Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010

I love this image. It is colorful. It has some whimsy to it. There is movement. Not the traditional New Year's fare of champagne glasses, streamers, confetti, and paper hats. And as the image suggests, what are your taking with you into the new year? I have been hearing for weeks clients (and friends, family members) talk about what they are leaving behind...but what are your making sure goes with you into the new year? What is the foundation on which you will build?

New Years Resolutions are a tricky affair. I actually don't make them. But I do make plans, set goals, develop strategies, get introspective, change, grow. It is not enough to take a day and say, "from now on I am going to try to be/do..." without framing that statement with an assessment of where you are in the moment and then clearly stating what you will commit to. Think about it; making a commitment to something is very different that saying what you are going to do. "I am really committing myself to..." is very different from "I am going to do..."

For example, try: "my finances are so disorganized and the situation stresses me out, therefore, I am committed to..." or "my weight gain, resulting from my inactivity and laziness makes me feel sluggish, affects my productivity, and diminishes my self esteem, therefore, I am committed to..." For the non-profit organizations in the world, try this: "Financial sustainability is key to our longevity, therefore, we as a board will commit to..." or "our organization's culture lacks a philanthropic spirit...we are too task oriented, therefore, I am committed to..."

We are all taking our bags from 2009 with us into 2010. It just is. The problem comes from not looking at what's in the bags and growing from there. These bags don't cease to exist simply because the clock strikes midnight. Really. So take the time to open the bags, have a look inside, and be incredibly intentional about your 2010 plans.

Enjoy the trip!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Year End Giving

Many people hold their charitable giving until the end of the year. Doing so may be tradition, your expression of the meaning of the season, or perhaps a function of accounting by knowing how much money you have left to give away. What ever...charities are hoping you'll give!

And I am curious...What kind of philanthropist are you? What is your personal giving style? What moves you in your world, moves you enough so you will support it financially? How much do you care and how does your financial support match your caring?

So try this:

Go grab your checkbook. Write a check to the charity most important to you. Go on...write the check and hold it in your hand. The amount on the check is probably what you think you should give, or what you can give. Now write a second check with the amount you would love to give--you would dream to give--to the charity. Really, write the check and hold it in you hand. What is the difference in the amount on the checks? How did you decide on a gift amount on the first check and the second check. What's in your strategy? What is in that space between the two amounts on the checks? Think about it...explore that gap. What would it be like for you to make a movement from check #1 toward check #2, to becoming the philanthropist of your dreams, making gifts that match your love of your cause? Now write a third check, one that is greater than the amount on check #1 and probably not as much as #2...and put it in the mail!

There is so much thought and love and strategy and economics that go into our personal giving. I get it. The key point is to treat your giving--of any size and method--as a philanthropic gift. Giving is philanthropy and you are a philanthropist. Own it. And I challenge you, in this bold act of personal giving, to know what you give, why you give it, when you give it, how you give it, and to whom you give it. Be informed. Be smart. Be strategic. And match in some meaningful way your love of the cause and the amount of your check.

Please give.

Gro(w)th Coaches loves to work with philanthropists. Together we can explore and name your core philanthropic values and make personal giving plans to match them. Giving is not a random act of kindness. Giving is an expression of love, of hope, and of strategy. Contact me and we will explore the possibilities in your philanthropic dreams.

P.S. Don't forget to void/shred two of the three checks you wrote for our exercise above. Or if you want to, send all three to the charity!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday News

I love the Sunday papers! The weekly ritual begins with making coffee, checking on the weather and the tide out the window, noticing the stillness of the house, and then gathering the papers from the porch. Laying the papers out and sorting the sections (in what order to you read your newspaper?) begins the glorious ritual of the morning usually marked in hours and cups of coffee. Sweet!

Each week I get valuable information from the newspaper about philanthropy, careers, volunteering, fundraising, useful (or not) technology. This Sunday, the papers appeared to be offering important information for me to take into my week, information I would like to share with you and others. There was really solid and provocative information for non-profit staff and volunteer leaders--clients of Gro(w)th Coaches--that could be useful. I'll share:

From The Boston Globe: "Picturing a Ton of Carbon Dioxide" was a little article that described a civil action in Copenhagen last week where some activists used a concrete cube to show just how much space one ton of CO2 takes up and to make real an abstract--the human carbon footprint is real. By the by, each American releases 23 tons of C02 into the atmosphere each year!

Imagine you have the entire world's attention for a moment: What does your cause look like in a real, solid, provocative form? What is the image you can create to show individuals their actions (or attitudes, complacency, laziness, action, etc.) matter? What does viewing your cause, your passion through an artistic lens do for you?

Also from The Boston Globe: an Opinion piece called "Mr. President, where is the passion?" that was really interesting. No political rant from me here; simply look at the theme of passion and the importance of having/showing passion when leading. The author says "...being the smartest guy in the room doesn't mean very much [politically], certainly not as much as being the most passionate guy in the room." True.

So in addition to everything you know about your work, your cause, your non-profit's topic, what are you most passionate about? What is the piece that really, deeply drives you? How does this passion show up? As the author asks, what are you "...willing to go to the mat for, no matter the consequences..."?

An editorial in The Jewish Journal delivered a very smart analysis of a very challenging philanthropic issue: generational giving and long-range planning. "Our elder statesmen and women have the assets and limited income. The baby-boomer generation has the income and no assets. Those two groups have to come together and support [the community] financially to their respective abilities."

What do you know (really know) about your supporting philanthropists? What do you know about who they are, how they give, what motivates their giving and how do you match this knowledge against strategic fundraising tactics? If you can believe that everyone has an investment in your cause but they just don't know it, what would it take to make them know it and act (give a gift) upon the knowledge? What if the barrier to making a gift to your cause was you and not the cause itself?

The New York Times had some goodies too. There is a "career posting" recruiting volunteer members of a board of directors! Really. Right next to the postings for hospital administrators and college presidents, the ad "Executive Jobs: Board of Directors" says "candidates should have the capacity to become vested partners in this endeavor, and possess senior executive experience and/or knowledge of the philanthropic and charitable giving community." This charity is going directly to the source--they want executives to volunteer and unemployed or in-transition executives read these ads. Smart.

How are you smart--really smart--about recruiting new members to your board? What is "the source" to which you go to recruit the kinds of board members you want/need? What would it take for you to put away your Rolodex (or palm pilot, or Outlook database, or spreadsheet...) and go to the source?

And if you are hiring, have hired, managing, learning to manage, changing culture, creating culture, creating team, or some such human, relationship, partnership function, here are a few more articles from The New York Times to challenge you:

Check out the weekly column Career Couch: "As a New Manager, Get to Know Your Team" and the article "My Initiation At Store 5476" and the weekly column Corner Office whose subject this week, CEO of Timberland Company Jeffrey Swartz, talks about "What Makes You Roar?"

What a great way to start the week!

And if I can offer you some valuable coaching in the process, give me a call.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gifts

Musings about gifts...

