Valin Brown | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Valin Brown


The Alliant Educational Foundation is a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps support students as they prepare to enter professional careers aimed at improving the lives of those in underserved communities. The organization recently hired Valin Brown to help the nonprofit form strategic partnerships with foundations, corporations and individuals, and increase the amount of support it provides.

The Mistake:

Staying in a position for too long.

Every company finds itself at a particular phase in its organizational life cycle — whether it be the startup, growth, mature, de-evolution, or death phase, for example. A while back, I was hired to head up a nonprofit that was in a growth-turnaround stage; it needed help assessing everything from the ground up. My tasks included developing a strategic plan, developing a board of directors, becoming more actively engaged in fundraising, and really understanding its impact on clients. The work motivated and inspired me.

But after about five years or so, the nature of the work had shifted. Because we had accomplished our strategic plans, it became more about maintenance than creation. That’s when I noticed a real shift in me. I was still working and tackling the things that needed to be done, but I wasn’t driven or inspired by it in the same way. I stayed at that position about seven years before moving on.

Be thoughtful about your leadership skills and how they fit into the life cycle of an organization.

The Lesson:

Be thoughtful about your leadership skills and how they fit into the life cycle of an organization.

I’ve learned that I like to help nonprofit organizations grow, change and stabilize. It’s engaging and challenging, and I’m good at it. But after several years, typically in the five-to-seven-year range, the initial set of challenges usually shift to those associated with maintenance. That’s an area I’m less driven by, I’ve found.

When the organization no longer matches with your skill set or interests, it’s important that you hand the reins over to someone new — someone who can grow and thrive with the company at that stage. Had I been tuned into that earlier, I might have made the decision to move on from that organization sooner.

Photo courtesy of Alliant Educational Foundation.

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