Jonathan Reckford | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jonathan Reckford


Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit devoted to building decent, affordable housing for low to very low-income families. Based in Atlanta, the organization has since 1976 built homes in partnership with more than 9.8 million people in more than 1,300 communities across the U.S. and over 70 countries. Habitat recently launched its “Home is the Key” campaign to bring awareness to the affordable housing crisis in the U.S., where one in four households currently pays more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

The Mistake:

I had been more of a strategist and marketing person in many of my earlier corporate roles. The first time I became a general manager of a large organization, I learned that I was great at managing people that were just like me, but had to flex my leadership style to really meet the needs of people where they were.

I think it really came to a head when I was running a retail chain, which is a very different business from the kinds of things I had been doing before. It took me a while to adjust to my new team because they were looking for much more specific direction, with weekly and regular marching orders, whereas my natural style was to give people a clear strategy, and then encourage them to go take it from there. So I had some conversations with some of these folks who were asking for different kinds of support to work through that.

It’s always better to have tough conversations sooner, rather than later.

The Lesson:

I think one of the hard lessons I learned from this experience was that I needed to adapt to a much more flexible leadership style to support a wider variety of work styles and leadership styles on my team. I found that was really important for me when I made the switch from the corporate world to the nonprofit world. It’s been enormously helpful at Habitat for Humanity, where we have such a wide array of stakeholders that get involved. We’re really more of a catalyst than a direct instigator of all the impact we’re trying to have.  

With that, I also learned that leading a mission-oriented nonprofit is very different from leading a company. The principals are the same, but the actual dynamics and the way people want to engage with you is different.

Finally, I learned that it’s always better to have tough conversations sooner, rather than later. Sitting on them just makes it worse. You have to be much more active going into those hard conversations to push change.

Follow Habitat for Humanity on Twitter at @Habitat_org

Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity 

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