What is your gift? What is it that you offer the world, unlike anyone else, anywhere? What makes this your gift? What do you know about your gift and what do you notice when you give it? How is your gift received? How is your gift acknowledged? If you replaced this one gift with another for a day, what would the new gift be? How many gifts can you offer up at the same time? When you do, do they all stand as powerfully and amplify each other or do they lose some of their individual or collective power? If your gift is not viewed by the recipient as a gift, is it still a gift? What do you make up about all of this?

Enjoy the day. Enjoy the season.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drop & Go!

Saturday morning phone calls are not good. A loved one is dying. A loved one died. In the same morning! Hours later, animals have in-home care, teachers have been contacted for assignments because of missed school, airline tickets have been purchased, rental car secured. Supportive phone calls have been made to those in pain. Action.

What I notice is the ability to act without any barriers. Just do it. Go. In order to drop everything and go requires healthy relationships with school officials, equipment for studying on the go, flexibility. To drop everything requires money in the bank, a suit that fits, prescription medication in supply. To drop everything requires flexible relationships with clients, clear plans with contractors in the yard, and everything functioning at home so there are no worries. An awful lot of preparation goes into being able to drop everything and go. And I am grateful we can do so. We work hard to be able to do so.

When you think about dropping everything in your life and going...anywhere...for any reason...what do you notice? Can you do it? Are you ready? Can you transition from early morning coffee to deep sadness and concern without having to be in stress first? What would it take for you to be this free? What does it mean to you to be able to say "I will be right there" and just go? What do you need to do in your life in order to be spontaneous and free, when you want to and when you need to? How free are you, really?

Family in LA and family in HI...I am on my way!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Invention

My son announced at dinner last night how he was going to apply to be a high school mentor for the spring. I responded by telling him how happy I am to see him finding his "leader" voice. He agreed. I asked him what it was about the mentor program he found so interesting that he would want to commit to it. What followed was a quiet moment of deep thought and then he said he wants to teach younger kids what he has learned, what he knows about navigating the early months of high school. Wow... a leader and a teacher. Great work, son!

One of the many things I love about having a teenager is how he is always inventing himself and reinventing himself. He is in a constant state of exploration. In fact, some of our greatest conflict arises when he gets into a stuck place and forgets to "try on" the various alternatives to being stuck. He has everything to gain from finding out and exploring and discovering and uncovering who he really is in his world. His life is his own blank canvas to fill (really!).

I love to watch him discover aspects of himself previously unknown. Today he is a young leader, a team mate, a classmate, a friend, a volunteer, a student council member, a student who struggles learning foreign language and thrives learning sciences. He likes his food prepared a certain way, enjoys his own brand of humor and music, has his own style and interests. And he is so different today than how (and who) he was even a year ago. The process of growing and becoming never stops with him. Tomorrow will be another day of unfolding, to be sure.

Parenting, right now, reminds me there is something very useful about daily discovery and invention. There is something really valuable about staying unstuck, open, willing, curious. There is something quite incredible about being able to change looks, behaviors, goals, ideas, minds in mere moments and not having to wait endlessly for process to unfold. We can mix and match our roles and talents and personal characteristics; there is no one way to do or be anything. He gets that who and how we are in the world can be of our own design because he has always been supported in this pursuit; I am still trying to figure this out. An essential lesson I learn from my leader/teacher son is that change, adaptation, reinvention, exploration, and discovery do not have to be radical acts; they just are. I hope he never loses this idea.

What about your life/relationships/partnerships/organization is of your own design? What would reinvention look like? What do you notice about how you are as a leader and how the next generation closest to you leads? What are you reminded of when you are with them? What does change mean to you? What's easy about it? What's the challenge? What of the ease or challenge is about you or the change itself? What can you recall of the moment when you went from daily invention and adaptation to routine and safe? What would an instant, in this moment, no time for process, curiosity driven reinvention of yourself/your attitude/your job/your role look like...right now?

Go!

P.S. I am reminded that my son has often said he wants to be "an inventor" when he grows up. Little does he know how he already is one!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Curious...

When are we ever not in relationship? Think about it. People, spouses, friends, children, siblings, neighbors, team mates, colleagues, in-laws, staff members, our pets, clients. And then there's money, nature, homes, illness, cars, sport teams, musicians, classmates, servers in restaurants, the President. Everywhere we turn, whether for moments or a lifetime, we are in relationship with something, someone.

For me, today: I am in relationship with my spouse, my son, my pets. There will be relationship with my contractor, my client (a fundraising department of a non-profit organization), my financial adviser, my car, my son's doctor. I will greet neighbors when walking the dog. I will meet up with my son and his friends when they volunteer at a senior center later this afternoon. We are planning to eat dinner out tonight so there will be some restaurant personnel and money to be with. Over the course of the day there will be many e-mails to respond to and phone calls to answer. And there will be dozens of other relationships to navigate. Relationships are everywhere.

What do you notice about who and what you are in relationship with today? What do you notice about yourself when being in relationship? Which relationship really satisfies you, creates ease and happiness? Which relationship causes stress or anxiety or bores you? What do you find most challenging about being in relationship? Since we can never not be in relationship, what does it take to be more present to them, intentional about them, and skillful in them?

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

School Days

Last night was back-to-school night at my son's high school. Hundreds of parents shuffling from classroom to classroom, listening to teachers describe grading procedures, attendance policies, methods for contacting them, on-line grade reports, and course outlines. Good times!

And while I really hope my boy is taking in the high quality academic teaching he is offered (I am sure he is), I have to admit, there is some really solid teaching adorning posters hanging on the walls in his tenth grade classrooms:
  • Make somebody's day.
  • Ignorance is not an excuse.
  • Choose your attitude.
  • Be wise, protect your eyes.
  • The expert in anything was once a beginner.
  • Just because something is difficult doesn't mean you shouldn't try, it means you should just try harder.
  • Reading can take you to the top.
And my personal favorite was a set of posters asking:
  • Who am I in the world?
  • What is right and wrong?
  • How do I communicate effectively?
  • How do I recognize/understand/interpret differences?
Look around yourself...right now...in this moment. What do you see? What will you learn from what is around you? What are you being reminded of right now? What meaning will you make of the images/sounds/feelings in your space at this moment?

Now back to class!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being Big!

This is Maria. Extraordinary Maria. Maria is the instructor of the aqua-fitness class I take three times per week at the local Jewish Community Center. I have never been a gym-person, a pool-person, an exercise-person but Maria makes it all possible. She is motivating. She is creative. She is highly trained, professional, and a learner herself. And what I notice about Maria--more than anything--is her absolute commitment to each student living a great life by feeling good and exercising with personal rigor.

Today, in class, something happened. Our exercise program was far more psychological than physical (although the physical workout was excellent). Maria wanted each student to be big today... really BIG. She wanted our movements to be intentionally big, wider, longer, deeper. She wanted attention paid to each movement, making them mean something...awareness. Through the entire class, in between shouting instructions and demonstrating techniques, she repeated: "be big...come on, you can do this...get big, get long...think about your movement...you benefit more from big...be big..."

