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Podcast: Little City Foundation Promotes Workplace Leadership Development – Shawn Jeffers

Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Natalie Terchek
Podcast – Shawn Jeffers: Little City Foundation Promotes Leadership Development in the Workplace

This week, at The One Thing Podcast by The Horton Group, our host, Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Shawn Jeffers, President and CEO of Little City Foundation. This nonprofit is a vital, vibrant community offering a comprehensive scope of services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

After 20 years at Little City and nearly 50 years in human services, Jeffers is preparing to retire. This can be a daunting concept for nonprofits, because many never feel as if their work is “done.” It’s important for nonprofit leaders to find professional development opportunities for the next generation, so that they can be prepared to take leadership when the time is right. One way to start doing that is to surround yourself with the smartest people you can – especially if they possess strengths that you don’t have.

“As leaders, none of us walk in here with all of the answers,” Jeffers said. “Leadership is a growing, dynamic process. Bringing people around me with skills and aptitude has been key to my success.”

Business models and company dynamics have drastically changed during the past few years – there may not be a perfect leader under these circumstances, because all of us have been tested. But according to Jeffers, if you have the prerequisite skills, ability to network and problem-solve, this will help prepare the next leader. In order to do this, leaders need to create an environment that allows others to learn and grow.

“When I step away, I’m gone,” Jeffers said. “I need to prepare my people for this moment.”

Leaders need to prepare the people connected to their organization to continue momentum after they leave the organization – but it’s important to not train staff to become miniature versions of themselves.

“The difference between idols and heroes is that idols want you to be like them, but heroes act in a way that inspire you,” Jeffers said. “I am surrounded by people of all positions who find a way to see the things I don’t see. Leadership doesn’t reside in the title or optics. It resides in how people engage with others to get the best output.”

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Shawn Jeffers to learn more about how the importance of leadership development for nonprofits.


