Q&A with Kristin Faust, President of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Inc.

  • Kristin recently completed the inaugural Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance

Kristin recently completed the inaugural Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance. The Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance is a unique and innovative leadership program for CDFIs. Developed by CDFIs for CDFIs, the program supports talent that can lead transformational change, ensures strong leadership at all levels of the industry, and promotes leaders that represent the diverse communities that CDFIs serve. The program works with three levels of CDFI leaders—Emerging, Mid-Career, and Executive.

Kristin participated in the program as an Executive Leader. At the time, she was the Chief Credit Officer for Partners for the Common Good. Kristin sat down with CDFI Connect to share how her experiences in the Citi Leadership program have already had a major impact on her life. Starting with her new job.

Congratulations on your new job! Tell us about your new position.

I am the president of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, a 40-year old organization that works to promote affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization, particularly around single-family home ownership for working families. We do lending, home buyer education, and we are also a redevelopment corporation, where we build and rehabilitate affordable housing.

I found the Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance to be a great shot in the arm for me. I have been in the industry a long time, and it had been a while since I had any leadership training. I was fortunate to have a lot of leadership training in the first 10 years of my career, but in the next 15 years I had very little. Interestingly or unfortunately, I will say that this corresponds with the time I was in the private sector versus my time in the nonprofit sector. In the nonprofit sector there are fewer opportunities for leadership training, which is often viewed as a luxury rather than a fundamental part of employee retention.

What inspired you to apply for the Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance? It was brand new, so what really attracted you?

I heard about this program at the OFN conference, when the Leadership Program was first announced. I talked to several people at a cocktail reception that was held for the program. There was a short deadline between the announcement and when applications had to be submitted, but I got back to the office and got excited about it and decided to apply.

Tell me about some of the most memorable moments you had during the course of the program?

The training with Rodrigo Jordan in the first session, who talked about leadership in a context of making hard decisions, was very impactful.

Rodrigo helped make some key observations about leadership. Instead of hearing them or reading them, I really felt them. The session capitalized on the difference between intellectually understanding it, and really absorbing it. This helped me to bring it back to the office and apply the lessons to my life.

I was also very impressed with how amazing and dynamic the emerging leaders were.

What do you feel this program has done for you as a leader?

The Program helped reinforce my own leadership abilities. And it also reminded me that anyone can be a leader. In some ways leadership is a choice, and that really was what I needed to decide. Was I ready to make that choice again? That may have been the big Ah-ha moment for me. That a leader doesn’t have to be the smartest person, or the highest performing person, or even the one who knows everything about the organization. Leadership is not management. What they talked about was transformational change, and that was very helpful in opening up some new thinking for me.

Have you taken any particular actions in the past year that you don't think you would have taken but for the Citi Leadership Program?

For me this manifested in my decision to interview for the position I have now. While I was interviewing, I realized this job would be a great way of bringing together my personal beliefs and my professional skills.

I was in the Executive Cohort and I had been a CEO before, but I wasn’t at the time. So for me it was about stepping back up to a leadership role again.

At my age (55) there are people who are thinking about winding down their careers or starting to do other things in life besides work. Being in this program reminded me that I wasn’t nearly ready to wind down. I was ready to step back up. There are huge leadership needs around addressing reinvestment and revitalization. Leadership is needed in our neighborhoods. So that’s what I wanted to step up to do. To lead, and create a vision for how we strengthen and revitalize our low and moderate income communities.

Do you think the program has had an impact on how you think about the future (your new position? your new organization? the industry's future?)

I think this is an important program for the CDFI industry. I am optimistic about the CDFI industry, particularly after seeing the emerging leaders. With their drive, excitement and commitment. That energy is what it takes, and it was inspiring to see.

I have grave concerns about the issues in our country around the shrinking middle class, and the increasing working poor versus the more wealthy. Having leaders is absolutely crucial at this time.

What would you say to the new class of leaders?

Make the commitment and see it through, because it is a short training program, you need to maximize your time with it.

Within your cohort, you form even smaller groups: make those groups work. You get knowledge, information and experiential learning with this training, but the group element is just as vital. In the group, you get a new network of people you can learn from and share with. I built wonderful relationships that I will continue to maintain.

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