I found myself fixated on my big-ness, my ability to get more from my workout than usual. I heard Maria really pushing me to a bigger place, to a bigger result. It was as though she was diligently pulling each student towards his/her greatest goal. My goal felt possible. My goal was clear. I was going to be BIG.

At times, all we need is someone reminding us we can be big. At times, having someone hold our bigger goal for a bit while we do the hard work is really useful. At times, the geography of being pulled forward is much more powerful than being pushed. Being reminded I can be more, I can be bigger resonates deeply for me. Knowing someone is looking after my whole life, keying into my values and sense of purpose, and holding me bigger than a workout or my day, is incredibly motivating.

Who holds you really big? What does it look like? What does being small look like in your life? Take that smallness and make it big; what do you notice? What would you like someone else to hold for you for a moment so you can do the work of being big? What holds you back from asking? The opposite of big doesn't have to be small; it can be complacent, bored, unhappy, inefficient, lazy, and a myriad of other things. If you're not big right now, what are you?

Off to my day...my really BIG day!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Patience, please

Go to "the Google" (that's a George W. Bushism) and type in "change" and watch you computer nearly crash from over-processing. Climate change. Coins. Obama and change. Change agents. Change theory. Change process. Change models. Sustainable change. Social change model. Technology of change. A case study on epic change. It goes on and on. Over 1, 080,000,000 hits when you put "change" in the Google!

So what do we know about change? It's hard work. It is painful at times. It takes time and resources. Change, for the sake of change, is not change. Sometimes the change you get is bigger than the change you set out to create. Change is fluid. Some people respond really well to change, welcome it, embrace it. Sometimes change is very clear, easy and other times it is a murky, messy process. Change is a forward action...it propels you from where you are to someplace new...for better or for worse. Change will always be a part of our lives, until we die, and even then, change will carry on. Hold on!

It seems everyone I know is in a state of big change right now. And nerves are raw! And I wonder: What do you like about change? What do you need to address in your life before the change occurs? How do you stay with the process when you want to run? How does your attitude about change affect the way you do it? What do you recall about your best (or worst) change experience? What is it that you do that makes the process of change so do-able (or not)? What kind of leader or shaper or follower of change are you?

There are few topics to ponder that are this big. In my experience, if change were a ledge, many people (and organizations and teams and relationships and families and communities and countries and associations and neighborhoods and...) are perched up on the edge looking out and over, some ready to soar and others afraid to move, a few dangling over the edge being held by bloody fingernails, a few crashing to the bottom, and a few others who are turning from the edge and running.

Where are you on the ledge?

Enjoy the weekend.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Battle Ready

Battle ready. That's my hope. It's my current perspective. This morning I am plotting out some important tasks that need to be managed this week and I am shocked by the complexity of the systems I face. I am feeling like I am suiting up for a major effort, some of it probably easy and a lot of it very difficult. For example:
  • We are dealing with an insurance claim at our home (a 50 year old retaining wall and deck collapsed) and we are trying to get it settled. The insurance company has been amazingly efficient. Our mortgage lender has been impossible!
  • We just got a boat (a birthday present from my sister!) and it has to be registered, insured, licensed. I understand a sales tax also has to be paid. This means the motor vehicle department and the IRS. And then there is a tune-up and a required Coast Guard safety course.
  • School is beginning in two weeks for my high school sophomore and there are school supplies to purchase and an impacted course schedule to adjust. This means a visit to the office supply store and guidance counselors.
  • The American healthcare debate and the American political theater...what more to say?
As I head into the week, I lean into my skills as an organizer and problem solver and I try to maintain an efficient stride as I persevere. Trying to have a sense of humor (and a good book for the long waits) is good too. And I just get so curious about how we humans got ourselves so overburdened by systems that no one can understand or manage. Who can understand the IRS or the insurance industry or the home mortgage industry or the public school system? Who?

What does the preparation for this kind of systems engagement look like for you? How do you keep it simple, clear, in perspective, productive? How do you hold people (usually un-empowered workers) in the system accountable for their responsibility to the system? What's it like knowing you have a miniscule presence in a gargantuan system? If we all individually work within the system and the system appears to work, does this mean the system is functional? What power or responsibility do we have to impact (or fix? or streamline? or eliminate?) systems that are no longer useful or too unwieldy to be effective?

And what are you aware of when you consider the systems you have created in your own life? Or organization? Or relationship? Or team? What do you notice when your non-profit organization's board begins to look so weighted down in muck like the IRS system? What do you notice when your marriage begins to sound like an endless chain of voice mail and robot sounding automated voice prompts (push #1 for accounts, push #2 for payments, etc.)? When you notice your system has become [fill in the descriptor of your choice here], what next?

I am geting ready for my week. Off to races. Into the battle. Ready to be patient. Ready to smile and be kind. Ready to complete forms, write checks, gather and present papers. Ready to manage my frustration and celebrate the moments of surprise. And all the while I am going to observe the systems I encounter. Will you join me?

I will report back!

Enjoy the week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Survey Says...

I was asked by my doctor to participate in a study he is conducting of his patients who have had spinal surgeries and/or who undergo spine-related pain management therapies. What was so surprising about the study was that it was about quality of life and not medical care. I loved being asked to reflect upon my quality of life. And you?

The survey included the following:
We know that the meaning of Quality of Life differs from person to person. People can even change their own thinking on what is important for their quality of life at different points in life. In this questionnaire we would like to understand your view on your quality of life at this time. By "Quality of Life" we mean how you have been feeling in general and how satisfied you are with how things are going for you in your life, right now (generally, overall).

In a sentence, what does "Quality of Life" mean to you at this time?

In order to have the most satisfying life possible...

What are the (3) main things you want to accomplish?
What are the (3) main problems you want to solve?
What (3) situations do you want to prevent or avoid?
What (3) things do you want to keep the same as they are now?
What (3) things do you want to accept as they are?
What (3) demands and responsibilities do you want to let go of or reduce?
When you answer the questions for yourself, take a moment to celebrate your awareness and then share this awareness with someone else! You'll be glad you did.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence

I love American Independence Day! It is a day that forces me to ponder and pause, to think big thoughts and consider renewed optimism in my country and its people. It is a day when I am reminded of the power of community organizing and the will of common people. And I have to say, the Declaration of Independence is a darn good read!

Today I am going to think about what I am trying to declare independence from. I know there are some things holding me back from being who I want to be and from leading my life more fully. Join me. What are you wanting to declare independence from? What will you do now? What will you do next?

Enjoy the fireworks!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tradition

I live in a small colonial town where it appears things are being done the way they have been done for centuries. Tradition. As American Independence Day nears the town is in a flurry of patriotic activity from draping bunting on all of the buildings to staging reenactments and parades. Tradition. Nobody can even remember the reasons why we celebrate how we do and the literal or symbolic meaning behind the trappings of the day. Tradition. So somewhere between "this is the way we have always done it..." and the evidence provided by fading tin-type photos and the spiels made by local historians we find the reason why: Tradition.