Hello and welcome to The one Thing Podcast, brought to you by the Horton Group. We specialize in Insurance employee benefits and risk advisory and I’m your host, Jason Helfert. John C. Maxwell wrote, there was almost no limits to the potential of an organization that recruits good. People raises them up as leaders and continually, develop some. For today’s podcast, we’re going to be discussing leadership development with the executive director of a large. I DD agency located in western suburbs of Chicago. We’re excited to have on the program our guest, executive director of the Little City Foundation, headquartered out of Palatine Illinois. Shawn Jeffers, how are you Shawn? Oh, good morning. Jason doing well doing what morning to you. How was your weekend this being a Monday? Who’s it was awesome. I my wife is, she’s had, she’s kind of working on me on pre-retirement neck so you know, we’re just out doing some things and really connecting with one another. She retired a little over a year ago and so she’s been a great role models. I’d be, you know, begin my own transition. Well it’s we all need role models in our life, which is, which is good. Ali and it kind of nice little parlay into this topic. So I know you didn’t do it on. Purpose was a good softball Segway. If you will is Shawn and I love this topic. Yeah. And I’ve been very fortunate to work for a company that believes in this very important issue and routinely invest time, and money and resources, and energy, and developing our own leaders here. And so, I was excited Jean during our conversation. A few weeks ago, when you said this was the topic that you want to discuss So, Shawn of all the topics that you could possibly discuss, why leadership development? Well, I think it’s become very up close and personal for me, Jason, as I share that after 20 years at this organization and almost 50 years and Human Services. I’ve decided or life has decided that it’s time for a change and as we look particularly the organization’s, how ready are they? And so for little city Foundation, you know the discussions began well over a year ago. If you talk to some of my peers I’ve talked about Even for probably the past five years, but the realities kind of, you know, set in. And I think with the pandemic and some things in my personal life had made it very real and I think one of the challenges and nonprofit organization is there’s no set point. Jason, there’s no notion of after X amount of time you go or after or certain accomplishment. It’s time to go and so it has to become a very Dynamic process within the person. Sometimes, as you know, boards make that decision for you or Other people make the decision but for me with the support of my board, my family I had to come to that conclusion, that it’s time for me to make a change and then doing that because we become so immersed and so tied to our company’s you look at what’s the effect on them and so it’s been interesting. Once I made that announcement of the range of emotions from Malaysian a the guys, finally going to the sap, you know, oh my gosh, it’s you know, the You know, the walls are going to cave in the system’s going to begin to break. And so, as a leader trying to work through that, in a way, that keeps the organization’s eye on the prize and that’s continued sustainability growth in the light. Well, I share with people Jason is that success to me and leaving is that Things become better. And not the things we come worse. I don’t want to walk out in a year from now. People tell me about all the things that crumbled. So my focus right now is to try and Prepare the people around me. The people connected to this organization to get ready for that night. Connects exciting jump as opposed to this, you know, last dance notion there of all of a sudden you know, that dynasty is ended and all hell is going to break loose. Yeah well that’s and I’ll first of all thanks for you know that Decades of loyal service to the industry you know you have a wonderful name in the industry and have been a leader for a long time. So you know, from the community thanks you for everything you’ve done and Interesting. You said, you know, prepare the Next Generation prepare, the next series of leaders and you shared with me that’s been going on for decades. It’s not like it’s been a all right, clock’s ticking. Now we have 12 months. Now, I’m gonna start developing all, you know, our leaders to take over. And so I think I would have guessed venture to guess Shawn that a lot of the practices you’re putting in place leadership development are Universal in nature and not solely because, you know, you’re looking to venture off with your wife and to the next series. And so what are some of those challenges are? What did you need to get? Right? When you saw the leadership development for little city, what did you need to get, right? Well Jason, one of the things that, you know, I attribute as success to to my leadership is a recognition very early to put the smartest people, you can around you, you know, people who are better at some of the things that you do than yourself. Because I think that in and of itself, none of those walk in as Leaders will all the answers. None of us walk in as Leaders having Being topped the scale on all the skills. And so, leadership, again, is a very Dynamic growing process, you know? I don’t walk away as a seasoned leader, you know, 4 star 5 Star. We’re always in this this transformative process and so bringing people around me, who at least had those skills. Okay, those interests, those aptitudes, that heart has been a key to my success, you know? So I, you know, I often Tell people that you, when they asked me whether you do, you know, I often say that it’s not what I do, is what I calls to get done and what leaders, cause the get done actually comes through other people. And so, the process of leadership development Jason is always been a part of what I tried to do with the people around me. Now the organization as we look to what’s going to happen that little city, I believe that I’d left them with a choice. Now what we have to look at is that leadership. Up in the context of the moment, the choice that I made may not be the right person for this next moment for little city. So I do believe that there is that responsibility to really assess. You know, not look at that. Jason’s been dubbed, The Heir Apparent and now all of a sudden our business models have changed in the world has changed. I think that’s what we’re up against right now. Jason the way I understood running a large agency that serves people with disabilities has changed. Covid has changed the whole dynamic substantially and I don’t know if there’s one perfect leader for the circumstance because we’re all being tested. So at least if we have those prerequisite skills that ability to network and ability to problem-solve etcetera, may very much prepare that next person to take this on. And so I do think that we have to create the environment around us where people constantly learn and grow and not become. I don’t feel that this as much as the or Ization feels that it is somewhat dependent on me. I feel confident that I prepared some people for this moment. And once I step away and will, I guarantee people just Jason, will I step away. I’m gone knocking Roman the hallway and I can
