that, man, we had a great time doing it, but it was not perfect either. Right?

There were, areas for confusion. There were, opportunities for feedback. One of the things that I think was really, really critical for our experience was the tools that you guys were helping us to use like the easy retro board. You know I thought it was really a critical element. Hopefully listeners are are familiar with these kinds of tools but it was a way for people in the room who are not kind of verbal processors I’m a verbal processor, you know, I’m in the room and someone asks me a question I’m ready to go, you know.

But other folks tend to be more pensive or, may not feel as comfortable expressing themselves verbally, even if they’ve already had some of the the thinking. And so these tools were great because they gave non verbal processors a chance to engage and participate and ask questions in a lower stakes kind of way, which is really critical to get that feedback. And so that experience for us gave us a chance to advance some new ideas, to start down this road of innovation, to get really good feedback, and most importantly, to have a co creative experience. And that was really, I think for us, just such a beautiful moment. And I will tell you like when I say beautiful, I don’t mean that just to be kind of like, you know, cheesy here.

I was at a meeting, man, and we were talking about this and and kind of after that that that, that huge opportunity for us to bring everybody together in the subsequent meeting. And and all of a sudden, you started to hear these seeds that were dropped at the at the big meeting, start to start to begin to poke up just like when you’ve got new plants that you’ve planted and those seeds are starting to poke through the dirt. And I could hear new, formulations, different departments talking with each other in ways that they hadn’t before, different colleagues engaging in ways. And I will tell you I’ve been going through some some some challenging stuff. I, unfortunately, I just lost my mom, recently.

And, and I was in this meeting and I was telling everybody about, you know, how excited I was to see this new innovation, these new opportunities. And at the same time, earlier that week, my mom and I had spent the night in the emergency room Mhmm. Which had been a really harrowing experience of seeing human suffering in a way that, you know, you just don’t see every day. And I was saying to our team why all this innovation was important, that it wasn’t just like, you know, it’s intrinsic value of innovation and feeling good, but that it was really about how we get the best of ourselves to address, in this case, the human suffering. And I will tell you, like, tears, you know, were were were welling up in my eyes, and it was like, you know, you guys gotta you guys know me in this way.

Maybe listeners don’t. I don’t tend to be a particularly, like, outwardly emotional, you know, kinda guy, but man, that day, I mean, it was like raw, you know. Wow. These moments are so critical, though, for us. Because a lot of times we think of, our organizational progress only in terms of the kind of, like, structured changes that we’re making and the, you know, kind of, you know, only the, quantifiable data.

I wanna clear that data is critical. Really, really important, but guess what? Culture is to it. In fact, in many ways, culture is what enables that data to be useful for us. Yes.

And, and so we’re just super excited about the work that we’ve been able to do with with THRIVE, to start to unlock our culture, and the way that that’s registering for us. Plus, you know, again, you know, I remember the first time that, Tucker, you familiarized me with this idea of this kind of complex changing world around us

Tucker: Mhmm.

Simeon Bannister: And how that complexity would and, and the limitations on human adaptability would require us to do things differently. And, man, that has made a huge difference for the way that I’m thinking of our work.

Sarah: Well and I have to give some just props to you and your team sitting in some of these meetings, taking, you know, the innovations down into work plans and in particular some of your senior leaders. Honestly, I’ve just been balled away by, you know, a a staff member. A staff member might say to them, well, I’m not sure about that goal. I’m nervous about being able to meet that. That feels like a stretch and your leaders are saying, but what if we try?

And like, what what if, you know, it’s okay if we don’t meet it? You know? And just some of that that willingness to learn and to try and to swing for the fences and say, we’re swinging right now. Right? And we may get it over the fence, and we may fall a little short and either way, that’s okay.

Right? As long as we’re learning together. And so I just wanna I’ve been in these meetings and I thought, man, you know, there’s some awesome leaders y’all have, including yourself. But these senior leaders who are standing up and saying, let’s do new things and swing for the fences while we’re

Simeon Bannister: doing things. Oh my gosh. I mean, it’s, like, the most gratifying things to come to work with colleagues that have that same sensibility that are eager to try new things. And I’ll tell you the thing that’s been even more exciting is watching some of my colleagues who before didn’t feel that sense of, you know, kind of openness and that sense of curiosity, that sense of, you know, willingness to try and see what happens Yeah. Start to embrace it.

