Highlighting Leaders: Jessyca Leach : Successful Nonprofits

Highlighting Our Community of Leaders

Jessyca Leach, Executive Director of The Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS

by llinger

Highlighting Our Community of Leaders

Jessyca Leach, Executive Director of The Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS

by llinger

by llinger


What is your secret to strong workplace relationships?

Trust, transparency and commitment to the mission of our organization. Staff should feel empowered to speak up when things are not working without fear of reprisal. I try to focus on improvement (from the Kaizen approach) and remove the personal when things are not working. If something goes wrong, it’s not a personal failure, nor does it become a personal attack. There was a break in a process or a lack of process that caused the failure, and we need to identify a new process to avoid an issue in the future.


How have you managed relationships with difficult people in your career?

I had a mentor once tell me “you don’t have to like everyone here, but you have to work with everyone here.” People who are “difficult” often feel unheard and/or unrecognized. I try to listen to people to understand their perspectives and build trust. When this approach is unsuccessful, I work to establish a clear understanding of expectations for both of our roles to ensure we can continue to support our organization’s mission.

What advice can you offer to people when negotiating salary?

This is a difficult question! I’ve had staff members ask about a mid-year increase and their reasoning was “I moved and my rent increased at my new place” or “I just bought a new car and I need to make more money to pay the car note.” I’ve also worked with managers that would ignore the request or tell staff that their personal choices do not dictate how much we pay for a role. A response like that doesn’t recognize the current state of the world (rent prices have gone up by over 20% year over year and inflation, while going down, is still above 8% in Phoenix) and reeks of privilege.

When negotiating a salary, it is important to demonstrate the change in external factors and internal changes. External factors (those outside the agency) like inflation, high rent increases, and higher cost of goods due to supply chain issues should factor into a COLA. Internal changes (those within the agency) like an increased workload, job performance, and growth should factor into a performance increase. Being able to speak to both will help in negotiating salary.

What do you wish funders better understood?

So many things!

I wish funders understood how much admin time it takes to report and bill on their grants. Grant allocations for admin costs are often very low and don’t cover the full amount of time they take to manage.

I wish funders understood that our program staff actually do the work. A lot of non-government funders are unwilling to fund staff costs, which can make continuing needed programs difficult when government grants expire.

I wish funders knew how much time it takes to turn a grant around. We’ve received less than 30 days’ notice to apply for a $500k grant. The staffing resources needed to manage our existing grants and apply for new funding are enormous, and short turn-around times can push staff past their capacity.

I’ll stop now. I could continue with my wish list for weeks.

What was the best piece of advice you received? Who gave it to you? Why did they give it to you? How did it impact you?

I have so many!

“Are you empowering people, or are you enabling people?”  Devney Preuss, my former CEO, when discussing staff management. I’m a problem solver and a fixer, and it made me examine how I was leading my team.  Was I helping them build experience to support their growth? Or was I just taking more on myself to make things easier?  I still have to repeat this myself…

“When you like them least is when they need the most love.” Mary Bonsall, my former Group Finance Director.  She made the comment about children, but I find it’s applicable to people you work with/live with/etc.  People often lash out when they feel threatened, unheard, or they’re over-capacity and shutting down mentally.  This reminds me to check my privilege, shut up, and listen to understand what is really going on.

“Tell me something good that happened today.”  Laine Ford, a close friend, sitting at the dinner table with his family.  It reminds me to focus on the good things that were accomplished today and to stop focusing on all of the things that did go wrong, could go wrong, or didn’t get done.

How have you set good boundaries between your personal life and your work?

Short answer: I haven’t. Longer answer: this is something I’m working on daily. I work in a healthcare agency and we promote balance and boundaries between work and our personal lives. I actively encourage my staff to take time for themselves, but I’m terrible at it personally. As the leader of our agency, I need to lead by example. Staff will not believe that we support balance and boundaries if I continue to work on a 24/7 schedule. I’m definitely still a work in progress.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy hanging out with my family, reading, hiking, and playing video games. Lunch breaks at the gym and daily long walks also help calm my mind.

In an alternate universe, what other career might you have pursued? Why?

If I hadn’t walked the path that I am on now, I would have loved to be a forensic accountant. My background, prior to becoming an ED, is accounting and I love the detailed meticulousness of forensic accounting.

Mission: We provide affirming and inclusive services to promote well-being and advance health equity for diverse communities and all those seeking compassionate care – especially people of color, LGBTQIA2S+ and Queer individuals, and those affected by HIV.

Vision: We envision a just and equitable world where who we are is embraced in all spaces – especially in barrier-free access to health and wellness – leading each of us to live a full, rich, and authentic life.

Feel free to share your thoughts!

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