A group of people posing for a photo in front of "The Embrace" - Boston's newest memorial, which honors Coretta Scott and Dr. Martin Luther King

Good morning, colleagues

A thank you message to staff from Jim Canales becomes a broader reflection on leadership in these times.

Last week, I marked my tenth anniversary as Barr’s president. When my leadership team said, “We’d like to acknowledge this milestone somehow,” I replied, “I’d rather you didn’t.” I’m grateful they ignored me.

Our Wednesday all staff meeting ended with colleagues along with Barbara and Amos Hostetter, our founding trustees, sharing kind words, fond memories, and quite a few laughs (many of them at my expense!).

I started this week – the beginning of my 11th year – with a thank you message back to all of them. And after I sent it, I decided I wanted to share it broadly. While the message is directed to my Barr colleagues, I hope that what I’ve learned with them—and from them—over these years might be of interest to our partners who share in our collective aspiration to invest in potential:

Good morning colleagues,

Thank you again for the collective celebration of my ten-year Barr-versary at our recent staff meeting. I appreciate just as much the personal sentiments that many of you have chosen to express privately. It has all been meaningful to me, and I want to reiterate my gratitude as I launch into year eleven today!

Reflecting on these past ten years, I have kept coming back to the oft-cited proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Indeed, any accomplishment, any progress, and any success that we have had at Barr during my tenure is solely because we have done this work together. And not just as a staff, and in collaboration with our board, but most importantly, because of the dedication and commitment of the many talented partners we are privileged to support through our philanthropy.

If there is one unambiguous fact about the work of philanthropic organizations, it is that we do nothing alone.

Of course, there have surely been shortcomings of my leadership, and those I fully own. In fact, what has made my time at Barr so satisfying have been the opportunities to learn, to grow, and to do—and be—better. These opportunities have tended to present in those moments of discomfort, of unease, of certainty; I have had my share of those. But even in such challenging moments, I have been buoyed by all of you (and your predecessors) who have shown grace and sought to lean into these times as a community, where we were all able to grow and learn, together.

It is in these ways of acting as an organization that we live out the core values of this institution (“strive for impact” “invest in leaders”, “act with humility”, “take the long view”, “embrace risk”, and “demonstrate curiosity”). As you know, those were codified in partnership with our founding trustees soon after my arrival in 2014. Then, in 2021, we added the value to “center racial equity” to acknowledge explicitly a key value that had been held implicitly in our work.

We have always known that for these values to have true meaning and purpose, they must be lived out, beyond a set of statements on a website. And perhaps my biggest source of pride over this past decade has been how these core values continually show up in what we do and how we do it. The fact that we often refer to these values, use them to animate our priorities and our approaches, and draw on them to support the decisions we make shows just how much they have become engrained in how Barr “shows up” in its work.

And anchoring on these values will remain vital as we, and our partners, continue to face the many challenges and headwinds that our current context offers all of us. These are not easy times, and as I wrote this past January in my New Year’s blog post, our commitment to remain steadfast at Barr is essential.

I close this message by drawing on something written for another January, this one in 2021. These words were delivered by Amanda Gorman, in her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb”, at President Biden’s inauguration:

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Such bravery is perhaps more urgent today than it was when she uttered those words. And it is such bravery that we are called to step up to and lean into, as we continue to live out Barr’s core values and support our partners in these times.

I know we’ll continue on our journey to go far—together.



comments powered by Disqus