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Executive Director Blog Series No.1: Academy Center of the Arts

I am going on a sabbatical. 

Yes, I am fine and no, it's not a vacation. 

I have always been an anxious person. Sometimes, anxiety is a superpower. Sometimes, it is a disability.

At the end of January 2020, when I started to prepare the organization for a possible pandemic, my anxiety was a superpower. COVID had a way of amplifying so much of what was already going on in our world and as a result, my anxiety was no different. People thought I was overreacting during this time, but there were decisions we made then that would lead to our survival later. 

With that, my anxiety became a disability. As the pandemic dragged on, I was self aware enough to seek help. Through the support of my wife, therapy, leadership coaching, and a supportive board - I knew for certain, we had to make decisions in and around the pandemic through a committee and shared leadership. It would have been a mistake to make decisions in isolation. I needed to empower and engage our wider organization; utilize their range of vantage points, perspective, and expertise to find our path out. When would we reopen? When should we mask or not mask? When should we scale our operations back up?

With this shared leadership approach, we made it through one of our darkest hours. This is both because of and despite my anxiety. I led us through the past two years of uncertainty, but I also came out on the other side mentally and emotionally exhausted, perhaps even burned out. I knew that I needed to do or change something if I was going to be the best for our organization and community moving forward. I decided to forgo any kind of pay raise in my latest contract negotiations. Instead, I requested a three month sabbatical, which I am grateful my board has granted me. 

When I tell people that I am taking a sabbatical, I receive a mix of responses. If I am talking to a fellow nonprofit leader, there is a mixture of happiness and envy. Happiness for me, personally, but envy for the fact that I work for an organization that would grant me a sabbatical. If I am talking to someone outside of the nonprofit sector, there is surprise and sometimes even confusion. 

"Nonprofit leaders get sabbaticals?" 

"How can this be practical or functional?" 

"Are you okay? Did something happen to you?" 

"Is this your decision?" (my favorite, implies something nefarious)

"Are you writing a book?"

The range of responses to my sabbatical warrants a need to share the process as openly as possible, disclosing its reasoning and its hopes. Over the next few months, I am going to apprise the Lynchburg nonprofit community of the why, what, and how surrounding my 2022 summer sabbatical from my role as the CEO at the Academy Center of the Arts. 

I am excited to share a series of blog posts monthly through SHARE Greater Lynchburg to demystify the process and empower my peers. In these coming months, I will be illuminating our local nonprofit sector of the methodology and approach to my three month hiatus. This sabbatical is not just about me, but also about our organization. Through the support of Ryan Ripperton with Ripperton Consulting, we are using the sabbatical to “reboot” the organization through a distributed leadership philosophy. 

The process is much more involved than my three month absence. There is a five month preparation process and a two to three month reentry process as well. As an outcome, I will not only be personally rejuvenated and refocused, but the entire organization will function at a higher level as well. We will have a greater grasp of our workflow and internal communication systems due to this three phase process.

I would like to thank Megan Huffman for allowing me this platform to share my story of the Academy’s approach, as I believe the wider community could benefit from it as well. Next month, I will begin to share the function and goals of distributed leadership. I will also discuss deeper how my three month departure aids our ability to apply this philosophy to our work and mission delivery.

We all do such important work, but it will take adjustments to our organizations and to ourselves to remain impactful, achievable and sustainable for the future that lies ahead.

Until next time… 

Geoffrey Kershner
Chief Executive Officer
Academy Center of the Arts

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