Working herself out of a job: Understanding Cathy Heying’s leadership style

The mission of St. Stephen’s is clear and concise: ending homelessness. Cathy Heying, the organization’s Director of the Human Rights Program, believes firmly that it’s possible and looks forward to the day they achieve this goal, though she often jokes that it may not be the wisest strategy to work herself out of a job. Those who know Heying have no trouble believing the truth behind her joke; she would happily compromise her own job security or income to achieve safety and security for the nearly 13,000 individuals without housing in Minnesota.

Heying is a mentor and a coach, pushing those around her to achieve more than they might otherwise expect from themselves. She has a warm laugh, approachable demeanor, and is positive despite the draining, often thankless work of advocating for those living without stable housing. Her charisma extends beyond these attributes, including her ability to elevate her team’s efforts by encouraging them to innovate. Heying is also wise to connect the work of her staff to the larger goal of improving lives through advocacy and education surrounding the problem of homelessness. She does all of this without losing sight of the needs of her staff, including those that extend beyond the workplace, recognizing that taking care of her team holistically can lead to improved results in a high-stress, burnout-prone industry.

Heying is seen by those in her network as a visionary leader, but she is also ready and willing to contribute to day-to-day tasks that sustain the efforts of her small team. As is often the case in small nonprofits, she is expected to wear many hats, balancing operational and strategic work, and Heying does so effectively. Her ability to problem-solve and the knowledge she has gained through decades of work experience in the public sector are two of the strongest assets of her leadership. What’s more, Heying’s ability to understand people is exceptional; she has honed skills related to empathizing with others, understanding their needs, and deciding the best ways to engage with others to maximize outcomes. This process does not include manipulation or coercion, but instead celebrates the value of all individuals, from those living in homelessness to legislators. Heying utilizes these skills to communicate persuasively and to motivate others to get involved with the important work she’s doing.

Heying is a powerful, effective leader. Though working herself out of a job may not be the wisest strategy, there is little doubt that she will continue to be a transformational force for the nonprofit community in whatever she does next, finding new ways to apply her values-driven leadership style and utilizing the many skills she brings to her current work.

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