After 18 years at the helm, Christine Chadwick is stepping down from her role as executive director of FOCUS St. Louis at the end of June. She has led the organization since 1996, when it was formed out of the merging of two nonprofits, Leadership Center of Greater St. Louis and Confluence St. Louis.
Today on St. Louis on the Air she spoke about the mission of FOCUS St. Louis, its role in the region and what she plans to do next.
Host Don Marsh, who is a long-time neighbor of Chadwick, began the conversation by asking why she is leaving the post when she is still relatively young.
“That’s what everyone keeps asking me,” said Chadwick. “One of my favorite quotes is basically ‘when your horse dies, for God’s sake dismount.’ And that is such a visual to me, and I’ve always thought that I wanted to end this portion of my career when my horse was still galloping. That I certainly didn’t want to lose my energy and my vision, and I think we’ve seen leaders in our community that sometimes you wonder why they’re still doing what they’re doing because they don’t seem to have the passion. And I have loved being the executive director of FOCUS St. Louis. It has been a real privilege.”
After leaving FOCUS St. Louis, Chadwick plans on spending more time with her family while staying involved in St. Louis through her work as a board member with several civic organizations. Currently Chadwick is on seven boards, including the Harris-Stowe State University Board of Regents, the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
Reflecting On 18 Years at FOCUS
In describing her work at FOCUS St. Louis, Chadwick stressed three themes: thinking regionally, creating a leadership pipeline, and working together to face systemic issues.
“You can imagine the joy I have every single day of thinking about how to work towards creating a healthy, thriving, prosperous region,” said Chadwick. “That’s the most important thing about FOCUS St. Louis, it’s about our community. And it’s thinking regionally.”
FOCUS works throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises 15 counties in Missouri and Illinois.
“In the global marketplace today, regions are the economic units that really matter,” explained Chadwick.
“FOCUS is all about engaging citizens, getting people off their butts,” she added, “and we think that the way you do that is by creating a robust pipeline of leadership programs.”
FOCUS St. Louis has a total of six leadership programs targeted to different age brackets and experience levels, beginning with the Young Leadership Program for high school juniors and moving through to the Experience St. Louis program for executives.
Chadwick disagrees with the saying that “great leaders are born, not made.” Instead, she believes that “leadership is within all of us.”
“Sometimes we need mentors or other people to sort of push us. I know I did. And I think you just have to be at a table. You have to insert yourself and put your hand up and say I’ll try that,” said Chadwick.
When asked whether she ever grew frustrated with the fragmentation created by working with two states and almost a hundred municipalities, Chadwick responded by saying that such fragmentation was artificial. She pointed to the experiential nature of FOCUS’ leadership programs as a means of encouraging unity.
“People come into the programs and then we take them out into the community,” to experience the challenges and assets of the region for themselves, said Chadwick.
“There are these artificial boundaries … but if you are talking about who are homeless, or you are talking about poverty, or you’re talking about criminal justice, there are no boundaries. These are community issues that we all should care about,” she added.
When she started at FOCUS 18 years ago, people weren’t talking about St. Louis as a region. But now, people have begun using the phrase “our region.”
“I didn’t hear that 18 years ago,” said Chadwick. “I think that that is important—that people think of our entire community, that we have to care about all of our kids, and all of the people that live in this community for it to be robust and thriving.”
Passing the Torch
Yemi Akande-Bartsch will take over as the executive director of FOCUS St. Louis in July. Chadwick first met Akande-Bartsch two and a half years ago when Akande-Bartsch was conducting research on leadership program best practices. Chadwick was so impressed with Akande-Bartsch that FOCUS St. Louis created a new position in order to recruit her to work for the organization.
“She is fabulous and she is going to do a great job,” said Chadwick of her successor.