Lesley Matuszak

Chief Professional Officer, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria
Photography by Kira Kwon

A long-time community volunteer, leading at–risk youth to realize their full potential

A longtime resident of Peoria, I have been chief professional officer and executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria since 2003. In this role, I am responsible for raising more than $1 million annually to support BGCGP’s mission. Over the past 10 years, I have helped triple the number of young people served by the Clubs and created programs that improved literacy, grade point averages, attendance and graduation rates.

I hold a Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University, earned a 6 Sigma DMAIC Black Belt from Caterpillar University in December 2010, and completed DMEDI Black Belt Training in 2011. This past May, I received my MBA from Bradley University.

Originally from Pittsburgh, I have spent more than 30 years as a community volunteer. Currently, I serve on the City of Peoria’s Historic Preservation Commission, Illinois Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs Governmental Committee, Peoria Academy Board of Directors, Theresa S. Falcon EMBA Alumni Board, and the Peoria County Republican Precinct Committee. Outside of my professional commitments, I am an avid equestrian and have held several championship titles in the American Saddlebred industry. I also enjoy skiing and golfing with my husband, Mark, and our two grown children, Alexandra and Ned.

Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2013.
In May, I finally completed my MBA. This goal was postponed for 31 years so I could stay home and raise my children. When my youngest completed his degree, I was reminded that it was my turn now, and the time was never better.

To compete as a not-for-profit in today’s business climate, I realized I needed to up my game to ensure that we accomplish our mission and guarantee a successful future, not just for our organization, but for our clients as well. I have always worked in a business environment, but I wanted to fine-tune my analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as develop my leadership skills. This experience made me a stronger, more effective leader and a better team member as well.

Greater Peoria Honor Flight was founded in February 2013 to serve communities within a 30-mile radius of the Greater Peoria area. I had the privilege of founding Peoria’s hub, along with Margaret Hanley and a dedicated team of patriotic volunteers. As part of the national Honor Flight Network, our mission is to transport veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials dedicated to their service. The GPHF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, receives no federal or state funding; our flights are financed by donations, sponsorships, fundraisers, merchandise sales and community grants. There are no paid employees, and 100 percent of every dollar raised in our community stays in our community. It truly is a grass-roots effort by Greater Peorians for the benefit of Greater Peorians!

It is the goal of GPHF to hold three flights per year until each and every one of our local veterans has visited the memorials dedicated to their honor. The inaugural flight flew from the General Wayne A. Downing Airport in Peoria to Reagan National Airport on June 4, 2013. Flight number two flew on September 24, 2013, and our third flight is scheduled for April 2014. Our veterans were our heroes… now, we can be theirs.

I’m proud to work with the Heart of Illinois United Way, Caterpillar Inc., CPS Productions System and three partner agencies, collectively referred to as the “FDCIP,” or Fund Distribution Continuous Improvement Process team. Under the United Way’s leadership, we worked to develop a process that includes three evaluative tools and support documents to assist United Way-funded programs in their overall outcome performance. The FDCIP process will assist programs by recognizing strengths and identifying opportunities to help improve outcome performance objectives and thereby maximize the United Way’s investment in the community.

Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria is dedicated to inspiring and enabling the youth we serve, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens. Mentoring is a defining factor in our outreach and a critical component of my personal career.

I have made it a policy to be receptive to advice from many people in my life, starting with my mom and dad. They encouraged self-confidence, which allowed me to seek out the advice of others without compromising my core beliefs. This foundation has given me the opportunity to glean life-enhancing hints—from the ordinary to the profound—from family members, staff, clients, friends and my Bradley MBA professors. I even count fictional characters among my most interesting mentors, particularly the tenacious Scarlett O’Hara. Who doesn’t secretly envy Scarlett’s courage and determination? Still, it’s the unassuming individuals—the actions-louder-than-words mentors—that have had the greatest impact.

Chief among them are Jerry and Helen Stephens of RLI, who with their never-ending commitment to their own corporation’s team, as well as their friends and family, have become my career role models. My most prized piece of advice from this industry giant is the power of teamwork to create a cohesive group that makes quality decisions and holds to those decisions by eradicating politics and confusion while committing to a clear plan of action. As Jerry best expressed it, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time!”

When team members hold each other accountable, dysfunction decreases because individual recognition and ego become less important than the collective results—that’s the Stephens’ way. Through their friendship and support, they have carried my Boys & Girls Clubs and me through some tough times, so I strive through the Clubs to provide a safe place to learn and grow for our kids by facilitating ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals. Factor in life-enhancing programs and character development experiences, and BGCGP kids receive hope and opportunity. That’s mentoring at its best.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Regarding leadership advice, I can’t choose one. But like a late-night television host, I have a “Top 10” list, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. Be more like an entrepreneur. See the world not in terms of risk and reward, but affordable loss.
  2. Don’t be so focused on threats or opportunities that we miss our goals.
  3. Peer pressure and fear of disappointing colleagues will motivate a team player more than rebuke.
  4. Persuade people to act while allowing them to think it was their own idea.
  5. The key to leadership is allowing yourself to be led too.
  6. In the workplace, enhancing production and investment incentives are preferable to savings incentives. Don’t worry about saving; just make sure there are plenty of incentives for productive investment and, particularly, innovation.
  7. In the quest for profit… seek advantages over your competitors by developing superior products and services.
  8. The pillars of negotiating: exchange, respect, significance, self-esteem (saving face) and perceptions of fairness. Ignore just one, and nothing will be negotiable. Even serious differences are eminently negotiable once elemental bonds of personal trust and affection are established.
  9. Compensation is important because it influences the only thing that matters in organizations: performance! In other words, compensation contributes to performance by facilitating the pursuit of organizational goals and objectives.
  10. Play to win!

What is your leadership philosophy?
At the Boys & Girls Clubs, my philosophy starts with hiring the brightest people our resources can afford and giving them the freedom to perform their jobs without micromanaging, allowing them to take risks and even experience failure.

My personal attitude and work ethic must set the pace based on how I articulate our organization’s mission as we work toward our goals. To accomplish this to the best of my ability, it is vitally important to seek the opinions and understand the goals and aspirations not just of our employees, but of our clients as well as our stakeholders.

Caring, mature and intelligent people are the most important resource we have to offer. I want our organization filled with people who, regardless of their credentials, will be resilient in handling the inevitable ups and downs. People who are full of energy and enthusiasm for their tasks are strengthened to overcome adversity by being innovative, adaptable and ultimately successful.

My goal is to foster an environment that structures our labors toward better performance resulting in client satisfaction, without sacrificing productivity. The integrity our team brings to the workplace should be mirrored in all aspects of personal lives as well to ensure a successful future for our organization by supporting the successful futures of our people.

What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
To be true to my beliefs and make a positive impact on everyone who touches my life—most particularly my own children, Alexandra and Ned, but also the young people who for over ten years have been entrusted to my care. iBi

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