Rebecca Deterding, YMCA of Greater Omaha President and CEO, recently celebrated her one-year anniversary as the organization’s leader. We captured some of her thoughts and notable moments as she reflected on the last twelve months of strengthening the community and her vision for the future.
When looking back on the last year, what highlights come to mind?
It is so hard to believe it has been a year, it has gone by so fast and honestly, it’s been a whirlwind. The highlights have been all of the opportunities to connect with people and four examples come to mind.
Looking back and reflecting on the grand opening of the Westview YMCA and the foundation tours we hosted with organizations that had invested in the new YMCA and OPS location was so fun. For me to meet those leaders at a different point in my career was special. Maybe I had met with them as our CFO, but now being able to speak to them about our broader organization was memorable.
Attending all of the branch staff meetings as a part of my onboarding was very important. It was so nice to be asked questions and listen. It wasn’t me talking about the future, it was really just me listening and hearing them. I loved that.
All of our 2022 openings, including the Lakin Family Park, Westview YMCA opening and being on-site so often while seeing all of the staff come together to support the new location. The Buena Vista YMCA Express being so unique and different and learning a lot. A recent highlight was our 2023 Campaign Kickoff. It felt great being back in person and it was one of the first times I was speaking as President and CEO. It was really energizing and exciting to talk about the organization on a different level outside of finance, to share the stories has really been a huge opportunity. Honestly, I feel like I listen different now. Now I listen for stories more so it’s changing my perspective as a leader.
What are the top three lessons you’ve learned in the past year?
First, don’t do it alone, ask for help and hold people to their roles and responsibilities. I am notorious for just saying, “I’ll do it”, “I don’t want to bother anybody”, and “I can do it all”. And even the expectation that I put on myself, which is that others expect me to do it all. Or the thought that, “Now that you are in this position you should have all of the answers and you should know how to do everything". People want to be lifted up, they want to help and as a leader I have to continually remind myself of that.
Second, providing clarity and communicating it is a gift to everyone. It is probably one of the most important things I can do as a CEO. If individuals don’t have clarity, it is confusing and people need information to determine if they want to move forward. I will always be working on that, but I know it has been a huge focus since working with our consultant from the Table Group. I’ve also gotten more confident in taking time to make decisions and setting meetings up with clear expectations.
Third, under promise and over deliver. I tend to set very unrealistic timelines or promises because I default to people pleasing as opposed to being comfortable with my leadership. It is better to be realistic and reasonable, even if it doesn’t make everyone happy. I think in the CEO position that there are so many stakeholders that it is really important to be more transparent in what I know to be true than what others want to be true.
What excites you about the future of the health and wellness industry?
I’m excited to see where people are finding community, coming off of the pandemic and there is more recognition around the importance of wellness and well care as opposed to sick care. There is more emphasis being put on it, from the government, from companies, from health care, where I think we all knew it was needed before but it was not emphasized enough.
I think the other element is that we missed being around people. It got a little awkward, we didn’t know if we wanted to be in rooms with other people and there was a level of concern with getting sick. Now, I think people miss and recognize how important it is for your health and wellbeing to be with people. Unfortunately screens just don’t do it justice like being in a room with people or being in a group exercise class or attending an afterschool program with other kids.
People need people, and the Y is the perfect place to find that connection. I think that explains the awareness that individuals have regarding all of the things the YMCA was doing for so long, are absolutely critical in society today. It is almost like we are finally being recognized for something we’ve always known as YMCA staff.
What has been the best thing about your role and leading the YMCA over the past year?
I think the best thing has been seeing the shifts in our culture starting to happen, and being an important part of that by emphasizing people and I see staff recognizing the changes. Employees will share, “Oh it just feels different”, or I will hear vendors or board members say, “Oh I see such great things happening”. We’ve always done great work, I think that it is how we now feel about the work we are doing and being able to prioritize culture and organizational health along with the progress of the Senior Team and working together better as a team.
What are your goals for year two as you lead the YMCA?
My goals for year two include completing the strategic plan and starting to move that work forward. To me that means having some clear direction and being able to communicate that out across the organization. Again, sharing that clarity piece around what our focus is and what are we doing. Answering important questions like, what is the senior team talking about? What is the metro board talking about? I really look forward to finishing that and being able share that with the organization.
I also want to continue to develop the YMCA Senior Team. While it is a part of the strategic plan, as President and CEO, it is a significant part of my role and I need to always make sure it is a focus and a top priority for me. I always think it is kind of funny in the CEO position you don’t have a significant amount of tasks you are directly responsible for, but you have a ton of responsibility, as weird as it sounds. For example, from the CFO role, you had the audit, you had the financials and there were clear black and white touch points you had to meet. As CEO, it is responsibility from an overall organization perspective and being able to impact the culture, direction, clarity and communication so it is very big buckets of work rather than tactical execution.
The last thing I want to add is that I felt super blessed to get the position and I feel more so today than I did a year ago. As stressful as it is and time appears to be an illusion, I still feel just as excited a year into this position. I look back on everything that we went through and I’m more passionate, more excited, more overwhelmed by the feeling of being blessed than when I accepted the role. I only see upside for our organization. I see us continuing to get stronger.