Channeling Wisdom: Stephen Chan, Chief of Staff, The Boston Foundation

Stephen Chan joined the Boston Foundation in September 2010 as Chief of Staff where he oversees strategy and operations, performance evaluation, and human resources.  As a member of the Senior Management Team, Stephen partners with department heads to ensure alignment across mission, strategy, and execution at all levels of the organization, and to monitor organizational performance and effectiveness.  Stephen also provides strategic advice and support to the President in his interactions with the Foundation’s board of directors and as a liaison to external audiences.  He previously worked as Special Assistant to the President at the Boston Foundation from 2004 to 2006.

About Stephen
Stephen Chan joined the Boston Foundation in September 2010 as Chief of Staff where he oversees strategy and operations, performance evaluation, and human resources.  As a member of the Senior Management Team, Stephen partners with department heads to ensure alignment across mission, strategy, and execution at all levels of the organization, and to monitor organizational performance and effectiveness.  Stephen also provides strategic advice and support to the President in his interactions with the Foundation’s board of directors and as a liaison to external audiences.  He previously worked as Special Assistant to the President at the Boston Foundation from 2004 to 2006.

Stephen most recently served as an Advisor to Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the City of Boston where he developed and managed public-private initiatives in education, community development, and human services. Prior to that, Stephen held a number of consulting roles, including advising the Boston Public Schools Office of Human Resources on the district’s teacher recruitment strategy and conducting research for a healthcare distribution industry association at Booz & Co.

Stephen received his MBA from Harvard Business School, MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, and BA with Honors in Public Policy from Stanford University.  He is a board member of Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Washington Gateway Main Street, and the Massachusetts Governor’s Asian American Commission.  He is also a co-founder of Saffron Circle, Boston’s first Asian giving circle, and been named a Truman National Security Partner and World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

We asked Stephen to share his wisdom about nonprofit leadership. Learn more from Stephen at YNPN Boston's event, Channeling Wisdom: Young Nonprofit Leaders Speak Out, in Boston on January 21, 2014.

What does leadership mean to you?
Exercising leadership is about mobilizing group resources toward a shared goal. Leadership is not a set of traits, or something that comes with position or authority; it’s a set of practices. Leaders are made, not born.

What is your leadership style?
My leadership style is open, collaborative and facilitative. I think the best work is done when people are bought into a common vision, values and purpose. From that shared commitment flows the strategy and the execution. I think there are many ways for team members to contribute to achieving a goal – it’s the outcome that counts.

Can you share an example of a time when you successfully led a team through a challenging time or scenario?
Every year, I facilitate our organization’s strategy and budget planning process to generate our annual programmatic and operating goals, along with a balanced operating budget. This process is filled with negotiation as the wish list is always longer than the resources at hand. While saying no or cutting back can be difficult, establishing shared purpose at the start and ensuring transparency throughout help remind team members to put the organization ahead of their individual needs.

What advice do you have for nonprofit professionals trying to build their leadership in 2014?
Have a bias toward action. Practicing leadership, taking risks, and soliciting feedback is the only way to grow.  Sometimes you need people to push you to take risks. Surround yourself with a personal “kitchen cabinet” that can give you honest feedback.

What leadership resources have you found useful?

  • Leadership on the Line by Ron Heifetz
  • True North by Bill George

About The Boston Foundation

nonprofit, leadership, youngAs Greater Boston’s community foundation, the Boston Foundation devotes its resources to building and sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone. It fulfills this mission in three principal ways:

  • Making grants to nonprofit organizations and designing special funding initiatives to address this community’s critical challenges
  • Working in partnership with donors and other funders to achieve high-impact philanthropy
  • Serving as a civic hub and center of information, where ideas are shared, levers for change are identified, and common agendas for the future are developed.     Learn more at www.tbf.org.

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