Navigating the Journey to Executive Leadership — In Conversation with Leslie Motter

Point of View
4 min readSep 26, 2023
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Taking on the role of CEO marks a significant step in assuming overall strategic leadership and responsibility for the entire organization’s success. CEOs must draw on a variety of skills, not the least of which is the ability to understand and deliver on key stakeholders’ priorities. According to the Harvard Business Review, the best CEOs “start by developing an astute understanding of their stakeholders’ needs and motivations, and then get people on board by driving for performance.” Also according to the HBR, those CEOs who engaged their stakeholders and then delivered results were 75% more successful in their role.

We are in conversation with Leslie Motter, President and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. With decades of experience leading both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, Leslie is an exceptional communicator and courageous collaborator, intent on building the meaningful connections that result in success.

Leslie, before taking on the role of CEO at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, you served as both COO and CHRO at the organization. What inspired you to pursue a new leadership role within the company?

“Make-A-Wish is a phenomenal organization with a powerful brand. It was a no-brainer for me to take on this responsibility, as it’s important to me that we continue to evolve and deliver on our vision to reach all the eligible children out there, a goal we haven’t yet accomplished.

As the CEO, it’s my job to listen and collaborate so we can identify opportunities and determine how we best invest in ourselves as an organization so that we can have the greatest impact.”

What are you doing to drive that future growth and success?

“It’s critical that we have the right people at the table, so I’m making sure that all the appropriate stakeholders are engaged. Having been promoted from within, I am very familiar with how the organization operates and I’m able to approach our future growth in a holistic manner.

One of the first things I did as the CEO was to split my previous COO responsibilities among three people. I created a new leadership role combining strategy and diversity; another executive focuses on partnerships with our chapters across the country; and the third is our chief transformation officer. Along with revenue, these are the areas that are important to me from a leadership perspective, especially as we seek to leverage the Make-A-Wish culture a critical part of all of our strategies.”

What are the main differences you have found so far between being a COO and a CEO?

“As COO, I already knew the major players, our affiliates, and the board of directors well. But as CEO, I’m interacting with the board of directors and all of the board committees much more than I did previously. In addition, I am actively dedicating time to engage with the CEOs and executive teams from major corporate sponsors, exploring opportunities for revenue growth and fostering strong partnerships.”

I assume your relationship with the board has changed. How is it different?

“I was fortunate that my promotion to CEO had unanimous support from the board, so a level of trust already existed. Now my work with board members involves much more strategy and high-level decision making. We are in the process of mapping out our three-year strategic plan with a focus on tripling our growth rate, as well as looking to embed culture and diversity from the start. My job as CEO is ensuring that the board is aligned with that new direction.”

Leslie, thank you for sharing your unique perspective on the journey from COO to CEO.

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Point of View

A point of view is the angle of considering things. It’s a platform for people with a vision and a story to tell.