A day doesn't pass when I am not confronted with some version of "tradition" being the answer to why something is the way it is. Summer vacation plans being made around the family's ancestral lake cottage, the annual summer trip to a theme park, the format for a fundraising gala, the management of a crisis can each be viewed through the lens of tradition. Or not. What would it be like to make a fresh choice when confronted with old ideas? What would be possible to explore various new perspectives for doing something to simply see if there might be a different way of doing something? What would be possible if you held "tradition" as only one of several possible reasons for something being just so?

Remind me of what's really going on here: We display red, white, and blue decorations that symbolize our founding ancestor's fight for freedom from tyranny; we gather together at the lake because we want the younger generations to be connected to their family heritage; we go to the theme park because it is fun and affordable; we maintain the gala format because it is successful and engages the kind of supporter we rely upon; and the PR strategy we use promotes the most accurate image of our brand at the best price. Tradition, while a reasonable measure for some things, can also keep us passive, stale, stuck, complacent.

Could this be why we are so obsessed with products and services and campaigns that are "new" and "fresh" and "upgraded" and "recently renovated" and "version 2.0"? We seem to cling to tradition and yet we live for current. We want it both ways...to feel traditional and important yet be current and new. We want new crown moulding but in a traditional style. We want new scooters that look like classic models. We want new dining rooms in which to eat our "old country" meals. We want something done the traditional way and yet expect a different result. A case can be made that tradition, when met with a current way of thinking, could be very potent.

I think about "tradition, and...?" For example, we set a celebration table to look like such, and what are your ideas we can try? Or, our mission has traditionally been such, and it is time we blend this traditional response to a current way of organizing. Or, a traditional school/family/marriage/community has looked like such and today it looks like this. What's your "tradition, and...?"

Enjoy the day!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wisdom in the Piles

I have been working to clear my desk of some untended filing and unsorted scraps and have been rather struck by the wisdom in the piles. I have to wonder... is there something to the word mess occupying a large part of the word message?

So, some of the wisdom I am receiving from the messages on my desk include:
  • "Quality...backed by a desire to please"--business card tag line
  • "Care you can believe in"--business card tag line
  • A scrap of paper from a hotel with a note that says "don't only be a conveyor of information; be a user of information. This is impact"
  • A note written on the back of a table place card capturing the theme of the talk when the rabbi was discussing Utility, Trust, Pleasure, and Virtue
  • A newspaper clipping listing resources for home pickling supplies. "Although pickling isn't difficult to do, you need the right equipment and the general idea of how to do it before you begin"
  • "Events to remember"--business card tag line
  • A typed paper with the following notation: "Make up your own philosophy. Invent your own story. Free up your own imagination. Create your own self. Perfect your own flaws. Follow your own evolution. Believe in your own team. See your own ability to change the world"
And then, as the little piles find their way into files or the shredder, I get a flash on my computer screen from the screen saver slide show with my favorite photo taken in the old train station in central Mumbai, India... and I am calm.

What's the mess in your message telling you?

Enjoy the week!

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Nod to Tony

I am curious...if you had 30 seconds on a world stage to offer thanks, to acknowledge support received, to make a political statement, to"audition" for your next gig, to smile for the masses...what would you say and to whom? What would this moment be for you?

As she accepted her 5th career Tony honor last night, Actress Angela Lansbury said she would "talk about how she feels" and not read off a list of every name of every person she met. She must have zillions of people to thank. And what we got was a moment of honesty, humility, and essence. We heard about privilege and gratitude, honor and joy rather than names of management and lawyers and stage hands. How refreshing.

Maybe, in the moment, our job is really to receive and not give. Often words cannot capture the moment so what would it be like to simply, proudly, elegantly stand on that stage, smile, and take a bow? What would it be like to have our faces and our emotions and our energy convey to people what the moment means without the lists?

And sometimes "thank you" is just enough!

Friday, June 5, 2009

On the Edge!

In my coaching practice there is a common theme that emerges about being on an edge. The edge is a place that is really uncomfortable, possibly dangerous. A risk and a change is wanting to happen. A leap of faith. Go over the edge and emerge changed. Step into the void and trust you have the skills and resources to succeed. Stay, holding on with bleeding knuckles, exhausted. The edge is a vantage point, a place to look out from, a place of choice--"will I leap or will I stay?"

It is at this edge when we consider our options and then begin to negotiate and bargain and deal. It can be a place where imaginations run wild and a place where a slow emotional and physical death can occur. The edge is a place where the barrier between action and inaction comes front and center. "I can go over the edge if..." "I will jump when..." "Wow, look at all the possibilities from up here..." "Gosh, I can see forever from here..." "Don't come near me up here..." This edge place in our lives and in our days can be filled with great anticipation and change, utter fear, chaos, and paralysis, celebration and faith.

Think about your edge(s). What is it today? What does your edge look like (a cliff? the top of the Empire State Building observation deck? On a bungee jump platform?)? When you are on this edge, what do you see possible out there? What's keeping you on the edge, keeping you from leaping? What is it about being on this edge that propels you into action? What is the difference between what you have on the edge and what could be over the edge? Consider going over the edge--will it be an elegant dive or do you need to be shoved, a gentle tip toe over or holding the hand of someone who joins you?

Two movie images come to mind that describe the edge I feel I am on today: One is from the movie "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" when Butch and Sundance (played by actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford) were standing literally on the edge of a very tall cliff with a gang of gun toting cowboys at the top of the cliff and a raging river at the bottom of the cliff. After some banter on the cliff while bullets rained down upon them, they decide to leap all the while yelling "Whooooooooaaaaaa shiiiiiiiittttt!!!!" until they hit the water below. Kind of where I am at the moment...on the edge, bullets above and a raging river below, partner beside me, time to leap. And the other feels a bit like "Thelma & Louise" when actors Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis decided to drive their cool car off the edge of the Grand Canyon--to a certain death--because this was a better choice from that vantage point than facing the legions of law enforcement trailing them. Either way, two great movies, four great actors, and two incredible edges to consider. The images make me smile.

Go forward, to the edge, and leap. Whoooooooaaaaa Shiiiiiittttt!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Help Wanted

I am solidly of the mind that employees do the job the way they get the job. I am also of the mind that employers manage/evaluate/retain employees the way they hire employees. There is a correlation between energies, resources, tactics, and values in the job seeking and job offering process...a correlation many do not understand, accept, honor, believe. Do we reap what we sow?

