Damien Lehfeldt for USA Fencing At Large Director

I’m Running!

Dear friends and members of the Fencing Community,

I am pleased to announce that I am running for one of the three At-Large Director positions opening later this year. I’m jumping into this election for one simple reason: I love this sport with all of my heart, you love this sport too, and you deserve leadership that shares the same priorities that you do.

I believe the Board is in need of more candidates that operate in the spirit of inclusivity, transparency, and honesty.

I believe the Board is in need of candidates who recognize that sexual violence in our sport is indeed an emergency, and one that must be addressed with urgency and expedience.

I believe the Board is in need of more transparency, so that all decisions made are publicly communicated, justified, and not made via procedural loopholes.

And I believe the Board is in need of candidates that understand and recognize the demarcation that must exist between governance and operations.

I’d like to share with you my reasons for running, my operating principles, and four governance priorities I believe should be addressed. Thank you for considering my candidacy, and I look forward to working with you to improve our sport.  

Why I’m Doing This:

Since the appointment of Phil Andrews to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USA Fencing, the organization has been in the process of making a rapid pivot to increasing transparency with membership, promoting Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging (DEIB), and continuing to restore faith in the governance side of the organization.

In a short period of time, Mr. Andrews’ impact has been remarkable. Among his many accomplishments include:

  • More aggressive disciplinary measures taken against bad actors in the Fencing community
  • Increased transparency in all communications with membership
  • Embedding anti-discrimination practices into how the NGB sources and selects hosts for national tournaments
  • Establishing a more inclusive trans-athlete policy
  • Regularly and directly engaging with both supporters and skeptics on social media to solicit feedback, justify decision-making, and advocate for all members of USA Fencing

The actions of Mr. Andrews have rapidly helped restore membership’s faith in the NGB following a tumultuous end to his predecessor’s tenure that included sexual abuse scandals, an exodus of the national office staff, and a pandemic that shuttered the doors of many of our clubs and left us practicing fencing over webcam while we were forced to isolate.

In order to continue the positive impact and direction seen under Mr. Andrews’ leadership, we are in need of a Board that operates with the same priorities as Mr. Andrews, while still being able to tactfully, collegially, and collaboratively push back on him as seen fit.

I am seeking the nomination for one of the three opening At-Large Director positions, because I wish to continue the organization’s positive momentum and its desire to restore the membership’s faith and goodwill that has been catalyzed by Mr. Andrews’ joining of the organization.

As a member of USA Fencing for the last 28 years, I am a zealous advocate for the sport of fencing. It has largely defined who I am today, it is my life’s passion, and it’s time I gave back to the sport. Those who know me as “The Fencing Coach” know that the principles espoused by Mr. Andrews to make fencing more inclusive and to be transparent with members are ones I live every day with my frequent, candid, and regular outreach to members of the Fencing community. My mission in the sport has always been to take the complexities of Fencing and not only make them simpler, but make them more accessible and understandable to all stakeholders in the sport.

Though I am often vocal and direct in identifying problems within our sport, these problems I identify are never in the absence of solutions. To be a good leader in any organization, we must, as Molly Friedenfeld said: “…become addicted to fixing a problem instead of proactively finding solutions.” I am addicted to fixing problems. Whether it was building a Fencing analytics program from the ground up, creating a board maturity model for the organizationsurveying our membership on their experiences with sexual assault and harassmentcreating a change management framework for Fencinghelping membership better understand the constraints of USA Fencing placed by the US Center for SafeSport, or better understand the difference between USA Fencing’s operations and governance, it has always been my priority to boldly problem solve, offer new ways of working, and use my professional experience working for numerous Fortune 100 financial services institutions to apply pragmatic solutioning to the sport of Fencing.

My platform focuses on our most valued stakeholders: our athletes, our coaches, our parents, and our referees. Whether it’s enhancing the NGB’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), promoting and bringing the passion of fencing to the next generation of fencers, retaining athletes after their NCAA careers wind down, improving the referee experience, or making it easier for our coaches to run their businesses, I am committed to working with my prospective colleagues on the board of directors to accomplish these goals. Together, we can take the greatest sport on earth and make it even better. I hope to be your voice to accomplish these ambitious goals.

Lehfeldt’s Operating Principles:

  1. Inclusivity- As a white male who grew up in a well-to-do household, I have experienced only the positive side of Fencing that my privilege has afforded me. I believe everyone in Fencing deserves the same experience I’ve had, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. Through “The Fencing Coach,” I have always worked with the community to make our sport more accessible, more understandable, and more simpler. And as a member of the Board, every decision I make will be in the interest of inclusivity and making the sport of Fencing for everyone.
  2. Transparency- As a member of the Board of Directors, I will make a blog post justifying every single vote I make and the rationale behind doing so. More importantly, I will regularly interact with my constituents to solicit feedback and ensure your voice is heard at the table. There will be no procedural loopholes taken advantage of, and I will always operate out in the open. At any point in time, you will know what I’m thinking and my intended course of action.
  3. Brutal Honesty- My personal brand is one that has been built on brutal honesty and radical candor with little to no filter. I will not always make the popular decision, and I certainly won’t always make the “right” decision, but I will make the choices that I feel are in the best interest of the organization. No matter what, I will always “face the music” and share my opinions with no fluff, both to my colleagues on the Board and my constituents as well.

