November 2020
Leaders in the Field:
Profiles from the Pandemic

Celebrating Exceptional Leadership and
Codifying Lessons Learned
During Unprecedented Times
In alignment with our value of mutual support, Leaders in The Field: Profiles from the Pandemic is offered as a resource to share wisdom, experience and creative responses to an ever-changing nonprofit landscape rocked by COVID-19.

An extension of our monthly Leaders in the Field publication, the next three editions will feature some of the leadership frameworks used by members of the Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego as they have led through these unprecedented days.
The Relational Leadership Model (2013) asserts that leadership is a relational and ethical process of people together attempting to accomplish positive change.

The model is built on the five elements of being purposeful, inclusive, empowering, ethical, and process oriented. Hollander was one of the earliest scholars to adopt a focus on leadership as a relational process (Hollander, 1958), a two-way influence and social exchange relationship between leaders and followers (Hollander, 1979).

Relational leadership is an approach where leaders focus their attention on supporting their team members, showing care for them as whole persons whose lives extend beyond the boundaries of the workplace. Relational leaders also pay attention to the team environment.
Profiles in Relational Leadership
Jamie Beck
Learning Group Graduate
“The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block but as a stepping-stone to greatness” –Shawn Achor

ORGANIZATION: Free to Thrive

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Promoting wellness within an organization fosters staff resiliency which in turn promotes organizational resiliency

ON THE FUTURE: Having a safe space like FLNSD’s Learning Groups where leaders can come together to help and support each other will continue to be important  
Tammy Gillies
Learning Group Graduate
“The cracks are there to let the light through”

ORGANIZATION: Anti-Defamation League

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Recognition of her leadership role to “keep up the level of inspiration and focus on why we get up and do this [work] everyday” 

ON THE FUTURE: She hopes to maintain the sense of connection with staff and board members while also continuing to give staff the space to do the work they need to do when they are most productive
Deb Martin
Coaching Program, 2020 CRS Awardee
“A crisis brings out some of the worst in people and brings out the best in people. I tend to focus on it bringing out the best in people”

ORGANIZATION: ElderHelp of San Diego

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Prioritization on what is most necessary and staying true to your Mission and strengths can help an organization respond quickly and efficiently in a crisis

ON THE FUTURE:“I think great leadership always involves listening, flexibility and responsiveness”
Michael Hopkins
Learning Group Graduate
“I feel like leadership is shared across the organization, that there is no magic wand that [we] have”

ORANIZATION: Jewish Family Service

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: It is important to be reflective both as a leader and as an organization

ON THE FUTURE: Flexibility is a skill that nonprofit leaders will need in a future without a clear roadmap                   
Dana Toppel
Learning Group Graduate
Continue reading for more on our featured leaders!
In three years, Jamie Beck, the President and Managing Attorney of Free To Thrive, had grown her nascent nonprofit organization into a first of its kind legal clinic providing mobile, holistic and trauma-informed legal services to human trafficking victims and survivors of all genders in San Diego County. Three months after the start of the pandemic, Jamie and her team had rolled out two new offerings – the STEER Program (Survivors of Trafficking Essential Emergency Resources) and an on-line training program for lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and the broader community. Jamie credits her organization’s ability to not only survive but to continue to grow during the challenging early months of the pandemic to the resiliency of both her staff and her tenacious clients.

Given the nature of their work, staff wellness was already a priority for Jamie. With the added pressures of the pandemic, Jamie did her best to “create a culture of self-care for everybody”. She and her staff engaged in mindfulness meditations at the beginning of their weekly team meeting and made sure to have “emotional check-ins”, share client success stories, and end every meeting on a positive note. Jamie, herself, tried to adhere to a regular schedule with time for relaxation so that she could be an example of self-care for her team.

This focus on wellness gave Jamie and her staff the resiliency they needed to tackle the problem of “developing, marketing, launching, and fundraising for a new program all at once” says Jamie of their STEER program, which provides wholistic emergency support for trafficking survivors. It also helped them stay motivated during the frustrating months when the courts were closed delaying justice for so many of their clients. “With a social issue as large as human trafficking, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the problem and feel helpless.” The same is true for responding to COVID-19. At Free To Thrive, Jamie worked to combat this challenge by staying focused on empowering and caring for her staff as they focused on empowering and caring for their clients. Both made a difference, one life at a time.
Given the amount of social unrest and turmoil that was been spreading along with the COVID-19 pandemic, its remarkable that Tammy Gillies, the Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, described her current mood in July as “hopeful.” It is a testament to her ability to see the light in the dark places and reflects her confidence in her team’s ability to not only meet the demands of working remotely, but to thrive. As the leader of an anti-hate organization with a mission to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals, and protect civil rights for all, Tammy finds herself more mission-driven than ever. ADL has had a busy year starting with anti-Asian virus backlash in the winter, followed by the racial justice movement this summer, and into a historic election season this fall. Throughout the year, Tammy has made sure to celebrate her team’s victories, big or small, so they understand that progress is being made. With a mission to fight hate, the goal can sometimes seem unreachable, so recognizing success is vital to her and her staff’s resiliency. She sees “keeping up the level of inspiration and focus on why we get up and do this [work] everyday” as uniquely her role at ADL.

Despite the call of their mission, she admits that initially her team felt disconnected by virtual work. She quickly pivoted to address that by hosting daily mini staff meetings and designating Friday morning Zoom meetings as a work-free time for open discussion. These changes have deepened the connection between the staff and helped the team “gain more care of each other”. Tammy also encourages her staff to take “focus hours” off during or after the workday for stress relief such as walking or yoga to enhance their mental health. She has found that giving her staff the space to do the work they need to do in the times they are most productive has been extremely valuable. It has made her question the necessity of being in the office on a rigid schedule in the future.