because I want that person to have the same opportunity that I did in coming in. And that’s the really work directly to shape the organization around the direction that the leader wants. Also the most we can do is prepare the people have to deliver. Yeah, that’s well said. And there’s a there’s a lot of interesting things you shared with me. Their one was, you know, we’re all working through this period and leadership development together and you rewind 10 years ago, we had, you know, Boomer xers and Millennials that, you know, the way your leadership style was created over Decades of being in a controlled environment if you will neither new variable in the mix. And that’s changed things for everybody right now. Just you who’s been doing this for a long time but for those, the dsb is or 48 or whoever’s coming in the agency. Now, that’s in the early onset of their career and so I guess if you play that out a little bit, Shawn you, since you brought it up things have changed and we are in this together now. So how what some of the biggest challenges you found? I introduced this new variable right of the pandemic. Now it’s changed things for for at least four for foreseeable future. Excuse me? What are some of the biggest challenges are pitfalls that you’ve stepped into You’ve observed and I’ve done it, but just as you were speaking Jason, the thing that really jumps out to me is we have to figure out, do you have to be present or it can you be afar and do work? So, you know, my generation that coming in. There was no question you were in the office, you’re on the floor, you were out there, you know, the whole notion of even with a cell phone or pager, you know, from years ago. So there was that that point that you knew you had to be physically present. Sure. Are, you know, the the that reach and touch. Now, there’s a question, can I be productive and be away? You and I are having this conversation. The technology that we could not have happened and so would mean, let’s meet up somewhere, let me come to your office or you come to mind and we do another very manual way. So there is this challenge of how do you blend the technology?
The time-proven need to be present and so we’ve we’ve had some interviews with people from afar who believe they can do this job. Certain jobs within the organization in other states. I have a financial analyst is that they look I don’t need to come visit, you numbers and numbers. We’ve got this, this screen. And so that’s a point Jason that we’re going to have to figure out from particularly from Team development people. Development relationship development. How do you have the hybrid of the technology? So I’ve got that tension with some of my people who, who I feel, don’t need to come in office, who want to and those I think should who know me. So I think that’s one that one big element. The other is competition is steep. You know we know there’s a Manpower crisis or what apologizes there’s a people crisis right? And now the notion of how we tailor the work to the end. Virgil, without losing the essence of work is a huge challenge. You know, my best people are constantly getting Headhunter calls even as a soon to be 69 year-old Jason. I’m getting head on their calls
out of energy left in, you can become doing. And so we are at this place that you know how we hold on, first attract people, and hold on. To them is much different than what we’re used to offer before, you know, office. Salary, you know, some vacation days. So, sad that challenges is among us all. Yeah, I think we’ve it’s forced us to look through a different lens if you will. And, you know, also redefine our definition or Collective, definition of what presence means. You know, I think the prior Generations there that are their worth in a business, was often defined by their work ethic, right? I’m going to outwork you. I’m going to just do more, right? And, and I’m not suggesting for any moment. That the younger gesture is not out working, anybody. It’s just different, right? It’s a different definition. And so I think we have to I think I’ve struggled with that as X as well. I’m in the office today, look I’m here because that’s just what I do. But there’s not many other people here that that’s okay. So I think there’s been a lot of things that have changed and I think even can you speak to this? A little bit, is I’m curious to get your thoughts on this, you know, even the even our military is changing the way they develop leaders, right, instead of not like a rank in, Mm and of the past, right? This is just how we’re going to get things done, you know. Have you had to change your messaging or your team’s messaging and working with different Generations, run, maybe leading more with heart. Right? So that’s so much change in command. What is leading with heart? Leading with emotional intelligence. Leading by example, you know, those old adage if you want to leave their how to follow all those types of things. Have you seen that come into play? And is that part of, you know, when you think about leaders, develop and when you teach, when you coach right? Is that does that go in, do your Teachings at all or no. Well I think it does Jason the first thing we all have to do as a mother not as your personal life and your professional life is what’s the desired outcome? You know just motion without movement it’s just motion and so we can say we’re doing all these things but our outcomes are bad then. So I want to look at first. If you don’t Define as a