Consider: A candidate for a fundraising job who does not cultivate a relationship with those hiring is likely not to be a good cultivator of donors on the job. A candidate for a job who dominates the interview will likely dominate important conversations with colleagues or customers. An organization or company that frequently reschedules appointments with candidates probably does not hold time and appointments as sacred and essential. An organization that rigidly haggles over compensation and benefits (i.e. being really inflexible and non-negotiable) will likely be an organization where employees will not have the resources they need to do the job effectively and still be held accountable for reaching the goals. A candidate who is hired quickly simply to occupy a role will always be viewed as a person simply occupying a role and not essential to any goal achievement.

The employment process is not only about what you (candidate and organization) will do for one another. It is also about how you want to be with one another. The search must go beyond the exchange of service for compensation and benefits. It must focus on relationship...right relationship between the employee, colleagues, customers, donors, advertisers, volunteers, vendors. It's a very big "and"... can the candidate do the job and...? Can the employer offer a job and...?

Job seeker: What kind of relationship do you want with your employer? What do you want to accomplish in the world by the job function you do? How does your approach to your job search demonstrate the kind of employee you will be? Name ten specific things--beyond compensation and benefits--that are essential to you in the employment relationship. What's right about this opportunity for you and how do you know it? Employers: What kind of relationship do you want with your employee? How is this candidate essential to you meeting your overall goal? What are you demonstrating to the candidate about the kind of employer you will be by how you are conducting yourself in the search? Name ten specific things--beyond fulfilling job related tasks--that are essential to you in the employment relationship.

How are you showing up?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Which Comes First?

My word for the day is "sequence" and I am curious...which comes first? I am thinking about:
  • a serious and nagging and correctable physical limitation that hinders your ability to enjoy your life and really stay present. You are slammed with work responsibilities making it difficult to "schedule" your treatment until next year. So which comes first, labor through (and suffer too) your life and work now--impaired--hoping for the time to heal later or work to accommodate the required treatment and healing now and getting the painful, limiting episode behind you?
  • an episode of unemployment that appears to be going nowhere while also exploring life purpose and possibility. So which comes first, satisfying the need for a job in your known but unsatisfying field (you have to pay the bills) while squeezing in time to explore the bigger questions or significantly rearranging your life to pursue your bigger vision while earning the money any which way?
  • life, life planning, death planning, and death...four pretty complicated, deeply personal, and intertwined ideas. So which comes first, joyfully living your life as if the end will never come and blissfully ignoring your responsibility to plan for death or courageously planning for death as part of life and moving on from this place of completion and freedom?
  • job searching and a process that has people seriously off balance and in fear. This is a process that we do because we have to, not one we will often choose to do. It's why we stay stuck in careers and with companies/organizations and in relationships long after the date of expiration. Job searching is about marketing a product (ourselves) when we really only often see ourselves as a part of the larger production effort of an even bigger product. So which comes first, do you do the job the way you get the job or hold that there is no correlation?
Each of us will make the choices that feels best to us. Sometimes, we may even make the choices that don't feel good but are bigger risks, have the potential to take us someplace new, may enlighten us in some way. For me, it is not always about whether I am willing (or not) to make choices, it's in which order I will make them. For me, the greatest challenge and risk and fear and adrenaline comes from considering the sequencing, from exploring options and outcomes...and then acting!

What's up for you today? What do you notice when you shift around your day by making what is primary last and what is last primary? What do you notice if you deeply explore that which you find un-explorable (i.e. "No, I can't go to grad school now!") and really see what's there? What happens if you re-sequence your tasks/goals/ideas/plans and choose differently?

Now go...and choose!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Economic Right Sizing (In the Form of Venting)

I am amazed by the willingness--and the lack of willingness--of people to cut back during these tough economic times. I hear of the daily struggle to make ends meet and yet the act of cutting back is so difficult. What's up with that? Sometimes the process of considering options has to be cut very short. I am reminded of the athletic company advertising slogan "Just do it!"

A little horn tooting: We gave up the second car in November (yes, the gas guzzling SUV); in addition to our economical car we have a scooter for running around our small town and we use the public transportation system often; we rarely eat out in restaurants; We have had (and enjoyed) our stay-cations and have used 2 for 1 coupons for local attractions (like a snowboarding area) where possible; we planted a large vegetable garden in the yard; we have been enjoying the movies that come with our basic cable subscription vs. renting DVDs from the local store; we rediscovered our love of new music by playing old albums from our extensive collection ("vintage" is so cool); we groom the dog ourselves and I recently began ordering her monthly heartworm and tick prevention medications online at a fraction of the local vet's cost; 5 weeks between haircuts; wash the car at home; my son has discovered that worn pants can be great summer cut-off shorts; and we have really enjoyed the feeling that comes from repackaging the bulk food purchase from Costco and loading our freezer and pantry. These (and many others) cutbacks have not been easy!

Each day I read the newspaper and many web sites and blogs to learn more about just how tough it is out there. Staff cutbacks. Furloughs. Early retirements. Restructuring. Mergers. Acquisitions. Bulk buying and shared operational/administrative costs. Leaving vacant positions un-hired. Bankruptcy. Perhaps these cost saving measures are enough for now and they certainly get our collective attention since they primarily affect workers. I cannot quantify it, but I guess there is a collective attempt being made to right size. And I can't help but see--glaringly--the waste that still exists in these tough times. Really, what about waste? What prevents us from rigorously inventorying our personal and organizational waste and then doing something about it?

So this is what tweaked me this morning: I am walking into my local Jewish Community Center where I swim three days a week and see the big corporate water delivery man wheeling into the JCC dozens of the giant bottles of water. In good economic times one could make the argument that bottled water being purchased by a non-profit might be excessive. The leaders making such decisions might find it useful to look into a water purification system instead of water delivery, but I digress. But in these tragic economic times, and at an organization that has been laying off staff and threatening the community with closure in the weekly town newspaper, wouldn't eliminating this water delivery make sense as one tangible demonstration that the leadership is aware and accountable? Of course the economics of eliminating the delivery won't keep the place open, but over a year I bet it is the cost of a few lifeguards or art supplies for the classrooms or a part time grant writer. Really!?

There is the reality here (water delivery is expensive and not particularly efficient) and there is perception. Wouldn't a non-profit, especially one that is vulnerable to closure, want to be conveying to its members and donors that it values their donations and will look at every single possible place to cut back non-essential services and eliminate waste before cutting staff and programming and closing the doors?

Cutting back is not easy. Managing limited capacity is not easy. Protecting your brand it tough times is not easy. Managing a non-profit in today's economic climate is not easy! Doing more with less is not easy. Not knowing how we will emerge at the end of this mess is not easy. Asking your constituents for help and support is not easy. Remaining upbeat, in control, hopeful, and strategic when you are threatened is not easy. Letting go of the past and accepting the new reality is not easy. And carrying your own water bottle from home is not easy. Times are tough!

My message to you: this is the moment to get smart about our own personal and organizational economies. This is the time to plan, sort out, realign, redesign, correct, reinvest, discover, imagine, consider. This is not the time to down size...it is the time to right size!

