Name: Karen Lehman
Role: CEO of Mennonite Health Services (MHS), effective May 1
1. What is one fun or interesting fact about yourself?
I am the fifth daughter in a family of six children, my brother being the youngest. My older sisters have been incredible role models for me growing up and showing me it’s possible to attend college after marriage and children. We have a family blog, “Amishmade – Being and Belonging in a non-Amish World,” and take turns contributing. One of these years we will publish a book.
2. Why did you say “yes” to becoming CEO of Mennonite Health Services (MHS)?
Saying “yes” was very easy. Much of my professional life was spent in MHS-sponsored organizations, or closely related organizations (Quakers), and I have had many influential role models and colleagues within MHS. In my most recent work with MHS Consulting, I gained an even greater appreciation for the breadth and depth of our work. Anabaptist from birth but convinced as a follower of Jesus as an adult, my Anabaptist values have just continued to be strengthened, noting in particular a brief tenure with a large for-profit organization that challenged both my values and ethics. I am passionate about MHS and our member organizations – the mission and vision of our members, and the possibilities in the future as our church is growing and changing.
3. Can you clarify what MHS is and what it does?
MHS is a nonprofit, faith-based, membership organization connecting Anabaptist-related health and human services providers together to stay true to our values and achieve the very best outcomes. Believing we are stronger together, MHS offers centralized resources and values-centered consulting services that expand each member’s individual capacity for doing good, boost organizational effectiveness and cultivate and support the next generation of nonprofit leaders. Membership and consulting with MHS is open to nonprofit organizations in alignment with our guiding Anabaptist values:
- Justice and dignity for the vulnerable
- Care of the spirit
- Reconciliation, hospitality and service
- Ethical business practices
- Stewardship of God’s gifts
4. How do you see MHS balancing the priorities of 80 members that come from varying contexts?
Supporting and “walking alongside” member organizations each with unique strategies and mission is a challenge in terms of the broad scope of work that is happening across the country. In this first year of my CEO tenure, my goal is to meet individually with each organization and by doing that, I will not only hear about their current strategies, opportunities and challenges, but will also gain a deeper understanding how MHS can serve as resource, guide and partner going forward. I work with experienced, talented and dedicated colleagues with some great longevity so the balancing of priorities is an MHS team approach.
5. What is area that’s an opportunity for growth and innovation among MHS and its members?
One area is urban Mennonite congregations engaging in social ministry in their communities. This may offer unique opportunities for programs and services for MHS and our current members – for members to expand services and programs and/or for MHS to be involved in new ways that have not been our traditional portfolio of programs. As government regulations change and reimbursements decrease, and there is more uncertainty about the future, it is requiring our members to become more creative and to think about partnering and collaborating. It is also a time to think about how we are serving our employees and who or what needs are not being served.
6. How would you describe your leadership style?
Early in my professional career I realized how important it is to surround myself with leaders who have talents, skills, insights and abilities I don’t have. I always want to work with people who are smarter than me. And then let them do their job and get out of the way. I think those that have worked with me would say I’m collaborative, a teamwork-oriented person, thoughtful, direct and open to new ideas and ways to do things. I am always learning and growing in my leadership capacity. I like having goals and a vision that gives us a direction and focus, but while I am a pretty focused and driven person, I can also take time to have fun and enjoy being together. My greatest hope as a leader is to be a good role model and mentor. I’m passionate about succession planning and developing new leaders.
7. What is one specific goal you have for your first 90 days as CEO?
I definitely plan to have met with each of my MHS colleagues, individually and together as a team, to understand their roles, and set strategic goals and direction for our work (for each individual role as well as together for MHS.) I also want to do the same with the MHS board. I have been working as an MHS consultant so in many ways it feels like I’ll “hit the ground running” since I’m already working with members and clients. Because we’re a member organization, in the first 12 months I do hope to have met with each organization for their insights and feedback, which I believe will provide the foundation for MHS services into the future.
Sheldon C. Good conducted and edited this seven question interview. You can read past seven question interviews online.