It’s become a bit of a ritual to write about boss’ and colleagues when we part ways. It’s a helpful way to reflect on what you learn from others, and to honor the relationship you had during that professional chapter of your life.

Almost a year ago, Mark Edwards transitioned out of his role at Opportunity Nation. He left at a particularly busy time in my life, so I never had a chance to reflect on my lessons learned or publicly appreciate his mentorship. But there’s not time like the present, right? So here we go!

Conflict is healthy, but it’s okay to just avoid it sometimes. As someone who feels the need to face conflict head on and resolve it, I appreciated learning that it’s not always necessary to do that. Sometimes, you can just avoid conflict and it will pass or become less important over time. Or it just resolves itself (the person leaves, they come around, etc). And letting it go is often better for you and for the organization.

People remember how they felt, not what you said. This is such an important lesson to remember, especially as someone who does think a lot about words, messages, and audiences. At the end of the day, it’s the story and emotion that captures people’s attention, and what they remember after an event or meeting. So while it’s good to plan what you are going to say, it’s even more important to connect with others authentically.

Never stop listening and learning. When Mark launched Opporutnity Nation, he met with over 300 individuals and organizations to ground and frame our work. Every time we considered a new direction or strategy, we talked to people about it – lots of people. And we actually listened. There were many times we considered a new approach, got feedback from our trusted network, and decided not to move forward with the idea. Bouncing your strategy and ideas off of other people will make them stronger, and allow you to bring new ideas, connections, and relationships into the organization.

Follow your passions. Mark is passionate about increasing economic opportunity. And through his work with Opportunity Nation, he also became passionate about unplanned pregnancy and the role it plays in economic security for families and communities. Ultimately, he followed his passion to start a new organization, Upstream, which he’s running today. Watching him follow his passions to new places inspired me to do the same with my passion about ending sexual violence, which is part of the reason The Enliven Project is still alive and kicking – two kids later.

Surround yourself with smart people and let them lead. Mark always joked that we (the management team) were in charge, and he just did what we said. And he was only half-joking. Mark was humble and self-aware enough to hire people with expertise in things he didn’t know as well, and then let them do their jobs. There were many times he’d say to me, “That doesn’t make sense to me, but if it’s what you think we need to do, I trust you.” Having a leader believe in your abilities and experience is empowering, and motivated me to do an even better job for him and for Opportunity Nation.

Work-life integration vs. work-life balance. Mark was available around the clock for Opportunity Nation, occasionally from vacation. Yet he was remarkably balanced, and it was because he integrated his work into his life. He rode his bike everywhere – winter, rain, hail – didn’t matter. He visited friends and loved ones while he was on the road, and he made time for his teenage daughters whenever they called or texted. Thanks to his example, I’ve been able to experiment with boundaries vs. integration and figure out what works best for me.

I really learned so much from Mark, and am grateful to count him among the mentors and leaders who have shaped my perspective on the world. Thank you Mark!


Mark Edwards