By Elizabeth McGuire
You name it, Joene Grissom has done it. Over the course of her 40-plus-year career, Joene has worked as an educator, marketer, entrepreneur, political campaigner and community organizer. She has served too many non-profit boards to name, focusing her efforts on education, workforce and childcare issues.
Joene grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma, and at age 13 started working at her aunt’s clothing shop. She speaks fondly of the experience and credits that first job with setting her on an enthusiastic, career-focused path.
After graduating from Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma, Joene earned her master’s degree from Texas Women’s University in Denton. She taught kindergarten for several years and eventually moved to Austin to work for the Texas Education Agency. After 8 years with the TEA, Joene launched her own public relations/marketing firm, Grissom & Associates, which she still oversees.
Joene has watched Austin grow up around her and has countless stories of Austin’s most treasured leaders, past and present. Joene proudly campaigned with Ann Richards gubernatorial run and counted Liz Carpenter as a friend and mentor. She graduated from Leadership Austin’s 1989 Essential Class and guided the organization as board chair from 1996-1997.
Now working in the mayor’s office on a community council, she champions workforce and Pre-K issues. She serves on the boards of Community Advancement Network (CAN), the Center for Public Policy at ACC, Workforce Solutions Capital Area Board and Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), where she is the current VP of Communication. And she is a Current Member of the E3 Alliance School Readiness Leaders.
And finally, she is a new co-owner of The Meditation Bar, which she and her business partners opened late last year to offer non-religious meditation classes and workshops to individuals and groups.
She admits that on the surface, her career path might not seem linear, but every job has linked to the next one. Every step of her career and every leap of faith has become fuel for her next venture. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s the common denominator with all your endeavors?
Connecting, mentoring and education. I really like to be a connector, meet people and get myself out of the box. I try to take education into the workplace and into my volunteer work. Like my work in the mayor’s office with workforce and pre-K issues. It’s a perfect time to effect policy, to effect program change, to effect everything. If I didn’t have that background, I could never use my context to talk about funding.
With The Meditation Bar we are incorporating education with special programs such as parent/child, teen and teacher workshops. Having a teacher background, I know how stressful the job is and how beneficial meditation can be.
What drew you to Leadership Austin?
I had started working for the Chamber and I had friends involved. You hear about it. If you are in any wide circle of doing any volunteer work in Austin, Texas, you are going to hear about Leadership Austin. We have come so far in publicity of the good things that we’re doing. We just didn’t have as many projects back then. Now, we’re looking at things like “Is 10-1 working?” We’re doing data gathering. It is so different. We’re really taking on issues that matter to the city and collaborating in many different ways.
What Leadership Austin experiences have stuck with you?
Back then it was more focused on learning about civic issues rather than building leadership skills. Now we have such a strong mix. And it’s always been about the friendships and connections.
Years ago I was co-chair of a committee working on ways to bring longtime members back into the fold. We did a survey and looked at how long alumni stay involved after they graduate, when participation dips, and how to get them involved again. It was all really interesting.
Since Christopher became chair, many of us old friends are all getting back involved. I’ve been volunteering with some of the programs like the Engage and Essential. It’s a great reconnect.
What makes a good leader?
Someone who communicates well and listens. Someone who is not afraid to take risks. If you’re a risk taker then you also accept failure, see what went wrong, and try to figure that out and go a different route.
Sometimes you don’t choose the path that’s the easiest.
The bumps in the road are the ones that stick with you and make an impression.
Advice for emerging leaders?
Identify a mentor. Listen first and see what the lay of the land is. You’re there to learn. I think that’s important: learn from someone who has gone down that path before and really listen to them.
Advice for experienced leaders?
We should always be learning. We learn from each other and from younger people as well. Continue to take risks. Make your leadership style as simple as possible. Make it known what your style is: if you’re an autocratic or a democratic leader, don’t go back and forth with it. It comes back to communication because it’s so important to communicate your expectations. I also believe in sitting down and taking the time for someone. All leaders–experienced and emerging– should take responsibility for their actions.
What’s your best advice as a mentor?
Even though you’re in a job, don’t go from job to job and say “I’m not qualified for that job.” You have to look at what your skills are. Because your skills will transfer to the next job.
We want people to think beyond a job title and beyond a job description because your skills can be integrated really easily. I see that with my work with Workforce Board.
We have to encourage people to increase their skills, not their job titles and likewise encourage companies to support that.
Why a meditation bar?
A good friend and I got interested in meditation and inspired by Dan Harris’ book, “10% Happier.” We started thinking about what options there were in Austin and we saw a need. This world…of us and technology and everything else we’re doing…we just aren’t slowing down enough.
We’ve been open about 3 to 4 months. We offer classes in the studio, but we’re also building specialty programs like workplace meditation. One of our instructors is a cancer survivor and meditation really helped her through her radiation, so we are building programs supporting that need.
What do you enjoy about working with the mayor’s office?
I appreciate that Mayor Adler is encouraging collaboration. His office can’t run non-profits or financially assist but what he can do is use his pulpit and his contacts to further support those organizations. That’s very important.
Adler is out there 7 days a week. He wants to find out how we all live, how we will react to things. He’s very curious. Liz Carpenter was like that. She was curious about what’s going on in the world and how we can make it better. I think that helps us a lot to see that in a leader.
What has changed in Austin?
I came in the early 80s and the population was maybe 250,000. Now it’s 1 million. A lot has changed. But there are some things that just don’t change and the first place that comes to mind is Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake).
There are so many areas in our community that are in a tug-of-war. The one place in Austin that doesn’t care who you are is Town Lake. People are there for the beauty, the exercise, the friendship, the love of dogs. It’s just a wonderful place. Even there you probably can have great conversations without getting upset. That’s what I love. The trail has grown and it’s become more beautiful, but its core doesn’t change. I think Austin is lucky that we have a place like that. I wish we could take whatever happens there into all the parts of our city.
What does Austin need?
I would like to see non-profits collaborate more. I think we have too many non-profits. They all do good work, but they are taking administrative costs and money from each of the funders. Funders don’t know how to choose. We have to do a better job at combining efforts and addressing donor fatigue.
Likewise, we need to create more opportunities for businesses and non-profits to work together.
What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
People. The impact that you have on people. It’s kind of like those kindergarten kids: When you see the light-bulb go off in their head when they get it and you just think, “Wow!”
My jobs have afforded me people, connections, joy. Seriously, it’s been a great ride. And not over yet!