Franklyn Baker | Crain's Baltimore

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

Franklyn Baker


Earlier this year, United Way chapters throughout Maryland released the ALICE Report, revealing that more than a third of Maryland households — nearly 750,000 — either live in poverty, or qualify at or below the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) threshold. United Way of Central Maryland works to help those who fall below the federal poverty level and those who cannot afford basic necessities because of Maryland’s high cost of living. The services focus on education, employment, housing and health. Franklyn Baker joined UWCM in November 2016 after having served as chief operating officer for Greenpeace USA.

The Mistake:

Prioritizing a big project over my health and family.

From 1996 to 2001, I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield in the Washington, D.C. market as a senior project leader and manager. I was responsible for this huge project that involved 28 interdisciplinary team members working with 56 independent Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans across the country. We were trying to comply with President Bill Clinton’s Mental Health Parity initiative that requires health plans to construct mental health benefits to be on par with medical and surgical benefits.

My job as a senior officer was to corral the troops. There were about 600 participants, and 28 members on an internal team, with a $3 million budget and a 22-month project time frame to complete our task. There were about 1,200 tasks with 12 milestones, so this was a pretty significant project.

For four to five months I was just really going at it full steam. We had a couple of national meetings associated with pulling together all of the approximately 600 people across the country that were touching this to talk about its progress. During the time leading up to this first meeting, it was really, really, really stressful.

I was working late hours and weekends, and it put a lot of strain on my personal life because it was all consuming.

It was the nudging of concerned coworkers and supervisors that helped me to see that, wow, I have to make sure I prioritize my health, my sanity, getting rest, and my family. I had to do much more by way of delegating authority, and holding people accountable, such as creating a dashboard that would highlight where a project is at any given time and who’s assigned to the various tasks. That sort of peer pressure was helpful to get certain tasks done.

We were able to stay on budget and meet the project timelines before the actual expectations, so it turned out to be a really successful project, but along the way I learned some pretty tough lessons personally. This was my first managerial job at this level of visibility and risk for the organization. Since taking subsequent jobs as a vice president and then COO, that was a great pivotal moment for me as a leader.

I have to make sure I prioritize my health, my sanity, getting rest, and my family.

The Lesson:

What I learned is it’s vital to delegate authority. Over time, I learned that the individuals I was working with at Blue Cross Blue Shield were for the most part doing a really good job to stay on task. They were completing deliverables within the time frames, eyeing budgetary line items, and trying to do the research to ensure we hit our overall project goals.

I had to learn in that role to trust the team members, and to trust the people who had a stake in the project, and not necessarily strive towards perfection by taking on some of the tasks myself. Delegating and trusting that their best interests are being poured into the project, and their own ownership was extremely important to make sure we could hit those 1,200 project deliverables.

In my role as CEO and president of United Way of Central Maryland, there’s been a huge need to collaborate and convene thought leaders and stakeholders in the community around partnering on key initiatives and key objectives that we’re trying to achieve. The ability to connect the dots around the best ways to advance our work within central Maryland becomes extremely important.

Delegating comes much more naturally now, but there’s still a small part of me that’s a perfectionist. There are times when I review a document and have to resist the temptation or urge to want to over edit or over correct someone else’s work, so I do have to constantly keep that on the forefront of my mind.

United Way of Central Maryland is on Twitter at @UnitedWayCM.

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