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Surviving the first year as CEO

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Alice Lutz

Alice Lutz

Alice Lutz

Being a change agent for a 73-year-old nonprofit organization helping families in crisis is a daunting task.

Celebrating my first year as CEO of Triangle Family Services, I wanted to help others by sharing my top 10 strategies for moving forward during unprecedented time of  transitions:

1. During the first two weeks, meet with every employee one-on-one for 30 minutes in their office. Allow them to ask questions. Our greatest asset is our staff – they will need care, feeding and nurturing, especially in the first year.

2. Meet one-on-one with every board member. Ask them “why are they here.” Then listen.

3. Create a central tool for communicating. I produce a monthly CEO report distributed to the board, advisory committee and staff, with highlights posted on our website.

4. Get out and walk around. In order to be able to tell the story you first have to hear the story.

5. Create opportunities for leadership to hear the story. Bring staff to board meetings for recognition and sharing.

6. Get all teams together. Weekly manager meetings allow for integration of resources. Monthly staff meetings can be used for scheduled trainings. We started a yearly board and staff luncheon, during which we play “speed dating,” allowing staff and board to get to know what each brings to the table.

7. Make yourself accessible. There are so many “top priorities” pulling you in multiple directions. Even giving your team five to 10 minutes of access can help avoid hours of frustration.

8. Get a trained coach or designated mentor – not your spouse or mate – to help you through your first year. Find someone who has tools that can impact your challenges.

9. Read, absorb data and keep an open mind to opportunities and partnerships.

10. Maintain balance. Find an outlet for centering.


Alice Lutz is CEO of Triangle Family Services, a Raleigh, N.C.-based nonprofit that helps families weather times of crisis and become more stable.

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