My Governance Priorities:

I have always believed in a strong demarcation between the Governance side of an organization and the Operations side. Thus, my priorities listed are strictly Governance objectives (e.g. you’ll never hear me commit to “more east coast NAC’s,” as tournament scheduling is a function of Operations).

Number One – Give the Chair of the DEIB Committee Voting Rights on the Board 

According to Article II of the Bylaws, USFA serves able bodied, Paralympic fencers, and also promotes “anti-discrimination on the grounds of race, disability status, gender, gender identity, color, ethnicity, religion, political opinions, family status or other innate attribute is respected.” By granting the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee voting rights on the Board, USA Fencing stands to help live the principles established in its anti-discrimination policy and allow for more diverse representation on the Board of Directors. With the understanding that the Ted Stevens Amateur Act requires 33.3% athlete representation, automatic voting rights of the DEIB Chairperson would require an additional athlete director. As a member of the Board, I will work to ensure our organization’s anti-discrimination policy is one we live and keep at the heart of every decision the Board makes.

Inclusivity doesn’t stop with giving the DEIB Chair voting rights. As a member of the Board, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that every single committee, task force, and working group has representatives from the DEIB Committee embedded so that diverse voices are engrained in the organization’s governance model.

Number Two – Enhance the Organizational Change Management (OCM) Capabilities of the Board and Embed OCM Practices into all Decision-Making

As a PROSCI certified Change Management Practitioner with 15 years of experience in the OCM field, I believe enhancing the Board’s OCM capabilities is a strategic priority for the Board, and in lock step with the Board’s operating principle of transparency. In a presentation I delivered to the 2019 Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), I defined Change Management as: “the act of enabling, inspiring, and supporting individuals to think and behave in new ways that help organizations achieve their goals.”

The philosophy of a good change management plan including envisioning an experience that inspires new emotion and empowers new action, meets people where they are (not where they need to be), builds the right motivation, and reinforces ownership of the change. The aversion to last Summer’s bylaw changes was mostly due to insufficient Change Management.

Any major changes being proposed by the Board must go through the science of OCM. I developed the following list of proposed OCM activities that the organization must consider in the future when delivering upon major changes:

Number Three: Make the FenceSafe Disciplinary Process Fully Independent. 

The US Center for SafeSport (USCSS) continues to leave athletes in the Olympic movement disappointed. While the USCSS uses its exclusive jurisdiction in most cases involving minors and/or sexual misconduct, there is a growing perception among membership that the lack of independence in the FenceSafe process has led to a politicized disciplinary process, especially since the Board has the authority to intervene and alter the recommendations of a panel. Such interventions have led to lessened faith in the FenceSafe disciplinary process at the same time the USCSS continues to fail athletes.

If elected, I will work with my colleagues on the Board to de-politicize the FenceSafe disciplinary process and relinquish the Board’s authority to influence the decisions of a disciplinary panel. I envision a process in with NGB’s may share a pool of investigatory resources to help one another resolve disciplinary issues in a way that removes potential conflicts of interest and allows for a fairer and more equitable disciplinary process.

Number Four: Become a Data-Driven Board

When reading USA Fencing’s 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, the outlined objectives and metrics are strictly qualitative without Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) established for each goal. As a member of the Board, when the time comes to refresh the strategic plan for 2024 and beyond, I will use my expertise in strategy and analytics to establish firm, tangible, and measurable metrics to hold ourselves accountable while providing transparent targets to membership.

As a member of the Enterprise Strategy and Change Team at Navy Federal Credit Union (the largest credit union in the world), I am responsible for delivering on our 2020-2024 Enterprise Strategy’s goals and ensuring all KPI’s are exceeded and that our credit union membership remains empowered and delighted by the outputs of my team’s strategy.

Becoming a data-driven board means two things to me:

  1. Creating a 2024-2028 Strategic Plan with clear KPI’s established and success measures outlined for each goal
  2. Making decisions as a board that are justified by data and member feedback

Data is truth, and the more of it we incorporate into our strategic planning and decision-making, the more we operate on behalf of our valued members.

My Experience:

Management Consulting professional with an expertise in change management, communications, organizational effectiveness, and learning & development. Demonstrated success in leading large and complex initiatives with financial services companies, specializing in customer experience strategy and execution, strategy development, product development, sales force effectiveness, and training/change acceleration. Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Scrum Master, and Prosci Change Manager.

FencingProfessional
-Member for 28 years
-Current Director of Strategy and Analytics for Team USA Epee
-Hall of Fame Committee (2021 – Present)
-2022 Spirit of Sport Award Winner (Region 6)
-Took Down the ProtonMailer (spikes football)
-USA Fencing Leadership Academy (100% Attendance, Expected Graduation Date of Early 2023)
Founder, Editor in Chief of The Fencing Coach
-Virginia Division At-Large Director (2017-2022)
-N2-Rated Referee with over 10 years refereeing experience
-Prevot De L’Epee and Epee Coach at NOVA Fencing Club
-Former A-Rated fencer
-Has a DC Fencers Club Tattoo
-Navy Federal Credit Union – Enterprise Strategy & Change Management Team (2020 – Present)
-Thought Logic Consulting – Managing Consultant, Change Management Leader (2017-2020)
-Capital One – Manager, Organizational Effectiveness (2014-2017)
-North Highland Consulting – Senior Consultant, Change Management
-Deloitte Consulting LLP – Change Management Consultant, Federal Human Capital (2009-2012)

Get Involved:

If you want to endorse my candidacy, please email me at damien@thefencingcoach.com with your name, your club affiliation, and role with that club!

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