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Vice President of Programs Keno Sadler '97 on Leadership

Keno Sadler '97, Echoing Green's vice president of programs, speaks with students at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. 

This March, Echoing Green entered an exciting new era when Keno Sadler joined the organization as vice president of programs. Keno first became part of the Echoing Green community in 1997, when he was awarded a Fellowship to help him launch Breakthrough Atlanta, which provides a pathway to college for traditionally underserved Atlanta-area school students, and teacher training experiences for high school and college students. Most recently, Keno served as executive director of the Summerbridge Breakthrough Alumni Network (SBAN), an international organization with a goal of reconnecting with and supporting the over 20,000 alumni of the Summerbridge and Breakthrough programs.

Keno and Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey ’92 both first connected to Echoing Green as Fellows, a community that is near and dear to them both. She sat down with him to speak about his new chapter at Echoing Green, learn how he views leadership, and exciting changes he’s witnessed in the world of social impact. Welcome to the team, Keno!

Cheryl Dorsey: We are so thrilled that you’ve joined the Echoing Green team. You bring such energy, warmth, expertise, and insight to all you do, so I definitely know why I’m excited–tell me a little about what excites you about taking on the vice president of programs role?

Keno Sadler: Echoing Green has had such an impact on me. Without Echoing Green, I know that I would not have been able to do any of the stuff to launch Breakthrough Atlanta. And I’m not talking about the money. I’m talking about the network, the opportunity to be in the room with people who are doing amazing things around this world–some of them putting their lives on the line for their cause. To be at an organization that recognizes the need to help those people is an honor. And I’m honored to be given the chance to help the Echoing Green team do that important work in any way I can.

Cheryl:   Is there a specific aspect of what you’ve experienced as Fellow that you’re thinking about applying to this role?

Keno: Well, I flew up to New York for my Fellowship interview to meet with Ed Cohen, who co-founded Echoing Green. I had worked so hard to prepare to answer questions about my program–the budget, projections, the kids, the Atlanta school system–you name it. And the first question that I was asked was “Tell me about you.” So I started talking about my budget, the school system, the kids. And he said, “No, tell me about you.” And that spoke volumes to me. Because he wanted to first and foremost understand who I was and what was driving me to do the work. I never forgot that moment. If you focus on the “who,” you better understand the “what” of what motivates that person. And that perspective is one thing I commit to bringing to my role here at Echoing Green. If we focus on developing the “who” through our programs and as staff, then the “what” will come.

Cheryl:  That’s really spot on. And understanding that is key to sustaining leadership in the long term. In that vein, you have a deep understanding of the Echoing Green community and what it takes to launch a social enterprise and build a team to achieve success. So how does mentorship factor into how you view leadership?

Keno:   Mentoring is definitely part of it, but when we talk about leadership, I hope I’m more in the coaching vein. Throughout my history of running organizations, I’ve been smart enough to hire people who are smarter than me, people who are absolutely committed to their work and being contributing members of a team. They have no problem speaking truth to power, and I require that. Going into a meeting, I already know what I think or what I bring to the conversation–I need to know what you think, and I value that opinion. As I see it, the number one job of a leader is to develop everyone around you into leaders. And it’s about celebrating when the right decisions are made and looking for opportunities to learn when the right decision isn’t–that goes for all of us. It’s all in service of providing the space for people to grow as leaders and find their own voice.

It’s the same thing with the Fellows and Direct Impact participants, for example. They’re leaders doing amazing things. Echoing Green’s work is to strike a delicate balance of supporting people who are leaders, providing them with the guidance to grow based on best practices we know, while allowing their innovative thinking to flourish. It’s all a balancing act.

Cheryl:  At the 2015 All Fellows Conference in Johannesburg you delivered a workshop on identifying and understanding an individual’s distinct personality traits, similar to Myers Briggs. We thought a lot about how this can influence the way we show up as leaders and how we can be inclusive in our understanding of the valuable diversity within the relationships we hold at home and at work.  

Keno:   That exercise is rooted in Karl Jung and Myers Briggs, but simplifies the process of recognizing our own personality types and those of others. And even more so, helps us uncover how we view and interpret the world. It’s unfair of me to look at another person only through my lens. If I can try to look at someone through their lens, I can better understand their intent and better appreciate their actions. At the end of the day, it’s all about helping us to better understand, interact, and meaningfully engage. It really fosters healthy culture among teams and organizations, and it’s a great way to continue to align how we engage with each other and our work to the core values we have here.

Cheryl: Over the years, what would you say is one of the most significant changes to the social innovation and social impact landscape you’ve noticed?

Keno:   I think the definition of a leader has changed. When I joined this community, we were reading Jonathan Kozol, and then it shifted to Stephen Covey.  And now we’re reading Daniel Pink. So it’s sort of changed. With the beautiful fact that millennials are now in the workforce, much has shifted. What it means to disrupt, for example–millennials look at things differently based on their life experience, and the world is adjusting to it. Values have changed, and in a beautiful way. These are folks who grew up with Facebook and Twitter, encouraging new ways of relating to people. And from an American context, who have experienced the 9/11 attacks in their formative years and entered one of the most difficult job markets since the Great Depression. Their mindset and how they see the world are rooted in seeing relationships differently. Recognizing and honoring those differences means adjusting leadership to better support their growth into leaders.

On that note, I want to add that I’m so thankful for this opportunity. To be a Fellow who now has the opportunity to do the work from the inside across all of Echoing Green’s programs…it’s humbling to be in a position to help hundreds of leaders with purpose find their path to take on the world’s biggest challenges. I’m impressed by this team, and I’m excited to contribute to it and continue to grow together.

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