Q&A with Myra Goodman Smith, Leadership Metro Richmond & Jenkins Foundation

A Richmond native with over 30 years in nonprofit management and leadership, Myra Goodman Smith currently serves as President & CEO of Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) and as Vice Chair of the Jenkins Foundation Board of Directors. We sat down with Myra to learn more about her interest in nonprofit work, health philanthropy and community leadership.

What drew you to working with Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR)?

A community leader approached me and thought I’d be good for this position, and what drew me in was my love for leadership. I’ve been around community leaders my entire life, and leadership fascinates me because it’s about influencing people. With professional leadership, there’s a sense of rewards and consequences—when you are an employee, leaders don’t have to depend on influence to get others to do something, right? But when you’re working in the community, you have to know how to talk to people and engage people, because they have the untethered option to say no. It takes extra intentionality when it comes to being a community leader.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

The people that I talk to every day. Leaders from the nonprofit sector, the for-profit sector, from public service, across the gamut. Every week, I’m having lunch or meeting with diverse leaders. I have always been teased about knowing so many people! I just enjoy talking to people, sharing experiences, and listening to what they have to say.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I think the biggest challenge is helping people understand that leadership is the foundation of everything. LMR isn’t feeding people, we’re not housing people, but we’re preparing the leaders who will make decisions in those areas, and that’s important. I think a lot of funders still have not embraced the need for capacity building within organizations, but if you want to build a good organization and program, you need to build it on a strong foundation of leadership.

It’s not just the authoritative leadership within an organization that’s important, either—not just the CEO and the board chair, but it’s the leadership throughout. I know many leaders who do not have titles. They are the people that others go to when they have issues or concerns, they are dependable individuals, and they are there to serve. 

As Vice Chair of the Jenkins Foundation board, why is health philanthropy important for our community?

It amazes me that you can live in one zip code, and people four miles way in another zip code will live 20 years longer. I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way. Improving accessibility to health care is so important, and that’s what the Jenkins Foundation focuses on. What excites me is that, with our new strategic plan, we’re being more intentional with our work. We’re looking at what the needs are in the community to be more proactive about addressing them, and we’re hoping to work alongside other funders to make an even greater impact. 

What got you interested in health philanthropy?

My family – I had meningitis when I was nine. My mother lived with lupus for 25 years, and over that time had 14 surgeries. She died from congestive heart failure, and my father died from leukemia, both at the age of 65, which is young. Seeing them as caregivers, and seeing what they went through, drove my volunteer work into the healthcare field. 

What makes a good leader?

A person who is there to serve. We teach Robert Greenleaf’s “servant leader” concept as the foundation for our program at LMR, and he created a test to see if you’re a servant leader: Through your service, do individuals grow? Are they better? Are they healthier? Are they wiser? Are they more autonomous? Those who are deprived, are they deprived less? Our leadership is about the impact we have on others. 

Leadership is also understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion. Some people get to the diversity part and forget the inclusion. Many organizations say diversity and inclusion are important and they put it in their plans, but does their organization actually look different? They do it because they think it’s doing things right, not because it’s the right thing to do.