Position: President and chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank, a nonprofit that works with 700 area agencies to help fight
When she was 16 years old, Nancy Roman went on a mission trip to Guatemala where she said the exposure to abject poverty transformed her worldview. From there, she worked a variety of jobs in and out of government before landing at the United Nations. At the U.N., she led partnerships to support the organization’s food program. Struck by the hunger in America, she jumped at the opportunity to lead the Capital Area Food Bank.
What leadership lessons did you learn while working in the private sector?
I learned a lot about motivating teams. I came to one company at a time of low morale and realized pretty quickly that there would have to be some listening and problem solving.
How did you change the morale?
Atmosphere is not something you inherit. Leadership is responsible for setting the tone. You start by listening. You have to understand where the problems are. I divide problems into categories — solvable and existential. If your problem is that your office is located on K Street and your staff hates K Street, well you might set that aside. If the problem is that people are working 16-hour days every day and don’t have time with their family, you have to restructure the work and redefine what you’re going to deliver so people can do more in a work day. And I’m really one to solve the problem with them. I sit in a group and solicit ideas about the six or seven ways forward.
How has your private sector experience most benefited you in the nonprofit sector?
Among the most important things I’ve learned in working in the private sector is developing systems to deliver results efficiently. In the private sector you have the profit motive as a big pull, but the critical nature of the problems in the nonprofit sector are much more fundamental. Working to alleviate hunger and malnutrition is more compelling than the dollar. I’ve learned that the efficient processes and results-oriented mind-set can really serve the nonprofit sector well.
— Interview with Vanessa Small