In this economic meltdown, what are the real cuts you are making? What do you notice? What are the real, yet more symbolic cuts you are making? What do you notice there? What are you noticing is hopeful and smart and right about what you are doing? We all experience barriers to making difficult economic choices; what are the barriers you notice? What will you do?

Enjoy the weekend...within your budget!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cyberbully Pulpit

My son was bullied by some middle school classmates via the Internet (here is our story). As a result, we became educated, resourced, and passionate about the issue of cyberbullying and the effect it has on our kids. It is a huge problem in American schools! One of the best resources out there is from the experts at Children Online. Open their May 09 newsletter for the latest research data and analysis about kids and their Internet use.

Frightening.

Most adults aren't aware cyberbullying exists or that it is as widespread as it is. Now that you are aware, what do you notice? If you know your kids (or the kids of friends or family) are being cyberbullied or are cyberbullying, what holds you back from taking action? What is the correlation between a kid's right to privacy and an adult's responsibility to be informed and engaged?

Read. Consider. Take action!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Simple

"Things were so simple then..." an executive director of a large non-profit said in a moment of quiet reflection: A staff of 3. A board of 7. A budget of $100,000. A small functional office. No quarterly reports to submit to foundations. A direct mail program managed from an office computer and laser printer. Volunteers. An abundance of good will. Just look out the window and see impact.

"I can't believe that..." said my 14 year old son who loves to talk about (and sometimes ridicule) the old days in which I was raised: Record albums and 45's. 50 cents an hour babysitting gigs. Getting off your seat to change the 10 channels on the black and white TV. Packs of teenagers sitting out on a porch talking or making crank phone calls. Summer drives across country and camping. Typewriters. Carbon paper. Encyclopedias.

Things were simpler when compared to today. It's true. And time and technology and life move on, forward, progress, future, tomorrow, next.

What I notice is how unbalanced it all feels when we are not in control of or aware of the choices we make, and our lives become overwhelmed...not of our own design. It is not my interest to keep the future from happening or necessarily trying to define how the future should unfold; my interest is in being mindful of how I choose to participate in it unfolding. I work hard to make the decision to participate, or not, in service to the simplicity and ease I need in my life. It's when I lose sight of the fact I have choice that I begin to flail, feel overwhelmed, act less skillfully on my own behalf.

My life, and keeping it simple, is a work in progress:
  • Simplicity of a home-based business: My laptop computer, a cell phone, the Internet, and a well-equipped home office allow me to do business anywhere in the world at anytime, raise my son in real time, and have a work and life balance that enhances me. It is easy to overwork though. Setting boundaries can be a challenge.
  • Simplicity of staying in touch with friends, family, and colleagues: I have joined 3 social/business networking web sites (only 3!) and I find they take up more time maintaining and less time really being engaged with the people on them. There is a passivity to it all.
  • Simplicity of less stuff: We gave up our second car and are saving a lot of money. And yet, even one car is a lot to maintain (the airbag warning light has been on for three days requiring a visit to the mechanic). And Boston public transportation can be unreliable. I'd like to use a boat and yet the owning of a boat feels out of the question. I love my home and property; there is a difference between gardening and yard work. Love the ocean view from my decks; a 50 year old deck has collapsed from rotted wood. Ugh!
  • Simplicity of service: I have volunteered to serve on an advisory board of a non-profit organization and managing the details of membership on this board is more time consuming than my service to the organization itself.
When I was a senior in high school I entered a speech contest. Lion's Club, I think. The topic had something to do with our increased reliance on technology. I visited with my uncle who was a brilliant and inspiring thinker and we came up with this idea that a key purpose of technology was to provide humans with more leisure time. The other young speakers talked about efficiency, mechanization of factories, etc. And I talked about--nearly 30 years ago--how we were so stressed and overwhelmed by the technology in our lives and how our lives did not actually become simpler, more leisure filled. Having a dishwasher means we wash more dishes. Same is true for the washing machine; we just do more laundry. Cars, boats, swimming pools, computers, large yards and homes...more to maintain. How was it then, and how is it now, that with all of these technological wonders we are enjoying less leisure time and feeling more disconnected from one another? What do you notice abut the amount or quality of simplicity in your life? If you want more, what will it take to get it?

Simplicity... keep it simple...ease.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Some Change Theory

Take a minute to read this article from Time magazine called How Obama Is Using the Science of Change

In addition to the ways in which our elected officials view our thoughts on change, it is a fascinating exploration of what we believe about change and the barriers that creep into our lives as we try to create change.

What will you change this week? Once you get in there, and it gets difficult, what do you notice and what will you do next? How will you celebrate a successful venture in change?

Go for it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Note to Self

A week ago I was in New York City having lunch at a fussy private club in a lovely Upper Eastside building with the ladies who lunch (in this case, lunch is a verb because, in my mind, for lunch to be a noun it has to larger than an appetizer, and this lunch was a side salad at best!). I was the guest of my dear friend, Beverly Tobin, author, teacher, world traveler, opera lover, mother, grandmother, wife. Beverly was invited by her friend, author Andrea Buchanan, to read her piece from Andrea's book, Note to Self: 30 Women on Hardship, Humiliation, Heartbreak, and Overcoming It All, to an audience of women as part of Andrea's whirlwind book tour.

Beverly Tobin (L) and Andrea Buchanan (R)

The book is a collection of 30 short stories provided by women, well-known and unknown, about their personal experiences overcoming hardship, humiliation, and heartbreak. Andrea has taken each story and compiled them into a book that is inspiring, illuminating, and one that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each woman's story is quite personal, human, and powerfully relatable. After reading the collection I was more aware of each woman's heroic individual story and triumph, reminded of the transformational nature of storytelling, and awed by the power of sisterhood.

The clever device Andrea uses throughout the book has to do with sticky notes and the simple reminders they seem to capture in our lives. Each lengthy and meaningful tale told by these women is summed up by a useful reminder of the lesson to be learned, the note to self.

After reading the book, attending the luncheon, listening to Beverly and Andrea share personal stories, and mulling over the impact of the story-telling moment on me, I offer my personal notes to self:

Note to Self: An individual's story of personal transformation is powerful. When this story is held in a larger context of community, awesome!

Note to Self: Overcoming something is a matter of scale. What may be easy to one person could be extraordinarily challenging for another.

Note to Self: Reporting events of the day is easy. Telling our individual and collective stories is hard work. To go deeper than the simple details, to the essence of the learning and the growth and the transformation--and be public about it--is the hard work.

Note to Self: There is something incredibly unifying about sharing our common human experience with one another.

Note to Self: We often forget how extraordinary the ordinary is. And we often are unaware of how ordinary the extraordinary is.

Note to Self: Men have a lot to learn about brotherhood by observing, honoring, and modeling sisterhood.

Note to Self: We are not given the choice of being victimized. We are given the choice of overcoming having been victimized.

Note to Self: Sometimes our circumstances invite us to be something we did not intend to be. Write an inspiring book, become a spokesperson for inspiration. Be a secret teller, become a beacon for truth. Overcome illness, become a healer.

