From the Front Desk to the National Office: Four Leadership Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Greg Parker has had a LOT of Club roles. From Clubhouse front desk to current Director of Organizational Development at BGCA, he’s learned a whole lot along the way. While you may know him from the Club Director’s Academy back in the before times, we are excited to have his voice here on the ClubX Blog today with four of the lessons he’s learned plus challenges you can do right now to reflect on your own leadership right where you are!

Almost 25 years ago, The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Sapulpa opened its doors for the first time with an amazing new facility. If you were to walk in between 4 pm – 10 pm (additionally, we were a community center), I would have been the one to say hi to you, take your membership card & answer the phones. I had gone to day camp for years at the old facility, growing up with my grandmother who had to go to work during the day each summer and had served as a Counselor in Training (CIT) the previous summer. Having my own job at 14 years old . . . I was on top of the world!

Let’s fast forward to my first six months at BGCA in 2017 – a goal I had quickly was to meet with a few key leaders to learn more about culture at National Headquarters. One of our leaders said something to me that really stuck – “Lead from where you are.” Immediately, I started to reflect on areas where I learned to lead from where I was on my career path. Over the next few minutes, I want to share a few of those with you and if applicable, challenge yourself along the way!

As a teenager working at the front desk, I look back on a few things which have stuck with me and truly made an impact on how I work today. One of the most important- “Always keep a clean desk” – as the first person someone can see when they walk in the door, it’s important to keep your surroundings presentable. The same could be said for any role you have in the Club.

Challenge: Does the appearance of your environment represent you? Think about your desk, office, front desk, entrance, anywhere you have an opportunity to make a great impression. This week ask someone you trust to give you some feedback on one of the areas above then make changes where applicable. Know feedback is a gift – you want someone who will be honest with you! 

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My time as a Club Director set the foundation for the rest of my career. Learning to lead people, understand programming, being part of the community, work with a board, you all know how the list goes on. This is where I learned what I now call “My 50/50 Principle.” The Club I lead was in a suburb, so we had a board just for our site. One of those members was a General Manager of a local restaurant and shared, “My job is 50% in the store and 50% in the community to generate business.” I took that to heart and kept that at the forefront of my mind in each community in which I served. I can tell you, every single time our ADA increased, partners were in the Club, staff were motivated with new partners to serve our youth and yep, dollars came through the door! Collaborating with various businesses, organizations and people has been and continues to be the best part of my career.  

Challenge: Are you spending time outside of the Club? You never know who wants to partner with you until you go out there and find them! This week make a list of businesses, organizations, and people you need to connect with to deepen the impact you’re having at the Club.  

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After my role as a Club Director, I spent about 10 months working in the energy industry. While eating lunch one day, I saw the Sandy Hook shooting on the news and ended up being glued to that TV the rest of the day. I realized after a short time away, Clubs were my calling. By the time I got home, I had already called a mentor of mine at BGCA and said, “I’ve got to come back!”  A month later I was moving above a storage unit office in Bandera, Texas as their new CEO. Eight years later, the people in Bandera/San Antonio are a second family to me. I left everything I’ve ever known and moved 12 hours away. After a few months in the role, I took an inventory of my time and what support we needed and created my “Know What You Don’t Know Philosophy.” 

Know what you don’t know – as any rural CEO reading this knows, you are basically the one-stop-shop! I will never forget the first day I logged into Quickbooks, which might as well be a German dictionary. This wasn’t going to be my forte and our board knew that as well. Within a month we recruited an incredible CPA for the board and hired a bookkeeper with non-profit experience.

Challenge: Have you taken an inventory of your time lately? Are you spending time in an area where a professional could take less time and it be done with accuracy? Kids & families need the best of you, even if it’s not actually YOU doing everything!

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As a VP of Operations, I was able to separate my personal from my professional life for the first time. I think of this time frame and label it, “Personally, Greg.” Working in Arlington, Texas, I was able to take advantage of living in the neighboring town of Fort Worth. If you’ve served youth and lived in the same community, you know this well. Nothing is off limits – grocery store, restaurants, religious practices . . . your families, board members, staff . . . they are always . . . there! I thrive on a sense of community but being able to create my own identity for the first time was the best thing I’ve ever done for MYSELF. I learned how to make friends and meet people without being “the BGC guy!” We work a lot, especially in this line of work, because it’s good work. We spend more time with our colleagues than our families many days out of the year. Learning how to separate yourself from the work is key and the only way we can make it.

Challenge: Have you taken time to evaluate what identifies you outside of your role at the Club? Take some time this week to write down 5 – 10 characteristics which describe you outside of the Club. Your staff & families need you to be refreshed – leave the Club earlier, don’t email your staff all night (they will thank you – I promise), join a club, workout group or just spend more time on your own!

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If you’re like me, we could write novels on some of the leadership lessons learned during your career. Take some time to reflect this week to see if you are truly leading from where you are at the moment – it could be an area you’re not even thinking about. For me it took a senior leader to share that phrase before I truly took time to ask myself that same question. If one of those challenges resonates with you, take it on as your own! If you discover you need to work on something to be the best leader you can be in your current role, make your own challenge! You will definitely make your version of the 14-year-old front desk staff member proud!

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What are your favorite leadership lessons you’ve learned working in Boys & Girls Clubs? How do you challenge your staff to increase their own leadership skills? We want to share your wisdom! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email

May be an image of Greg Parker, sitting and food

Greg Parker resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has been in the Movement, including working at a Club in high school, a little under 15 years. In his free time, he likes to enjoy a few miles on a road bike, catch a good biography series through Podcasts or streaming service and spend time with his family. Because of his love of music, he is also a vinyl collector. Currently, he serves as a Director of Organizational Development where he leads out on our national partnership with The Salvation Army, which was the place in which his career began.

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