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The Future of Executive Search

The Development Debrief podcast founder and host, Kathryn Van Sickle, invited Lindauer Senior Executive Vice President Jill Lasman on her show to discuss the future of executive search and industry trends. Recognized as a leader in the field, Lasman engages in thoughtful conversation with Van Sickle about DEI; remote hiring, interviewing, and onboarding; and skills that are critical in an ever-evolving industry. With the launch of the episode, Van Sickle sat down with Lindauer Senior Consultant Megan Abbett to discuss her podcast; how it started, how it’s going, and some critical lessons she’s learned along the way. Click here to listen to the podcast and read the interview with Van Sickle below.

Where did “The Development Debrief” originate?

Like many ideas, the inspiration grew out of many different conversations. At the Major Gifts conference in Atlanta, in 2019, I realized I had a lot of questions and curiosities that others had as well. That’s when I thought, “What if I interviewed people?” On the flight home, I started writing a strategic plan, and we launched two months later.

What have been some of the unexpected lessons and challenges?

I’ve learned that reaching out to interview subjects and hosting the interviews – just doing the networking – is a lot like working my portfolio. I have to do the research and then ask the questions and listen. I’ve learned that titles don’t signify knowledge. There’s something to learn from every person, at every level, and that people at all levels – even CEOs – struggle with insecurities. Everyone questions themselves or their abilities at some point. For example, one person working at a university overseas was almost paralyzed by the fear that, as an American, they weren’t right for that position. They learned to let go of that fear because it was getting in the way.

In terms of doing the podcast, learning the technology was hard and editing is hard. I am very committed to having tight episodes and consider each episode a chapter of a book. I want it to be thoughtful and worth the time. The night I put the first episode put out, I didn’t sleep. I imagined people would think “who does she think she is?” Over the past year, I’ve grown more comfortable. If my gut tells me a topic or a question is a little on the edge, I will ask close friends how it lands.

How do you determine content for your podcast?

I try to combine my own interests and timely topics – and push the envelope a bit. I’ve been able to cover topics like COVID and racial injustice that way. I work from an Excel spreadsheet and try to think about four episodes at a time and mix it up, men and women, and what roles they fill. You don’t want to have four VPs in a row, and I always ask the guest what they want to talk about. That makes for a much better episode!

What sparked the idea to explore the field of executive search?

We all want to know: What does it take? How can I start building myself up for the “major league”? I was interested in that, and I knew other people would be too. When you see the announcement of someone being placed in a great job, you want to find out: What did it take to get there?

Because of the pandemic, so many people have taken the time to reflect – and executive search helps us do that. Where do I want to be? What do I want my life to look like in six months or two years? Doing executive search, you help people answer those questions.

How did you come to choose Jill Lasman, Lindauer’s Senior Executive Vice President, to interview?

Everyone knows Lindauer as the go-to firm. People know it’s the crème de la crème, and Jill is at the top of the industry. I knew she would have the pulse of the market and know what organizations and candidates were thinking about, struggling with, and exploring.

What is the biggest takeaway from your interview with Jill?

That diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of every interview! That is a real shift and speaks so highly of how Lindauer approaches their work and the industry. This is not only an ethical issue, it is part of a holistic business strategy.

Have you heard any themes from your various interviews?

One that has come up the most is the value of transparency and intentionality – with your staff and with your donors. This comes up in almost every interview. Donors require transparency. They want to know: Why are you working with this institution? What is the goal of the fundraising? And you need to know the answers to these questions yourself before you can move forward.

How has the pandemic changed things for you in your work as a gift officer at Columbia?

Before the pandemic, people either had a “can do” or a “no, we can’t” attitude. The second group – the ones who would say, “we can’t do a virtual visit” – were immediately three steps behind, whereas the people who tried working virtually accelerated forward. The people who took the pandemic – who took these new ways of working – in stride are raising money now. After the pandemic, when we can travel again, we can still use virtual visits for a variety of tasks, such as meeting with faculty or qualifying individuals. This is part of the entrepreneurship and innovation that is required to succeed.

You have your “day job” as a Major Gift Officer with Columbia, how do you balance that with doing your podcast?

I have a strong foundation of trust with my boss. I went to her first and explained what I wanted to do with “The Development Debrief,” and she was excited and supportive. When I asked for a little flexibility to do interviews she approved and said she trusted me to manage my time. None of this would be possible without that. My job will always be my top priority, and I work on the podcast at night and on the weekends, but so much of my work and personal time is blended right now that I can interview someone during the day and make up for it at night. The podcast makes me better at my job. It inspires me and makes me proud to be part of the field.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself, and to focus on where and when you fall short, whereas the truth is that those timelines don’t matter as long as you are moving forward. I still have to remind myself of that today!

You will never know your impact on others. One of my favorite things about the podcast is when I hear that it has helped people with their staff and their own work. When I started “The Development Debrief,” I thought I would be happy if 40 people listened. I am now at over 20,000 downloads, and I just feel so grateful that people have listened to it and shared it. This was a dream of mine, and I’ve learned that going after your dreams is an amazing experience. Everyone should do it! Be curious and open to what may be. Be willing to learn and grow!

Be sure to listen to and subscribe to Van Sickle’s podcast – “The Development Debrief.”

Interview by Lindauer Senior Consultant Megan Abbett.

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