This month will mark the end of David Eisner’s term as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. There have been four CEO’s of this fairly new federal agency and each has put his mark on the field of national service. I worked with all four as the Executive Director of the Michigan Community Service Commission, but my work with David was different—and not always comfortable.
Doing all the right things a new leader should do, early on David convened a number of practioners in the national service field to find out what was working and what needed to be fixed. This was a big question! Just months prior to his start, the CNCS budget had been slashed due to over enrollment, the organization’s systems were largely all broken, and it was facing the anger of Congress in the midst of a political hailstorm. David walked into it all with his eyes open and leaving a comfortable position with AOL Time Warner. He asked my opinion on the CNCS and I gave it. It wasn’t pretty. Largely the CNCS lost all credibility and leadership needed to take big steps to fix it. He heard what many of said and showed the willingness to make positive change.
A year later the tables were turned, David and I would again work closely during another serious crisis. This time our interactions involved our trade association of state service commissions which imploded during my tenure as board chair of that organization. We had a grant relationship with CNCS and our work with Governors was politically sensitive. Through a series of investigations and audits, David and I had to work on opposite sides of the table to restore the credibility and accountability of both our organizations—and we did it. Later we would both talk about how we were at opposite sides of an extremely volatile situation, but came out of it with stronger organizations and a friendly and healthy work relationship.
Now David leaves CNCS having restored its credibility, increased its work and expanded the visibility for national service. At the same time he ruffled a lot of feathers and drove some large and heavy initiatives often times without complete consensus. It’s a rare leader that can be open, fair, direct, and driven—even more so in politics. David is one of those who was—he’ll be missed.
Submitted by Kyle Caldwell