leader. Now that desired place, what we’re going to be. Be because what we’re going to be and what we aspire to be, is going to drive how you get there. And if we want to be there a long time versus short time, if I want to just beat you in the shape, Jason physically, I can’t. But if I want you to be an athlete or a wholesome person, the rest of your life, I go go about that differently. And I think, for us, within organizations, we have to look at what is that big picture? Is it a marathon or Sprint with the Sprite? You’re going to lead in one way, but if you look in the house, We sustain people in the long run, you better come up with what’s the right formula to get. It’s going to force me to understand how Jason ticks is he. This type of person or that type of person. So I do think that outcome that desired state is going to drive the type of leadership that’s going to be needed now within our world didd world, it’s a marathon if every day of balancing and constraints, et cetera, and getting people, you’re not going to be able to throw dollars as an incentive, you’re not going. To be able to throw some of the other things. And so it does force us to engage with people in a way that’s different. I’ve often had to have that conversation with various board numbers of mine. When we talk about accountability this and that when you’ve got limited choices of all I got is four tires. Then I got to be careful about how I tackle the road. Okay, I mean, it’s, it’s there, there’s not this, you know, ready? Waiting group of people standing in line, waiting to get the next job in our organization. It’s so it does force this to deal with people in a way that might be different than some major corporation. It’s got resources and people are actually waiting in line to get employee which I don’t know which which entity that is now. But that’s I think the notion that we’re up against is how do you build your leadership? And if it’s not, you make sure you have people around you who have that complementary skill. Sure. Okay. So it’s not as yeah it’s not one person. Yeah. Yeah, okay. I think that’s what’s going to be our challenge. It’s not going to be vested. I know my strength, I need to put people around me who have complementary strengths, so that my people here, get the whole that’s love that. And it said, it’s one of mine was going. My mind was going a little bit. There is. So you mentioned surrounding yourself as the Ed, right? It could be a board chair, whatever, you know, executive level function, you have with people that are around you that maybe are supportive or complementary to your skill set. We all can’t be, you know, actuaries and move the ship as fast. We want to gather all the x-rays, we gotta be different was my point. So, if you’re an actuary listening, this it’s not a slight on exploration. It’s so how, how far do you trickle that through the organization? So let’s say you have a, you know, at what level of management Shawn, would you have somebody to be consciously thinking about that hiring to their skill set? I’m assuming it goes all the way down, but talk more about that. If you can’t see, if you’re, if you’re a manager of a cup Priscilla’s or a couple home cup of programs. You know, how important is it to support? Your skill set with two teams below you or is this just simply an executive level function? No, Jason one of my mentors had talked to you, at least, you know, for me I’m a visual person. I’ve got to think about it in terms of pictures or scenarios and I also come out of a sports background. You know, a lot of my attitudes toward leadership came about through Sports. I had an awesome to this day. I have a Mentor, who was my high school basketball? Coach, who I’m still in contact with because he taught me a lot about team and life, and greater understanding role and how you make those adaptations. And so, I, look at that Jays within an organization, in the context, it is an orchestra. And in order for it to be symphonic, people have to go along and understand their place. And their moment versus a cacophony where it’s just a series. Series of sounds and noises. And so, feel from that perspective, it’s vitally important that people understand and we have to be adaptable, you can’t to me Jason you can’t just come in and say this is who I am. This is what I do. Take it or leave it. How do you adapt to? You know, whether or not we’re looking at baseball basketball excetera? Are you a team that adapts to one another strength or do you build it around one? Very difficult for us to build our Cells around and my estimation around the strength of the leader. The leader has to build the strength of the team and sometimes that means Jason. Yeah. I but we use the disc analysis and the alternate won’t get the. There’s a number of leadership components out there. But, I know my strengths and weaknesses, and when I operate around my strength, my organization goes when I move into my weakness, It suffers, but I had not here. Hi-C guy that right,
it’s interesting, stop it. I you’re 100% correct. And I, it also takes a lot more effort and energy to do be something you’re not. And so, if you always challenged our teams, and if you have two columns, you know, put something in this column, that’s provide you energy fills your cup, right? And this one takes away your cup drains your energy, you know, hopefully your role is more in the fill your cup type thing because if not, if you’re if you’re not a high C guy, maybe our high as Or II. And then all of a sudden you will reach your leaned on to me that Hi-C well, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just takes a lot of energy and it just you’re going too fast for ya and it’s not, you know, we talked once before Jason about authenticity,
