At first glance, I’m willing to bet 99% of my audience will A) not know who Vignetta Charles is, and B) wonder why I’m writing about my Wife’s former supervisor. So, as you can see (A) is answered by (B), and (B) is where the awesome story lies.
When the Wife and I moved to the DC area almost 10 years ago (HOLY HELL, I can’t believe it’s been that long), we arrived with her already employed by a nonprofit called the National AIDS Fund. She worked on exciting projects and wrote grant proposals for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, as well as access to care.
After being at the National AIDS Fund for a couple years, the Wife, like a lot of people in the same position for a while, started to become a little down on her job, unsure of the choice she made, and felt generally unsupported and unmotivated. Around that time, there was a simultaneous hiring of an amazing VP of Programs, Vignetta Charles, and a major reorganization where the National AIDS Fund merged with another organization and became AIDS United (of which Vignetta would become Senior Vice President).
Vignetta is a well-known figure in the health and human services community. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1997, she started her career in health as a case manager. Fast forward just 20 short years later, she has served on PACHA under President Obama (President’s Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS), and she is now the CEO of ETR (Education, Training and Research). Oh, and along that way she just happened to get her Master’s from Harvard and PhD from John Hopkins. See where I’m going with all this? The woman is smart AF, and she was just what the Wife needed in a new boss.
After Vignetta joined AIDS United, I saw an immediate change in my Wife. She was re-energized, motivated, and overall seemed to do a complete 180. It turned out that Vignetta wasn’t only smart, she was pretty awesome too.
Over the next couple of years I watched as not only my Wife grew and changed for the better, but so did other staff. I was fairly close with several of my Wife’s former coworkers, and while they all (including my Wife) complained about the pains and the politics that came with working for a nonprofit, whenever something was mentioned as running well, or being a positive, the solutions all led back to Vignetta.
I asked my Wife one day what Vignetta was like as a boss. The description she gave me can be summed up as this; Vignetta is the type of, not only supervisor, but person, that you dream of working for. She had a high level of expectations that made working for her challenging, fun, and fair. There was an inherent level of trust that as long as the work got done, it didn’t matter how long or short your workdays were, necessarily. She believed in the potential of her staff, and naturally wanted to see everyone succeed.
I’m sure a lot of you, like me, have head that line before in your place of work, and have given an eye roll that almost knocked you over, but Vignetta was for real on that. She trusted in her employees to get their work done. If you said you were going to do ABC by XYZ date, you better have that shit ready to go, and don’t constantly ask her for help, because if she has to do it, what does she need you for? That may sound harsh, but I totally get it.
I watched as my Wife grew and flourished while having Vignetta as not only a boss, but as a mentor, and a friend. I heard my Wife and her coworkers talk about Vignetta’s leadership and knew all these people would run through a wall for her. I watched from the background as Vignetta, who claims to not be so touchy-feely, supported my Wife through the rough first year of having our son. She allowed my wife to create her own work schedule, because she had so much faith in her to get her work done, and believed that if employees have a high quality of life and good work/family/life balance, then they’ll stay. So my wife stayed probably longer than she may have wanted, because she had an incredibly supportive environment. That’s what a real leader looks like to me.
When my Wife left the foundation to start her new journey as a birth educator and business owner, I thought it only right to say thank you Vignetta for helping my wife for the 6 years they worked together. Since I wasn’t able to attend my Wife’s going-away party, I sent Vignetta the following message via social media:
As I said in my message, good leaders don’t need praise or recognition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it. Vignetta is one of those people. She’s an amazing leader, and a good friend. My Wife still refers to Vignetta when she talks about keeping her eye on the prize. She says, “Vignetta has always, and will always know what she wants. That’s why she’s a CEO now. These are just some of the reasons why Vignetta inspires me.
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