Tuesday, April 17, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 24: Lesly Higgins

Lesly Higgins
A while ago, when I was coming up on ten years as CEO of GlobalGiving, I called Debra Dunn to tell her I thought I should begin the process of handing over the baton.  I did not want GlobalGiving to suffer the same fate as so many other successful start-ups - founderitis - which I thought would undermine our long-term impact.

"So what will you do after GlobalGiving?" Debra asked me.

"I have no idea," I replied.  "I have thought about nothing else except GlobalGiving for the past ten years.  It's been my life and my identity.  Maybe I will just get on a sailboat and sail around the world."

"Well, you could do that.  Or you could call Lesly Higgins."


"Lesly Higgins.  She specializes in situations like yours.  Oftentimes when founders think about stepping down, they find themselves with all sorts of contradictory emotions.  Sometimes they become bulls in china shops in their own organizations.  Sometimes they can't leave.   Sometimes they leave but can't figure out what to do next and get really depressed..."

"Okay, okay, I get the picture," I told Debra.  "Maybe I will contact her some day."

Debra did not respond.  But fortunately she knows me - and my type.  So behind the scenes she contacted Lesly and had her be in touch with me.  Over the following year, Lesly and spoke in person or by video chat a couple of times a month.  Debra was right: as I moved toward transitioning out of my CEO role, I had all sorts of emotions.  Lesly listened, prodded, nodded, argued, and sometimes was just silent as I blew off steam (I hate that silence).  It was not an easy time, but working with Lesly made it immeasurably more productive.

And lo and behold, the transition went well.  I took some time off (though not a year, and not on a sailboat), and then I took up some very enjoyable and challenging posts teaching at Princeton, being Global Entrepreneur in Residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, and consulting to organizations who are trying to make big changes.  And maybe most importantly, GlobalGiving (where I still sit on the board) has been thriving.

For all of that, I am extremely grateful.  Thank you, Lesly.