Note to Self: We love a "play really big" story! People who play big, win, overcome, step up, challenge, defy odds, push, get busy, create, incubate, transform...pretty attractive, I must say!

Note to Self: Lunch has to be more than a salad.

What is your personal Note to Self? What do you know about overcoming hardship, humiliation, or heartbreak? What transformation is trying to happen for you if you were willing to tell your story? What will it take to do so?

Get out a sticky note and give it a try.

P.S. Note to You: Purchase Andrea's transformative book Note to Self: 30 Women on Hardship, Humiliation, Heartbreak, and Overcoming It All

Monday, April 27, 2009

On Leadership

I was reading the Sunday New York Times this weekend and came across this interview with Richard Anderson, chief executive of Delta Air Lines. I was intrigued by how communication and human resource oriented his leadership style is. And, I was not surprised to see--once again--how leadership is leadership, regardless of size of organization or whether for-profit or non-profit.

Here's what I learned:

Look for a strong work ethic and effective communication skills.

Be patient and do not lose your temper.

Everything you do is an example.

People look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do.

When you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run.

Change can’t ever be fast enough. But you do have to be patient enough and make sure that you always remain calm.

Be thankful to the people who get the work done, and you’ve got to be thankful to your customers. I find myself, more and more, writing hand-written notes to people.

You really need to be a problem-solver, not a problem-creator.

Always try to be a leader that comes up with the creative answers to the hard problems.

Focus on getting your job done and being a good colleague and a team player in an organization, and not focused about being overly ambitious and wanting pay raises and promotions and the like, and just doing your job and being a part of a team, the rest of it all takes care of itself.

When you’re hiring, they [candidates] already have the résumé and they already have the experience base. And so what you’re trying to find out about are the intangibles of leadership, communication style and the ability to, today, really adapt to change.

You have to probe a little bit deeper into the human intangibles, because we’ve all seen many instances where people had perfect résumés, but weren’t effective in an organization.

It’s education, experience and the human factor. The situational awareness that a person has and their ability to fit into an organization and then be successful in the organization.

You need to make sure that they’re a fit to the culture. And that they’re going to be part of that group of people in a healthy functioning way.

You’re looking for a really strong set of values. You’re looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills.

The ability to speak well and write is important.

You’re looking for adaptability to change.

You’re looking at, do you get along well with people?

Are you the sort of person that can be a part of a team and motivate people?

It’s not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation.

You’ve got to have the ability to pick people.

You’ve got to have the ability to communicate.

PowerPoints don't help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place.

You’ve got to have what our pilots call operational awareness. You’ve got to have your head up. You know, when you’re flying an airplane, you’ve got to have your head up and you’ve got to have situational awareness of everything that’s going on around you.

You’ve got to have not just the business skills, you’ve got to have the emotional intelligence.

You have to have the emotional intelligence to understand what’s right culturally, both in your company and outside your company.

Only touch paper once.

Always have your homework done.

Return your calls very promptly.

Stick to your schedule.

Once a month, take the rest of the calendar year, or the next six months and re-review how you are using your time and reprioritize what you’re doing.

Get the materials out ahead of time and make sure they are succinct and to the point.

Start the meeting on time.

I want the debate. I want to hear everybody’s perspective, so you want to try to ask more questions than make statements.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to use BlackBerrys in meetings.

Stay focused on what we’re doing.

Let’s have a really good debate, but it can’t get uncollegial.

The ability to communicate and communicate effectively is so important that it ought to be a core capability in a business school curriculum.

We measure, study, quantify, analyze every single piece of our business.

You’ve got to be able to take all that data and information and transform it into change in the organization and improvement in the organization and the formulation of the business strategy.

You’ve got to execute

The human factor part is important.
CEO or executive director. Passengers or clients. Customers or donors. Employees or staff and volunteers. Shareholders or a board of directors. Flying a plane from Atalanta to London or feeding hungry and homeless people. Finding a lost suitcase or placing an abandoned pet. How much difference is there really between the leadership excellence required to run a huge international corporation or an essential community-based non-profit?

I know many non-profit organization executive directors who could fly a plane and I bet there are as many corporate CEO's who could run a food bank or animal sanctuary.

What do you believe about leadership?

Lil Green Patch

In case you missed it, from the Boston Globe: "Online Social Networks Click Big With Charities"

Non-profit leaders--this looks like one promising method of raising money, at least as long as the fad lasts (and only after you develop a robust major gifts program, but probably way better than many time-wasting, energy draining special events!)

Facebook users--this looks like a way of assuaging your guilt for all the time you waste spend on social networking. Think about it...a cup of coffee in hand, hanging out with old friends on-line, and saving the world one Lil Green Patch at a time!

I guess I have to look into this here fundraising thingy. I have been ignoring every Lil request since I joined Facebook!

Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

R.I.P.

Spouse and I had a goal for one of our vacation days (yesterday): to plan for the end of our lives! What?

We had been neglecting this project for years and planning this day for months. It was a process. We recently met with our lawyer to update our wills, powers of attorney, health care directives. We set up a living trust for our son and carefully thought through the various scenarios and our wishes--what do we want if one of us dies first, what do we want if both of us dies at the same time, what do we want for pain management or if left in a vegetative state, when should our son inherit the house and money, who gets custody of him. We developed a plan for distribution of assets and heirlooms and even managed to deal with those tricky family relational problems. Big ideas!

We rented a safe deposit box at the bank to house our original wills and other essential documentation. We relocated the fireproof safe to a better location in the house, secured it to the floor as instructed, and managed to fill it with organized copies of documents and other valuables. We even made a CD of essential information and documents and contact information to distribute to the trustees and executors listed in the documents (what good is having power of attorney if your power of attorney isn't aware or if s/he doesn't have a copy of the actual document when needed?). Okay, we even took photographs of the essential heirlooms with some basic instruction for distribution and attached them to our wills. No muss, no fuss!

So this is what I know: Life is complicated and life is unpredictable. Anything can happen. We know this. So plan for the unplanned. Also, and probably the tougher thing to do, is take responsibility for the choices I have made! It is my obligation to take responsibility for my family and its well being, including (and most important) my minor child. It is my obligation and duty to provide calm for my son in a perfect storm scenario even when that means I have to wrestle with the sadness and pain and discomfort of scenarios around my own death. My desire is not to control the world from my grave; it is, however, to see that my resources and hard work go to support my son and the people I care for and who will stand in my value system. While I may be dead, I want my mission to carry on through my son, my surviving spouse, my extended family.

I am struck by the number of people in my life who are distressed when I tell them about my end-of-life planning goal. I am struck by how smart people, many of them parents, who will not talk about the possibility of a tragedy in their lives and what they want to have happen in any scenario. I am struck by how we accept that if we don't talk about it, it won't happen, or worse yet, it is not a problem. I wonder, what amount of discomfort you are willing to walk through in order to do the right thing? I wonder, if you live your life in a planful way, what holds you back from planning for your death and beyond? I wonder, if you do not live your life in a planful way, what do you expect at the end? Will your death be remembered as a chaotic, painful, legal and tax and custody mess or will it be a peaceful, easy, calm, connective time? Will you be remembered for creating a mess or for managing an orderly and loving transition. We can actually do something about this!