And at the same time, I also wanna be clear, and this is one of the things I love, love, loved about working with you guys, at at Thryv. It’s also not cavalier. Right? It’s also not like, hey. Let’s see what happens, and we’ll just see what happens.

Right? It’s not Yeah. Unintentional. It’s not, you know, We’re having the opportunity to be really planful and really intentional about how we cultivate the space. Yes.

And so before we got to that big meeting, we had sessions with our, staff. We had sessions with the board, that were kind of preparatory so that by the time we got to the meeting that brought everybody in the room together, we had already deposited some of the skills that were gonna be necessary to make that, an effective session. And so I think that that’s just really critical because a lot of times, you know, we could have bowled our way into you know, let’s start with a new strategic plan. But if we hadn’t developed some of those preliminary skills, it would not have been useful for us.

Tucker: Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: And so I’m really grateful for the curated process. I believe you guys, we use the term choreographed

Sarah: process. It

Simeon Bannister: allows us you know, choreography is funny because, you know, some might say, oh, does that feel inauthentic? But, you know, think about choreography is all it does is it gives you the structure. Yeah. If anybody’s ever tango before. You know?

You still gotta Right. Move your body and do your thing within that structure, and that’s been helpful for us.

Tucker: Samuel, what I’m curious around what’s made possible. You’ve already speak spoken to that a little bit around, you know, that that beautiful story that you just shared, literally using the word beautiful of noticing this this deep space that you’ve been in with your mom’s passing and Yeah. And noticing how that ties in actually with the importance of your work and all your all of your work. You know, but when you talked about your 1st year as a CEO, you were, like, coming in. Right?

You had this urgency and, like, let’s move. And I’ve noticed you having been slowing down, and you’ve used the phrase over this next year as I think your fiscal year is coming up here in in April, and you’re like, over this nest next year for us, we need to learn how to learn together.

Simeon Bannister: That’s right.

Tucker: And I just I noticed you’re slowing down and and giving breathing room, and you even spoke to it a little bit around, oh, we need to give people skills. Like, this is a whole different operating system That’s right. For how people are able to live into this new world that we’re in because of the speed of change and kinda what you mentioned before. And I’m curious, what what helped you to slow down?

Simeon Bannister: Yeah.

Tucker: Maybe I’m curious, very individually helped you to slow down. Sure. And and then what’s made possible by creating the space for you to slow down? I’m also curious what are some of the tensions around slowing down some because you’re like, we still got a budget process, and we still gotta do things that we gotta do. You know?

You’re like, oh, and there’s this interesting tension here. But but what caused you to slow down in the first place to realize, wow, we really need to slow down to learn how to learn together, which is a a a beautiful statement. And then but, yeah, what’s coming from that? So curious about that.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it’s part of, Sarah’s now. I think, first, I was gonna say world famous, but I think now it actually is universally, like, across the universe, you know, and other planets are saying this and, you know The aliens are saying it, you know, when they come to visit. Right?

I believe our radio signal just came back to the planet saying Yeah. Our noes allow us to say deeper yeses. And, I will tell you that, that’s really been a big part of the, the thing that’s been animating us this year is that, you you know, it’s it’s really easy because, again, your enthusiasm and excitement, you there’s a risk of becoming tone deaf and not hearing what people are actually saying to you. And I was really, blessed that, you know, folks in my life, leaders that I had admired, would really, emphasize with me how important it was, to listen to the people around you, and that a big part of leadership really was listening. So, fortunately, we were doing these kind of, you know, internal listening sessions, meeting with colleagues, meeting with staff, and this refrain I kept hearing over and over again that people felt overwhelmed.

And at first, I was like, alright. You know? Come on. You know? We got work to do.

Alright. I hear you, but let’s get to it. You know? But then I kept hearing it, and I heard it again over and over. And, and when it landed with me, it really, it really became clear that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

And I actually think that that’s the big problem of philanthropy in particular community foundations. Mhmm. You see, we have this double edged sword of being really flexible, instruments. We can do a lot of different things, and we can solve a lot of different problems. And so then it’s super easy to kind of get down these, you know, different roads.

And I learned, you know, that, it’s not maybe as useful to do a lot of things simultaneously, as it is maybe to do more things sequentially. Right? And so we were trying to do a whole lot all at the same time, and it was asking too much of our colleagues. And at the same time, we didn’t really have the tools. I think this is the one of the reasons why this becomes very challenging for us as community foundations because, again, we’re flexible.

