Words by Lauren Van Schepen // Photos by Marie Ketring
Jennifer Ford Reedy, President of the Bush Foundation, is somewhat of an omnipresent leader — seemingly everywhere at once. You know the type: they speak at conferences, happy hours, and block parties. We hear their voices on issues like housing, transportation, social services, and healthcare. We see their work in education and racial disparities. We are certainly lucky to have them, but even luckier to have the rare chance to go beyond talking points to a different type of exchange.
A small group of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities members and Pollenites met with Jen at the Bush Foundation, to watch the sun rise over St. Paul, and — as the caffeine kicked in — pushed her to discuss what she considered “really hard” topics.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Even at a young age I was fascinated by all the different ways to do good. When I was young I planned on doing good by being a cowboy or a Harlem Globetrotter — I dribbled my paper route — but that fascination to do good has certainly continued.
When you say you’ve always wanted to ‘do good,’ it sounds like you may also want to be liked. What’s the difference?
Wanting to do good is dangerously close to wanting to be liked. I’ve certainly tried too hard to be liked in the past, and I’m afraid I’ll likely do it again in the future. But I’ve come to realize there are some people who will never trust me because of this job. The more power you have, the more suspect people are of your actions.
Were you uncomfortable being in leadership positions as a young person?
I have spent most of my career in rooms full of people older than me, and I haven’t been anxious. The best piece of advice I got was to use humor. If you tell a joke you’re also saying, “I’m comfortable here. I belong.”
What lessons did you take from your time as a consultant?
The biggest luxury of consulting was a clear developmental path and structured feedback process. Before working at McKinsey I couldn’t take personal or professional feedback; I’d immediately respond with a defense (ask my husband). But I learned that it’s the caring thing to do to tell someone how they can be better at something, and eventually people’s feedback on my performance made me feel valued.
What are your current personal or professional development goals?
This year I’m working on balancing accessibility and necessary structure, not jumping into problem-solving mode too quickly, and becoming more comfortable with power. I’ve been asking myself, “If someone who has extreme comfort with power — Bill Clinton, for example — had my job, how would they do it differently?” When you’re willing to share an honest need and be vulnerable about what you want to work on, people help. I’m thankful for that because I want to be good at this job, not just believe I’m good at it.
This piece is a summary of a conversation with Jennifer Ford Reedy, which took place at the Bush Foundation on September 19, 2014, as part of Pollen and YNPN-TC’s joint Breakfast of Champions series. For more information, or to register for an upcoming event, check ynpntwincities.org.