The mark of a great leader is knowing when to stand aside and let others lead.
No, I didn’t get that saying out of some book or hear someone say it. These are my own words.
And it is with these words that I begin my seventh and final year as president of this great organization.
Why, you ask? For one thing, as Spare Change News begins its 20th year, I think it is appropriate that I, the last of the original founders to move on, do so.
Much will be said about my reasons for stepping down. Some will say I burned out and some will say I lost my edge or my desire. Of course, some will say it’s because of the rough year I’ve had, and all of it would be wrong.
While it is true that it has been a rough year for me on a personal level, that’s not the reason. Nor are any of the others. I actually thought about this a year ago, when David Jefferson became executive director last summer.
Not only had I been board president, I had also been interim executive director for two years. Wearing two hats was a difficult task, not to mention the fact that we were facing a crisis and that for a moment it didn’t look like we would survive.
So when David came in I breathed a sigh of relief, and yes, I will admit I was a tad worn out. But on the night after I served my final day as executive director, I was sitting outside of what was then my home. I stared at the stars, sort of like that far-away look that Tommy Lee Jones had in Men In Black just before his memory was wiped clean. I thought maybe it was time.
So this past term was supposed to be my last. Then all hell broke loose in my personal life, and while you might’ve thought that I would have resigned then, the fact that I was homeless again had the opposite effect. It galvanized me to stay and fight for what was right.
The organization was just steadying itself. I couldn’t walk away then. It wouldn’t have been right, and on top of that, working helped me keep my sanity.
When I became president I promised that I would leave the organization better than I found it, and as I look around I see some successes. Without a doubt, my proudest achievement was selecting David as an editor, which led indirectly to him becoming executive director. David has moved on, but he left us with a strong foundation.
As I continue to look around, I see a cautious but smart and industrious board of directors, who no doubt will continue to do what it takes to make HEP grow. We have a dedicated, hard-working staff; the vendors are selling papers faster than we can print them. We have a decent volunteer base, a good website that will only get better, and a damn good editor.
We are more organized than we have ever been. Check, check, and check. I used to fear what would happen when the time came for me to stand aside. But I have faith that the people that are here now will successfully carry on the mission of this organization, and will do what I do once I bang the gavel for the last time at a board meeting.
Actually, that’s a year away so I haven’t really given it much thought. By that time, my struggles with homelessness will be over, so I suppose a good long vacation is in order.
The one thing I do know is that I will still be around SCN in some capacity, to continue to help an organization that has done so much for me. Yes, I said I was stepping down; I will never go away.
JAMES SHEARER is a co-founder and board president of Spare Change News.