For herself, she acknowledges that connecting with fellow nonprofit leaders at FLNSD events like Fieldstone@4 Online has been important to her mental health. She is grateful for this community of leaders that provide learning opportunities and reaffirm the need to inspire others. As she said, “none of us can do this alone!” Looking ahead, Tammy asks herself “what can ADL do better when the chaos of the pandemic subsides?” She believes the organization will continue to grow from the improved communication and deepened connection she has fostered with her staff and board members during this time. By increasing compassion within her organization, she and ADL are well positioned to continue their mission of creating a more compassionate society in San Diego and beyond. 
One of the things that made Deb Martin, the CEO and Executive Director of ElderHelp, stand out as a candidate for The Clare Rose Sabbatical in 2020 was her deep commitment to use the time away not just for her own much-needed relaxation and rejuvenation, but to help build the capacity of her leadership team. Care for her team was also one of Deb’s top priorities in the early days of the pandemic. She immediately increased the frequency of staff communication and put in place a weekly mindfulness practice. For the first 15 minutes of their Thursday staff meetings, employees were encouraged to check in with other in small breakout rooms and to take turns leading meetings on topics that they found personally meaningful. The result was a safe on-line space to vent and share without feeling guilty about not working.

This time for reflection helped to buoy the staff and energize them to stay focused on serving their mission of providing personalized services and information to help seniors remain independent and to live with dignity in their own homes. Deb saw early on that they would need to change the way they approached this mission in order to provide essential services safely and at an increased volume. As she said, “it was more important to reach as many people as possible, maybe less perfectly, than for us to try to reach fewer people in an exact way.” Face-to-face contact was out, so the staff ramped up telephone communication—making nearly 500 calls a week to check in with clients to stave off isolation. They also started remotely vetting and training volunteers so that food and hygiene products could be delivered to a growing client base. In the past 8 months, volunteers have logged over 10,000 hours of vital services to care for seniors in need. Elderhelp staff may have had to sacrifice parts of their wholistic approach, but they were able to provide resources to all the seniors that came to them in need – over 900 and counting. Importantly, they were able to achieve this without staff burnout because Deb had the foresight to see that the pandemic would be a marathon, not a sprint, and made sure to emphasize to her staff the need to pace themselves -- “we can’t do it all, we have to be okay with that” is what she told them.

Asked what she would have done differently, Deb’s focus once more returns to her team ---she wishes she had the budget to send them gifts and surprises to break up the monotony of remote work. She is proud of the work they have done and continue to do in supporting their clients. She is also encouraged to see young volunteers, newly empathetic to the hardships seniors face, stepping up to support their communities. Deb is someone who focuses on “bringing out the best in people.” FLNSD, as part of the Clare Rose Foundation, is thrilled to be able to help to bring out the best in Deb by giving her the opportunity for a sabbatical in the summer of 2021. 
Teamwork is such a vital part of the leadership at Jewish Family Service of San Diego that CEO Michael Hopkins asked to include COO Dana Toppel in this project. This request illustrates the partnership these two leaders have come to rely on as they lead JFSSD. In the early days of the pandemic, Dana led the internal crisis response team, acting as the eyes and ears of the organization by reaching out deliberately to staff members to assess and respond to their needs. With the sacrifice of “many many many many hours” on her part, she was able to determine how newly required decisions would impact staff and which decisions would be most beneficial as they responded to the pandemic. The way Michael and Dana communicated with staff as a whole was something that had to change almost overnight. It was “a period of forced innovation” which Michael touts as one of their biggest internal successes. Taking advantage of online platforms, they discovered that the new virtual meetings allowed for faster communication and empowered their staff to hold their own meetings without specific top-down guidance. This increased the organization’s efficiency and enabled the staff to be timely in their pandemic responses.

The biggest challenge for JFFSD, which has a broad mission to create a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, was to identify and then to focus on the most pressing needs created by the pandemic. Luckily, Michael and Dana had started a strategic planning process earlier in the year with the goal of identifying the JFFSD core initiatives. Addressing food insecurity and working with older adults were two initiatives that have been with their organization for its entire 102-year history and that were also extremely important in their response to COVID-19. Opening shelters was a newer initiative, but no less important to supporting their community. Ultimately, what they came to see was that being responsive was at the core of their mission. With a renewed focus on the heart of their mission, Dana and Michael were able to quickly mobilize their teams to respond to the crisis. For instance, they were able to ramp up meal production from 400 meals a day to over 2200! By the middle of April 2020, JFSSD had served more meals than they did in all of 2019.

Looking back, Dana and Michael stress the importance of being self-reflective both as leaders and as an organization. As Dana says, it’s important to question the way an organization operates to have the flexibility to respond quickly to new challenges. JFFSD has used the challenge of the pandemic to create innovative services that are more scalable, cost-effective, and user-friendly. And, as Michael says, the COVID-19 crisis is “not a sprint, but an ever-changing triathlon of obstacles.” Dana, Michael, and JFSSD have concentrated on relationships within the organization and the community, remained focused on teamwork and the core of their mission as they have worked to systematically overcome any obstacle in their way.
Thank You to our Network Members...
Our thanks to each of our profiled leaders for taking the time during stress-filled days to share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others as they lead.
Next and Final Installment: Servant Leaders
Missed one of our pandemic profiles? The entire series is now available at:
Interviews were conducted by our summer intern, Nathan Burns. 
We are grateful for his work on this project. 

Interviews were conducted in July 2020 and reflect learnings
and activities through that time.