Many books have been written about leadership over the years, and yet there are so few examples of great leaders to be found. For the last few years I have been fortunate to work with a great leader, and as she leaves our organization, I am reminded what about what is important in leadership. In tribute and farewell to Risa let’s all remember some core elements of leadership as we seek to influence change creating a healthier, more equitable future for everyone.
More than a decade ago, Risa Wilkerson just offered to help. She didn’t jump in and take over; she didn’t push an agenda—she offered to do whatever was needed for the cause which at the time was Safe Routes to School. As a Steering Committee volunteer and eventually a Board Chair, Risa continued to exemplify this core element of leadership, she always sought to be of service. A true leader first seeks to give, to help.
The Safe Routes Partnership has evolved from a program of PeopleForBikes to an independent, sustainable non-profit. During this time, the leaders of the organization have navigated health and sickness, abundance and scarcity, and success and failure. Risa approached each of these challenges and opportunities with a decisive commitment to doing what was needed to ensure forward progress. As a leader, Risa has been committed and loyal to the mission of the organization steering the board and staff towards the light and celebrating both wins and losses.
When our board met in-person recently, we spent some time recognizing Risa, and many of the board members commented on always knowing that Risa was there supporting them and cheering them on even though she has a quiet, confident leadership style. Risa is an example of a “cheer” leader who is behind the scenes ensuring that everyone rises to their potential to achieve success.
And finally, as we bid farewell to Risa, we also have to recognize that as a leader, she knew when it was time to transition and let new experience and new energy move the organization forward. Risa stayed on just long enough to recruit an effective, engaged board with members who could move into her shoes for the immediate future and for years to come. She ensured that senior staff was in place to support the day to day work and as she orchestrated her transition she continued to give so much to the organization in letting go.
A giving, servant leader who is committed and loyal, quietly and confidently leading with a cheerful perspective and a vision for the future of when she would let go and hand off the baton. Risa, we thank you and we will miss you!