From the OAH President
Farewell Lee, Hello Katha
Elaine Tyler May
This summer marks a transition in leadership of the OAH. Lee Formwalt, who has served as executive director for the last ten years, is leaving us. Under Lee’s guidance, the OAH has flourished. Lee expanded the membership in both numbers and diversity, and developed numerous new programs, including the highly successful community college initiative. He led us through some tough times, including two convention hotel crises that forced us to move the annual meetings at the last minute. He also carefully steered us through the recent economic downturn. We thank Lee for his outstanding service, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
We also welcome Katha Kissman, who joins us as interim executive director. Katha brings to the OAH a rich and varied background and a wide range of experiences. She is a professional interim leader and consultant for non-profit organizations with more than twenty-five years of experience in the field. Her particular expertise is to join an organization at a time of transition and to provide a bridge to new permanent leadership.
Katha’s experience extends far beyond organizational leadership and administration. She has had a professional career as a singer, has set up programs in academic institutions in the Middle East, has written books, is a trained holistic healer, life coach, and a certified hypnosis therapist.
The best way to introduce Katha to the members is an interview in this column about her vast experience and unique background.
Elaine Tyler May: Before I heard about you, I had no idea that there was actually a professional niche for nonprofit interim leadership. How did you end up in this particular field?
Katha Kissman: When I stepped down as president and CEO of Leadership America, I decided that I wanted to be a consultant. At that time, there weren’t many consultants who offered interim services, and I thought it would give me an edge over my competition. I have developed a knack for organizational development and have an ability to size up the strengths and weaknesses of an organization rather quickly and I’m a good problem solver. I have found that I enjoy helping organizations bridge the gap until they find a new leader. Being an interim leader has allowed me to learn about so many different organizations and meet some fascinating people.
ETM: For which other organizations have you served as interim executive director, and what interests you specifically about working for the OAH?
KK: My two most recent experiences have been as interim development director for the National Crime Prevention Council (McGruff the Crime Dog) and interim executive director of the Linguistic Society of America. LSA is very similar to OAH in that it is also a learned society, serving its professional and academic members, and it also publishes a quarterly journal. I also look forward to learning more about American history and the diversity of involvement by OAH members in the field. Because I live in Washington, D.C., one of the most historic cities in our country, and have benefited from the rich cultural offerings of our museums and parks, it will be especially meaningful to support the mission of OAH. I’m also looking forward to being in Bloomington and on the Indiana University campus. What a charming place! And I have enjoyed meeting the staff--it looks like a great team!
ETM: I understand that you have a degree in public administration, but you have had many occupations. Can you tell us about your career in singing and musical theater?
KK: I was in my first amateur musical at the age of nine and got hooked! Through college, it seemed like I was always in a play. In the 1980s, I was the assistant managing director of the Living Stage Theatre Company at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Living Stage had a mission to encourage everyone to explore their creative artistry. After working on the administrative side for five years, I decided that I should “walk the talk.” I took the leap and became a professional singer and actress for the next five years. I am so glad I was able to spend a part of my life doing that. When it became apparent that I would have to start to consider moving to L.A. or New York if I wanted to really “make it,” I decided to go back to the administrative side and exercise my left brain again.
ETM: Your work has taken you abroad, where you have set up programs at universities in the Middle East. What sort of work did you do in those institutions?
KK: I was part of the founding teams of the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) in 1998-1999 and the American University of Kuwait in 2004-2005, new start-up universities based on the American curriculum model. At both, I served as the director of continuing education, as well as assisting with other aspects of organizational development. Both assignments were fascinating.
ETM: Your training and background combines a wide range of experiences. In addition to singing and theater, you are also certified in holistic healing, life skills coaching, and hypnosis therapy. Do these various areas of expertise come together in your work as an organizational leader? Or do you see them as separate careers?
KK: The training I have had from all aspects of my life has definitely enhanced my effectiveness and, most importantly, my understanding of individual and group dynamics. There is a lot of crossover that happens. I feel incredibly blessed that I have been able to explore and learn so much and that I find interesting and unique ways to utilize my learnings in each and every situation of my life.
ETM: What about your books. Can you tell us about them?
KK: My first book, Taming the Troublesome Board Member, was published in 2006 by BoardSource. My next book is tentatively entitled Managing the Board-CEO Relationship and is scheduled to be published sometime in the fall of 2009 (also by BoardSource http://www.boardsource.org). I also have an unpublished manuscript from my time in the United Arab Emirates.