Risk Taking, Reflection and Rewards: 3 years at the NSWM

When is the last time you tried something you were afraid of? For a long time, I avoided or passed up opportunities because of fear of failure. Whether it was preparing a picture for an art contest in elementary school and then not submitting it or wanting to run for a leadership position in middle school but not running because I questioned my popularity to get the role. I have many examples such as this throughout my life span of missed opportunities. I have set my sights on many things from childhood to adulthood, but didn’t always go for them. I was too afraid to take the risk and too afraid of the end result.

Three years ago, I was presented an opportunity to apply for The Network for Social Work Management. At this point in my career, I knew that I wanted to ‘eventually’ be a director, but didn’t know how I would get there. I knew that I was lacking skill wise in some areas, so I wanted to add these tools to my tool kit before putting myself out there so-to-speak. I thought I had to have every tool to even receive consideration.

When the opportunity to interview for the Network came to my attention, I admittedly 1. Had never heard of the Network and 2. Questioned myself and my abilities. I worried that my lack of knowledge or experience as an Executive Director and of Nonprofit Management would result in failure. “I’m a Social Worker! I’m not good at math so I thought. Budgets, huh?” I almost turned down the opportunity to interview. I was entertaining not even trying.

After much back and forth and some consultation with friends, I decided that I had to try. How could I say I want something, get an opportunity, and even consider turning it down?

October 1st  marked my three year anniversary as Executive Director of The Network for Social Work Management! A role I almost passed up became the best job I’ve ever had in addition to the most challenging. Working with high risk parolees is a piece of cake in comparison to running the Network, but I love it. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process and the potential of those within our profession.

In the span of three years, I have truly come to believe that social workers are equipped with the essential skills to lead. Yes, we need to become more competent in some areas (Ahem…Management!), but much of what we learn in our degree programs positions us for success. Who better to do it than a Social Worker?

I have had the privilege to watch this organization grow from hundreds to well over 10,000. We are international and have members in over 42 countries and chapters in Uganda, Chile, Mongolia, China, and Nepal. This past summer we had our first international training in Beijing. The world is watching and taking notice!

We’ve rebranded throughout the last few years and have had not one, but two new websites in addition to improved marketing, branding, and overall communication with our members thanks to technology! (Have you added us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter?)

Our conferences are getting bigger and better and our Network is becoming more diverse in age, race, and experience. We’ve also had the opportunity to feature many of you as Monday Morning Managers in addition to having you participate as mentors, fellows, mentees, and in our executive circle, emerging leader institute, and research to practice institute. We even have our own week now, Social Work Management Week in addition to a certificate program.

I say all of this to say that although it may be scary and there may be a variety of factors that may cause us to hold back, sometimes, most times it’s better to take the risk. I never thought I’d be here and doing the things I’ve done- we’ve done, but I am. Social Work prepared me for this.  Whatever you have your sights on whether you’re an emerging leader or a seasoned leader, I hope you find the confidence to go for it.  I am proud to lead The Network for Social Work Management and excited to see where we all can take the Network together. Thank you all for this opportunity!

Lakeya Cherry - Executive Director, NSWM

Lakeya Cherry, MSSW is the Executive Director of the Network for Social Work Management, an international membership organization dedicated to strengthening leadership in health and human services. Under her leadership the Network has grown globally and introduced new, innovative programming that meets the needs of social work leaders everywhere. At her previous potion with 2U, Inc., a technology company partnering with prestigious universities to place degree programs online, Lakeya was a senior regional field manager for the University at Southern California School of Social Work’s online Master of Social Work program. Cherry was in charge of spearheading national partnerships and managing field education agency development initiatives. She has also held a variety of direct service positions in the nonprofit sector and volunteers during her free time.

She earned her Master of Science of Social Work from Columbia University and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Legal Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Lakeya also holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Executive Leadership from the National Human Services Assembly in collaboration with The Fund Raising School at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, the Executive Education Program at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, and ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.