A dying man told me once that we die as we have lived...nothing new happens at that time...we die the way we lived. I live in a manner that is strategic, prepared, thoughtful, mindful of purpose, engaging of others. And by doing the hard work today, I am hopeful the end of my life--whatever scenario unfolds--will be the same.

I will rest in peace.

P.S. Everyone should do their end of life planning but if you have complicated relationships (not the norm!) and this topic matters to you, you may want to seek advice from a lawyer and get planning now. Same sex couples, unmarried committed couples, family estrangements, single parents, and a whole host of other scenarios and structures are not easily supported if left unplanned. The law is not on our creative, make-it-up, family of choice side. And death left unplanned makes for a whole lot of IRS and Heir messiness that can be avoided or minimized with some careful planning.

Monday, April 13, 2009

100 Units

Ages ago, when I was Director of Development at a very Hollywood-heavy organization, there was a staff person who secured our organization's annual appointment with a m.a.j.o.r. celebrity to discuss this famous person's ongoing support of our programs. Leading up to the appointment there would several internal strategy sessions with key participants to develop and plan for this year's "ask" of this celebrity. The celebrity was completely on board with the cause, willing to lend her fame and connections to our cause, and she wrote a big check!

I recall an early meeting with the lead staff person who outlined for me the first draft of requests that would be made of the celebrity super star. What followed was a list of small and ordinary requests. What? I, along with the celebrity, was expecting big and bold ideas. There is a difference between getting an autographed 8 x 10 glossy photograph and having a private meeting backstage and watching the concert from the wings, isn't there? The requests were a waste of time.

I wondered out loud to this staff person how when you have a single golden opportunity--in any aspect of your life--what is it like to put everything into it and what is it like to play small? An image came to me then that I used to illustrate my point and it has always stayed with me. It works! I said to staff person "If you have 100 units of something...anything...that are not replaceable and cannot be loaned, given, or borrowed, how many units would you use for any given thing, wish, thought, activity?" For example, If I have 100 major, over-the-top, once-in-a-lifetime donation opportunities in my career (particularly a face-t0-face meeting with a major celebrity who is willing to do anything I need) is an autographed photo the best I can do? Deeper engagement between celebrity and organization doesn't only happen by the "yeses" I get; it comes from the conversations, the negotiations, the brainstorming, and going back after getting a "no" to my request. My job is to be big and bold and work from there. I get nowhere starting from small.

100 units...100 days of summer vacation and my son chooses to spend some whining about boredom. 100 days of peace and a client spends five of them embroiled in a mess with a board chair. 100 breaths of life remaining and a friend chooses not to spend one arguing the small stuff. 100 dollars and I don't want to spend five of them on parking at the train station. 100 hours of a board member's time and a shame to waste any of them on clearing up bad feelings from making a mistake. A simple and useful structure for measuring how we approach our outlook and output in the world.

What are your 100 units today? What do you notice when you waste them? What do you notice when your spend them wisely? What would getting more units look like? Or loaning some to someone else? Maybe 100 units is too many; make it 10. You have 10 units of peace today...how much value will you get from spending even one of them doing what you are doing right now?

How will you spend your 100 units today?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's About Mission, Folks!

I was reading an article in the Sunday paper When I came come across this article about the Jewish Community Center in my community laying off staff, losing memberships to the brand new state-of-the-art YMCA facility down the block, and assessing the damage from declining donations from the economic downturn and Bernie Madoff swindled local Jewish philanthropists. The article reminded me of a visit I recently made to a Los Angeles area JCC that remains on the brink of collapse due to shifting demographics and poor fundraising (my grandmother was one of its founders). Several JCC facilities in LA have already closed. I get it, times are tough. And for those of us who work in philanthropy, we are being called to do more with less and to create from a place of contraction. Not easy.

And what struck me is how out of step the solution being proposed to save the local JCC is with its core principles for existence. Perhaps this is the problem!
"...We're going back to basics, with childcare, camping, and fitness. Those are the three legs of the JCC stool and that's what we're really focusing on..."
Childcare? Camping? Fitness? Three legged stool? What? What about the Jewish soul of a Jewish Community Center? In my mind, going back to basics is going back to the ideal (core value!) that when Jews and non-Jews come together in a Jewish-rich space, the Jewish community is stronger and more whole. Consider: We value Jewish community and at a JCC that shows up as Jewish childcare, Jewish camping, Jewish fitness. Folks, this is not about the three legs of the stool...the stool is Jewish!

Managing mission and matching programs to ensure relevance and relatability is a tough business. Every non-profit organization and its leaders are faced with this challenge, especially in tough times. The challenge is how we refine, interpret, adapt, expand, contract our programs while honoring our mission in order to stay relevant. And yet, the mission remains the focal point, not the programs! What we believe is greater than how these beliefs are demonstrated. The interpretation of the mission (the programs offered) may adapt to the times but the mission itself stays clear, solid.

"getting back to basics" is not a values statement nor is it an inspiring call to action. It is a management decision being made by uninspired (exhausted, bored, unskilled, well-intentioned, in-over-their-heads) people. And it is the wrong call. What would it be like to get back to core beliefs and mission? What would it be like to view the JCC as an institution of Jewish communal life and not a childcare center, a camp facility, and a gym? Perhaps more emphasis should be placed on "Jewish" and "Community" and less on "Center" (facility).

Perhaps this is the problem the JCC has been in--it has been too basic! Managing a multi-use facility is pretty basic. Now may very well be the time to be bold, out there, off the charts, out of the box, crazy! And it shocks me and worries me that paying attention to core values and purpose is considered bold, out there, off the charts, out of the box, crazy!

What do you stand for and how does that show up in the world? What do you notice about your core values and how easy or difficult it is to maintain them when times are tough? What will you give up? What will you protect? What do you think: adapt the mission because the programs have changed or adapt the programs because the mission has changed?

Oy!


P.S. It is later this afternoon and I had a reason to look at the local JCC web site where their mission statement appears on the homepage:

Our Mission

The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore is committed to being
the central gathering place for Jewish life, learning and culture, offering enriching
experiences to strengthen Jewish identity.

It strives to enhance all members’ social, physical, educational and spiritual lives.
The JCCNS is an essential resource dedicated to participating
in and contributing to the welfare of the whole community.

To fully lean into every aspect of this mission statement is how organizations survive in tough times. The survival of a non-profit organization is not a conversation about revenue. It is a conversation about relevance, efficiency, brand identity, leadership, philanthropy, mission and purpose. To focus on the three legs of the stool (childcare, camp, and fitness) is to miss the point entirely.