Your Schiff

A little more than a month ago I designed a leadership development module around the experience of Lillian Wald. She is generally regarded as the founder of public health nursing and visiting nurses. She began an organization, Henry Street House in New York City, in 1892. It continues down to 2012. Wald was an incredible leader.

One of the outstanding parts of Wald’s leadership history is her relationship with international banker, Jacob Schiff. She and Schiff shared a Jewish ancestry and a powerful belief in helping impoverished urban immigrants. They came to know each other through a mutual acquaintance. Schiff marveled at Wald’s work in visiting the homes of immigrants—particularly young mothers—and caring for them physically, emotionally, and materially.

Schiff was a rich man, the source of money for Wald’s Henry Street House. He also connected her to other wealthy potential supporters. Moreover, Schiff advised Wald on organizational issues. Wald, for her part, kept Schiff informed of street-level trends and needs. They worked together extremely well.

I’ve noticed that many of my historical cases involve these kinds of one-to-one relationships. A leader will have someone on whom they rely to a great and unusual degree. For Wald, it was Schiff. For Katharine Graham, it was Ben Bradlee and Warren Buffet. For Ronald Reagan, it was to a great extent Nancy Reagan. Who is your Schiff?