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The Blind Visionary: Keeping Her Ego in Check and Things in Perspective

January 5, 2016 0 Comments
Virginia Jacko The Blind Visionary

Virginia Jacko
The Blind Visionary

Two previous articles at this blog have talked about Virginia Jacko, who lost her eyesight while serving as a senior financial executive at Purdue University, started all over as a vocational rehabilitation student in 2001, and only four years later become the first blind President & CEO of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind in its history and is still one of only a handful of blind chief executives in the US. Virginia has been phenomenally successful at the helm of the Lighthouse, working closely with her board to significantly increase revenues and to expand and diversify services. The book I co-authored with Virginia, The Blind Visionary (Governance Edge, 2010), tells Virginia’s inspiring story and ties it to four leadership lessons her experience teaches:  reach out aggressively; act on opportunities; don’t let fear win; and keep things in perspective.  One of the most dramatic true stories in The Blind Visionary has to do with Virginia’s being insulted while having lunch with a former board member.  Virginia being Virginia, she kept her ego in check and things in perspective, quietly and persistently achieving a positive goal without ranting or placard waving. Experience has taught me that an unchecked ego is a tremendous barrier to effective leadership, so I think Virginia’s story is worth re-telling.  Here it is, in her own words:

Let me tell you about a fairly recent experience that gave me an opportunity to put on my advocacy hat. I was shopping in a very upscale department store with a former board member – we were looking for a gift for the outgoing board chair – and we decided to stop for lunch at the really nice restaurant in the store.  When we walked up to the hostess, she said, “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to be able to eat here with your dog.”  And I said, “My dog is a guide dog.  I’m blind.”  And she said, “It doesn’t matter, you can’t eat here.”  . . .[A]nyway, I was in a situation where I needed to be there so I said, “If you can’t seat us we’ll probably just have to seat ourselves.”  So we went and seated ourselves, and it wasn’t a real busy day so the chef came out, the hostess came out, and they kind of looked at us, and I kept talking and being very gracious, pretending everything was just fine.  And now the employees are probably thinking, “Can you imagine?  We told her not to bring that dog in here, and she still brought that dog in here? Who does she think she is?”  I just ignored them, and when lunch was over and I said goodbye to my colleague, I went down to the store’s business office and asked for the store manager, who when I’d told my story said, “Here’s a coupon for a free meal, we hope you come back again.”  I said, “It’s not that I need a free lunch . . . [W]hat you really need to do is put on a training program, because clearly you don’t have a training program regarding the ADA.”  And, believe it or not, the manager just blew me off, saying, “What do you want me to do?  I gave you a free lunch coupon.”

Well, I decided to call the chain’s president at the corporate headquarters, but when I was discussing this with my son, who had experience in retailing, he said, “Mom, they’re just going to pass you off to the lawyers because they don’t want to deal with it, and they’re paying lawyers to handle these kinds of things, so don’t say anything that sounds like you’re going to be litigious. Instead tell them that this is a public relations issue – that they need to put on training so they don’t get caught with a serious image problem.  Then they’ll listen.”  And so, lo and behold, when I called headquarters, I couldn’t get through to the president but I was able to speak to his administrative assistant, and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Well, we don’t deal with that.  You’ll have to take it up with our attorneys, who deal with this kind of complaint.”  And I had to say to her, “Oh, no, this isn’t that I want to be litigious, I just want you to set up a training program, and I want to know when the training is conducted, and then this won’t become a public relations issue.”  And my son was spot on.  Because she said, “Oh, well, can I get back with you?”  And at the end of the day I got a phone call from the president of this really prestigious chain’s South Florida region, “I want you to know that today we conducted training for all of our staff regarding the ADA law.”  I said, “Well, thank you very much.  That is what I needed to hear, and I appreciate that.”

Doug Eadie

Doug Eadie helps nonprofit and public CEOs become stronger leaders through his books, consulting, and speaking.
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