We can do a lot of things. And if we’re not really clear about our values and what we’re trying to accomplish, then you don’t have the basis to say no. Right? Because how do you say no between How

Tucker: much yes.

Simeon Bannister: Making sure yeah. It’s all all yeses, man. It’s like, how are you gonna say no between making sure that you’ve got, you know, good after school programming for young people, and you’re making sure that seniors have places Right. That are comfortable for them to age in place. And you’re making sure that your education system is well structured, and you’re making sure that health care is being provided in an equitable way.

And you’re making sure that the relationships for civic infrastructure in your community are robust and grow and you’re make right. All of a sudden, it’s like you’ve got this menu of options. And if, like, you’re not clear about what the threshing floor is to make some of those decisions, you end up doing all of them pretty poorly. You know? I wanna add to that.

You know? I mentioned earlier kind of this, graphic that that Tucker shared with us that showed increasing levels of complexity and kind of linear, human adaptability. There’s a great piece. There’s a a real, kind of, great thinker, Lucy Bernholz, in our field, who, has annually written these blueprints and really trying to kind of articulate what the future, holds, almost like a future sensibility. And, she has a chapter in her most recent, blueprint, titled making sense and uncertainty.

And she goes through and really describes how, you know, the infrastructure that we’ve come to rely on in a lot of ways has become outmoded in our communities from a societal perspective. Right? And so now there’s this big shift where if people aren’t trusting the private sector in the ways that they used to, they aren’t trusting the government, public sectors in the way that they used to, then who steps into that role? Right? In a lot of ways, community foundations are being asked to take on all kinds of new roles and responsibilities that diverge from what we’ve done in the past.

And they represent innovative opportunities for sure. But to engage them, ironically, we actually do need to slow down

Sarah: Yes.

Simeon Bannister: And make clear choices and to try to as best as we can to appreciate the implications of those choices. But in a complex world, you can’t anticipate everything. You just can’t. It’s just not possible. Right?

There’s too this is just too dynamic. And so, you know, far be it from me, who you know, I read as much as I can, try to learn as much as I can, and have a fraction of an answer for any one thing. At best, you know, that model is limited. At worst, it can actually do damage where I’m responsible for making all the decisions and telling everybody what to do, me and the CEO, and that kinda stuff. And so it’s so much more healthy for us.

And, frankly, like, let me sleep a lot better at night to engage with lots more people to try to convene the discourse so that we are more generative, and that we allow for resonance to emerge. Where you start to hear the same kinds of questions, people thinking the same kinds of ways, and those become interesting areas for us to explore more deeply. And that’s, this kind of cadence of learning that we’re trying to embrace, and it’s been, so far, you know, these last few months, it’s been a lot of fun, if nothing else. And, we think that we’re, our work the quality of our work is getting a lot better too.

Sarah: I was just gonna say, I think you you do have a you are in a particularly challenging spot as community foundations because you have a lot of resources. Right? And you’re not always the one. I know you all do some kind of direct work, but for the most part, you’re working through and with other people to make community change. Right?

Which means that measurement of success and the what are we ultimately working towards is hard. It’s it’s even harder. And so that piece around do no harm, I think is so important, not just for physicians, but anybody working in the toward the public good, because we can say, we’re trying to do a lot, but unless we say intentionally, we’re really, you know, going deep and understanding that, especially in your case, a lot of the things you’re working toward is long term change. You’re not gonna see short, you know, and this is where it gets hard for folks because, you know, people wanna see immediate change and that’s not how intractable issues work. And so I just wanna appreciate that you all are in a particularly challenging spot, I think, in terms of being able to do work that is showing folks change while knowing that some of the tails are really long.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. And that’s and it’s tricky too because there’s often in our communities, we’re certainly in this position. I know many community foundations are. Where we’re the largest, you know, kind of community philanthropic organizations, in the areas that we serve. We’re the largest, you know, philanthropic organization in our region, and that’s true for for many of our my counterparts.

And so think about it this way, you know, there’s often a that a misperception. So people hear, you know, in our case, we’re a $600,000,000 foundation. Right? And people hear $600,000,000 Well, you ought to be able to write a check and solve everything. You know?

That’s right. Not appreciating that it is a drop in the bucket for the kinds of challenges that we’re trying to confront. And that’s actually, frankly, true for the nonprofit sector. There’s a interesting piece, called Unshareable, a film that just came out not just came out, came out a little while ago actually. This guy Dan Pallotta asked some really interesting questions around the unrealistic expectations that society has placed on, our part of the civic infrastructure to solve really really big challenges with, you know, resources that are, that are that are frankly are limited relative to those challenges.