you know, and people can read through BS, you know, as our I teach part-time and I can tell who read the stuff and who didn’t, okay? And so it’s no different than our work, people see you and they see whether or not you’re authentic and, well, I’m authentic. And Excel words, come easy when I try and Bs. I don’t do that very well and so you know, making sure my team understands that you know that you know just kind of reveal my I’m actually a kind of an idea guy with mid-level s in a very low C. So I don’t need a lot of information to make a decision but I need people around me Jason who compiled and And information. Sure, I’ve got a young lady who works for me at Little City, who read the 500-page DCFS report, and told me on page 38 is something about little city. I would never read that report I read executive. So, when it’s important that you have people 1000%, nurture, we support. And so for me to be successful, I have to surround myself with those people again, who are better at it and you learn to listen to them. You are too much. I couldn’t agree more and I’m, I’m high. I Hyacinth. And so the Hi-C doesn’t really fill my cup. Either takes a lot of energy for me to go through a 500 page document. I can get through it, but I it’s going to take me a little while because it doesn’t interest me as much. But Shawn, when we talked last time you shared something with me and I remembered it is assured me that leadership is about making things better and that’s is a difference between idols and heroes. I thought that was A profound some Gladiators shirt at what you mean by that and who are your Heroes? So it could be that basketball coach. Maybe he still wanted, it’s Jason died. It’s been long enough with that. Thought that of course I developed some Notions and even as I reflect back on people, I work for I had some people who I work for who wanted me to be like them and they treated me like they want to say like they want to be treated. So they were a person who, you know, No thought that the best way to get through you? Is that beat you beat you beat you and that makes you stronger. That’s what they did. I’ve had other people who I just witnessed their work and I independently determine I want to be like them, okay? And so that to me is a difference between people who are Idols who want you to be like them and heroes who do things that you aspire to be. All right? And so I have those people around me who I aspire to be they just do what they do. They’re not looking back to say hey Shawn where a bolt. I you know do this. You know be like me. All right they’re creating those and even within organizations We Touch sometimes. Try to create many meetings. You know, here’s the key to success. Just follow what I do, you know, tag along with the case in there, you’ll learn how to be a successful leader in sales persons, Etc. Versus that person who comes to you Jason and says, I admire, how you treat your family? I Meyer, how the employees look up to you? I admire how the janitor knows your first name, and how, you know, his first name, okay? Those are the people who are my heroes and so they don’t have to be too Allure title people and you can see within my direct here. Works Workforce are some real heroes, then they find a way after many years of working with people. They see the things I don’t see and so they are some people in high positions Cancer people in other positions who I look at and say, wow it’s not how they dress or you know the car they drive is that the way they get the best out of people, the way they bring, the best of themselves makes you want to be more like them. Then when you look at they’ve got the big office, the big car, you know, the trailer full spouse, the kids that are getting A’s and classic cetera, you know? Hey, you want to be like me then join the country club and you No do this. Except and so that to me, Jason is, it’s always leaders to me, should do the things that help people Aspire not own the things, but do the things it’s the behaviors that are important. Well, that’s not a paper leader. Inspirational leader, right? Yeah. Well, that’s easy to acquire, Jay. Sure, I can go out and buy the fancy car. I can buy the humming that’s that’s easy. But it’s what’s behind the mirror. What’s behind the curtain? Are the things that we’re to me, leadership resides, it doesn’t reside in the title and the, the objects, it resides in how people are engaging with people that get the best out of it. No, I that makes a lot of sense and it’s why don’t we, if we can’t close on this, you also mentioned that leadership, I believe I might paraphrase him, so I’m wrong. Feel free to correct me. They said it’s a finite resource with an infinite. Need something along those lines. I met if I screwed it up, correct me, but I think You correct? I mean, that’s the reality that, you know, there’s something that you and I have very much in common and it’s time you don’t have any more than I do. You don’t have any lesson. Okay, so we know that’s finite, that’s fine. Okay, we know money is you can say, its input. It’s finite we you know you know like my kids thought it was an infinite, but answer, I guess, finite resources, I have find their time and so we as Leaders always Is worth. How do you balance that? There’s never going to be enough of anything. Now I never have enough time I’d never have enough money. Okay, I can never completely get it done. It’s one thing, you’ll Dusty Baker. If he wins the World Series, there’s an endpoint but with an ID or even the corporation, where’s the endpoint Jason. How do you measure it? Okay. Now now you and your company can set up a monetary figure but is it really done once you do that and because what What that will do is create a further demand of your resources time, more people are going to want it, your employees are going to want more of a piece of the pie and so we’re always balancing that notion of how do you get the outcomes with finite resources and obstinate need? No, Simon sinek would sell, you have business is not a finite game, it’s an infinite game. You don’t win or lose, inhale human health, human shorts. You don’t win or lose, right? You don’t we don’t win or lose in business. It’s an infinite game, but we’re playing a finite game, right? So we got it. Change our lens little bit. And speaking of time, I certainly wish we had more of it, but we don’t find it, it’s finite. So I want to say thank you Shawn. You’ve been a wonderful guest. We certainly appreciate everything you’re doing for, not only for this podcast with the community and have a wonderful retirement will see. When you get there, you do the same in Jason, you’re an awesome person, your business profile. Me just a person that I just feel very proud to have an affiliation with the wishing you nothing but the best. As well. Thank you sir. We certainly appreciate it. So that’ll wrap it up for today. So until the next time on behalf of the horde and groups, Jason Helfert saying thank you for listening to The One Thing podcast.

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