Dr. Kurt Senske

  • Name
  • Dr. Kurt Senske
  • Title
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Organization
  • Upbring
  • Years as Executive Director
  • I have been privileged to have served as CEO for the past 19 and a half years.

  • What does your organization do?
  • Upbring is the largest provider of children’s services in the State of Texas, providing foster care, adoption services, supervised independent living, residential treatment centers, charter schools, emergency shelters as well as disaster response and other community based programs in 25 cities across Texas and Louisiana. Our mission is “to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.” Upbring’s approach to realizing our mission focuses on improving long term outcomes for all Texas children and reducing recidivism in child abuse by focusing on five key markers: safety, education, life skills, health, and vocation.
  • How did you become interested in this work?
  • I began my career working as an attorney and in politics at the state and national levels. While taking time off to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Texas I was approached by Lutheran Social Services of the South (the predecessor organization to Upbring) to serve as its COO. I quickly fell in love with the mission of the organization and haven’t looked back since. The mission of caring for and providing a future to children who are abused or neglected is simply too compelling for me not to want to play a role.
  • What drives your passion?
  • It is those we serve. Every child deserves a childhood that is free from abuse and every child deserves the opportunity to develop and utilize his or her own God given talents. What gives me the energy to continue in my work is when I hold a baby that has been provided a forever home, talk with a child in our care about her dreams and goals, listen to a mother who is now a better parent as a result of Upbring’s mentoring, or eat lunch with foster parents to learn how we can better serve them.
  • Did you have a mentor or role model?
  • One of my role models is the story of the Good Samaritan. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, the Good Samaritan did not ask, “If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?” Rather, by the very nature of his concern he reversed the question, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” The Good Samaritan was a great leader because he possessed the mental equipment for dangerous altruism; he was a great leader because he was able to surround the length of his life with the breadth of life; and, he was a great leader because not only had he ascended to certain heights of economic security, he could also descend to the depths of human need.
  • What's the biggest challenge in your work?
  • At Upbring we on occasion talk about how difficult it has become to do good. With an ever increasing regulatory environment, endless bureaucracy, and other governmental/societal/legal complexities, it is incumbent on us as an organization to become more sophisticated and strategic so that we can successfully navigate the various minefields that are daily being placed in our path as we strive to make a positive “ding” in our community and universe.
  • What's the best advice that you have ever received?
  • My parents instilled in me the importance of a good work ethic, to always keep your promises, to follow the Golden Rule, to learn from (but don’t dwell upon) disappointments and mistakes, and to keep grounded in God’s Word. They would remind me that it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. What matters is how well you serve those who are placed in your path today. It is wise counsel that I continue to hold close to my heart today.
  • What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
  • 1) To think about your role in terms of “how” as opposed to “what”. Leadership for me is not so much “what”. It is not what title you possess or how big is your budget. Rather, for me leadership is “how”. How well can I serve those who have been placed in my path? This removes our focus from becoming inward and allows leaders to place the focus outward, on others, on our organization’s mission, on what societal problem we want to solve.

    2) To think about your role in terms of what the academicians call “Meta Leadership”. The idea that in addition to transforming our own organizations we must also as leaders collaborate with other organizations to create shared outcomes so that collectively we can achieve a common goal and solve a societal problem such as breaking the cycle of child abuse.

    3) The importance of focusing on all aspects of our vocation, not just our professional vocation. Not only do we owe this to our family, the research demonstrates that leaders who balance their lives, in addition to having a better family life, are more productive, make better bosses, are more well rounded, more creative, and overall, are more effective.

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