Right. And, and some of the expectations that have been set about, nonprofits and how they should function. And and I tend to agree with, with, a lot of the thinking in that particular, in that particular film, not all of it actually, but but with with a lot of it that we actually are often limited in the approaches that we can take, the strategies that we can deploy. And, yet we’ve got a big appetite for change because we can all see the suffering that results from the lack of it. And we can all see, even more importantly, the opportunity.

Man, what could the

Sarah: movie be? It’s right there. Right?

Simeon Bannister: It’s that feels like it’s right there, you know? Yeah. And, so for us, the way that we resolve some of that tension is through what we describe, as catalytic community impact. A realization that we are not ourselves going to solve any or, you know, certainly not every perhaps even any challenge by ourselves, but that we can be accounts. We can be the stone in the pot.

Right. And that’s what we often see to be.

Tucker: And, Simeon, you’ve hit on a little bit of what’s made possible, but I wanted to speak just explicitly to that. What’s made possible when you are able to let your no’s give power to your most important yeses? What what’s made possible when you’re able to slow down and sequence things versus just by default? If we don’t sequence, then by default, it’s all just now. Right?

It’s like everything’s urgent. And you spoke to what’s made possible a little bit for you as an individual CEO, and I know that that’s been a big piece of your journey, but I’m curious what’s made possible for you as a CEO. As you said, I’m able to sleep better at night, but I want to unpack that a little bit more Yeah. Of what you’ve been able to let go of and what’s been made possible for you as a as a human being who is a CEO of an organization. And ultimately what’s made possible for the organization itself if you’re able to lean into these types of approaches.

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. Alright. So there’s levels to this thing. Right? So, you know, we can speak, certainly, on an individual basis.

I do frankly sleep better at night. I mean, one of the, a little bit of the angst that I had before I was in this role, I ran, our community programs department, mostly responsible for the community leadership and the grant making of the community foundation. And frankly at times it felt like picking winners or losers. I mean just to be perfectly candid. And what’s fascinating is that, in the field right now, the pendulum has kind of swung, to what folks have come to describe as trust based philanthropy.

I haven’t frankly seen a really good, definition of trust based philanthropy. What I often hear described as is, you know, just give out the money and let it go. And I think that that is an application of the responsibility that we actually do have to be good partners, to create synergies, to connect folks, to give insights. Our job is not just to write a check and hope that it works out. I think our job is to bring value to that, to that to that process.

And so, you know, for us, in order to be able to deliver that kind of value, if we’ve spread ourselves too thin, we don’t actually have the capacity to do that well. Yeah. And so the next level from an organizational level for us, we believe that by honing in and focusing, we actually have the chance to deliver more for the partners that we’re working with. And what’s pretty cool about that too is that in Rochester, and I think this is true in a lot of communities, but certainly it’s true here, we actually have the capacity for a very complementary philanthropy. And so there are a number of, you know, private foundations, corporate foundations.

There are, other, public, foundations, with whom we work. And because we are modeling what it means to have the discipline to focus. That’s certainly, an example for our counterparts. And so then what that means for us is, for example, our focus on kind of systemic, challenges blends really nicely with another organization in our community that focus on focuses on direct service provision, right, While they are making sure that the food cupboards are stocked and, you know, ready for, emergency circumstances, We are there trying to make sure that food deserts, are, ameliorated and that systemically we have a more effective food system. And so from an organizational perspective, we get just a lot of benefits by honing in and focusing.

And then frankly, from a regional kind of community and even societal perspective, if you can blend all of these together, right, with us that kind of clarity, then we have a chance to really engage in mutually reinforcing activities. That’s really the the premise of collective impact, as an example. And if we can create those mutually reinforcing activities because we are actually clear about where our values are and what we are delivering to our communities, then, man, we can really start to make some meaningful headway on some of these big challenges.

Sarah: I love that. So often we see in our work this I idea of folks just not really knowing their place in the unique place in the ecosystem, which means then they don’t know others’ unique place, which means then they’re not working together. And what I just heard you say is that’s exactly what you all are doing. What’s our place? What’s yours?

How can we both know that in support of our shared objectives?

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. So, Sarah, what that does then is it reduces competition, which frankly, I actually don’t believe, you know, there are spaces for competition where it makes sense. Our space is not one of them frankly. Nope. What we need is cooperation.

And because that kind of cooperation maximizes our limited resources. And I and I just want to say a word about this because I think it’s really critical to make a distinction between, absolute scarcity and relative scarcity. Right? So, you know, in the kind of absolute sense, you know, is there so much air, so much water to go around? I suppose that’s the case.

And we’ve got to be, you know, thoughtful about that. Certainly climate change and other areas, that’s an area that we’re we’re certainly focused. And at the same time, the relational questions of relational scarcity really show up. Right? Where do we wanna drive resources?

And there’s been a lot of, I think a lot of angst about our sector because, the perception is that we are not efficient with resources. That money gets wasted in the non profit community. And in fact, I actually find that not only is there a lot of efficiency, but the opportunity is even greater by braiding our efforts more intentionally, right? That’s where we can actually, relieve people of the sense that, like, money’s being wasted because there’s 5 organizations all doing the same thing. Yes.

Right? No. There’s actually we’re doing it with different populations. We’re doing different ways. And if we’re intentional about demonstrating the complementarity there, that makes us a better place to invest resources.

And, and that’s a much better, sell for folks to engage in our sector.

Tucker: I love that. Simeon, I want just in closing, I wanna bring forward some practical steps that CEOs can take. And I’d like to do it if we can around sort of these concentric circles that we’ve been talking about. We Yeah. Right.

We’ve we’ve talked about creating impact from the inside out. That’s what I even led with at the very beginning. And, you know, inside out means starting with yourself and then going to your team and more you know, so conscious leadership is starting with yourself.

Simeon Bannister: That’s right.

Tucker: Having a cocreative process which you’ve been speaking to is in your team and then creating these rhythms of learning as an organization across the org out into your community. So there’s, like, the self, the team, the org, and the community.

Simeon Bannister: That’s right.

Tucker: And and I’m curious if you can speak to a practical step each CEO can take around each one of those categories starting with yourself because that’s where you’ve had a lot of growth is just within yourself is we wanna lead well in the world. The first place we need to lead well is within ourselves. And, and then just go out from there. Like, what are some practical steps that community foundation CEOs can take around each one of those circles?

Simeon Bannister: Yeah. So the first thing I would say as the most practical step is take a deep breath. I mean, and you know that might sound, you know, kind of a bit, a bit trite, but, all jokes aside, it is really, really critical, to think about not only self care, and and not just self care is like go take a vacation, but self care is, being conscious about where your emotional state is at any given moment. You know, we said earlier, old is the is the new new. There are a lot of there’s so much ancient wisdom, about the importance of breathing and how breathing does influence our psychological state.

And I will tell you, I mean, early on in, in our in this year, as I was going through my own, you know, kind of challenges, as I mentioned, with my mom’s health and just, you know, dealing with the stress and the challenges, it’s so easy to come into a meeting or into a conversation. And you really just need that one moment where you, you know, are frustrated and you lash out, or you’re frustrated and someone asks you a question, you shut them down. Right? And the echo effect that that can have is so dramatic. I mean, it can be, like like, seriously, you can lose talent, behind it.

You can have real issues and challenges. And so I the the first practical step I wanna encourage is that kind of sense of, you know, kind of self check-in, really throughout the day, making sure that you’re just good, that you’re coming into those interactions with intentionality. Hey. I wanna make a distinction. That is not the same as having to be perfect all the time and having to, like, you know, deny your humanity and act like everything’s good even when it’s not.

It is having the emotional maturity to recognize when you are having those challenges, to wrestle with those challenges in yourself, and to equip yourself to then engage in constructive ways with the people around you. And sometimes, frankly, it is through vulnerable through vulnerability. It’s saying, you know, I’m having a rough day today because and giving people a chance to understand. So that is what I would say there. Absolutely critical.

I cannot overstate it. People say culture eats strategy for breakfast. It is true. Let me be a witness. Get that culture right.

And so that’s the second thing I would say from the organizational level is as you are attending to your strategic plan and, you know, kind of goal setting and and that kind of work, you wanna be suit very, very thoughtful about the kind of culture that you’re setting. How do you create the way I think about it is, you know, before you drop seeds, you’ve gotta till the ground. Right? So how have you done that work to till the ground? Have you turned that soil over?

Have you engaged with your people? Have you asked them questions? Have you built real meaningful relationships? Because the seeds that drop on that very fertile soil really have the chance to blossom and grow. But if you drop them on that hard, rocky, you know, never been tilled, iced over, no real relationships, then I can tell you that those seeds will lay fallow on the ground, and you’re probably gonna be really frustrated.

When those seeds do start to grow, I think it’s all about confluence and continuity. Again, how does your mission and vision? How does that relate to, your strategy? How does that relate to your work plan? That strategy, is it not just goal setting, but is it accounting for some of the challenges that you’re trying to solve, and, and giving the room for creativity and innovation?

And then, you know, you wanna measure, check back in on a regular basis. And if you do that well, you become a model for other organizations around the community. And, frankly, you know, we think that the the way I say to you is this. Selma, Alabama many people listening will know Selma. Right?

Because it’s a place that, you know, important things happen. There are 17,000 people that live in Selma, Alabama. There are 200 and about about 8,000 people that live in Rochester, New York. We think that if we do this right, we can be a model for social innovation for the nation. And, and that’s the kind of aspiration that we have here at Rochester Academy Foundation.

Tucker: Love that. So breathe. Notice your own reactivity.

Simeon Bannister: That’s right.

Tucker: Bring bring things back into your team, build those relationships. And I know you did that in very practical ways. Like, you’ve used the word listening a lot. Yes. And listening is such, is not just me hearing, but I know that you’re you’re also really good at reflecting back to people and helping them feel listened to.

Simeon Bannister: That’s right.

Tucker: So I hear, like, listening is really that practical step, frankly. And then that can go not only within your team, but across the org and then ultimately in the community is creating spaces of deep listening, reflecting back, that helps you to be that model of innovation.

Simeon Bannister: Tucker, can I just you know, just on that listening question? So it’s also about how you create the requisite feedback loop. And so a lot of times, we listen, and we might even implement the things that we’re listening. But then we don’t circle back to our people to make sure that they knew that that it was because of what you said and that this thing happened.

Tucker: Yes.

Simeon Bannister: That is so, so, so critical. Because if we establish those feedback loops, then then it gives people the sense that we’re really credible. I’ll give one example of that. Here, we did a little exercise. I encouraged one of my colleagues to come up to the front of the room, and, I handed her a bag, and then I handed her another bag, and then I handed her a water bottle and the, you know, other things I could find around the room until she’s standing in the room overloaded with stuff falling all out of her hands, and it was, like, ridiculous.

And everybody was like, oh my gosh. And I said, does anybody in the room feel like this? And they said, yes. We feel like that. We feel like we’re holding all these things.

I said, we’re gonna work to try to get some of these bags put down, but that wasn’t enough. Then we had to kind of start to do that activity. That wasn’t enough. Then we had to start to go back to people and say, how did that feel? And then to give people the chance to share that out.

And one of the things that’s so exciting, I have watched my colleagues. There are a few folks, that are that are that are here that if I’m being honest, they had checked out. I mean, they had checked out because of just feeling so burnt out. Yeah. And to watch them reenroll, to check back in on the new energy, there’s one colleague in in particular I’m thinking about, and I’m just enjoying the way she’s showing up.

I mean, just just Oh, wow. Basking in it. And it’s just been really a wonderful thing to see. And that gives me even more energy as a leader to do even more of it.

Sarah: Mhmm.

Simeon Bannister: And, and, again, that gives us a chance to then, be that seed that germinated and and grows and affects the world around us.

Sarah: So cycles of giving and receiving. Right? They’re Yeah. Reach out for you. Yeah.

Simeon Bannister: That’s it.

Tucker: Well, Simeon, thank you so much. Thank you for being a leader who’s leaning in, who is who is creating catalytic community impact that you’re not just trying to be a donor advised fund service provider like some community foundations have found themselves, but you’re really trying to do what the community foundation is here for, which is the community and create that impact. But, again, but doing it from the inside out and how important that is to embody the very vision that you have for the world on the inside and actually living into it, and this is really meaningful to to watch you go through the the shifts and go through the the struggles that go along with that too. So thank you for just your presence, for your example in the world, and, we’re excited to continue on with more work.

Simeon Bannister: Well, you guys have some great Sherpa’s and, you’ve been taking us, you know, up the up the mountain as it were. And, so I have as much gratitude for you guys, and, and the work that you’ve done with us, to unlock some of these opportunities.

Tucker: Awesome.