Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Day!

I was in the pool this morning (for context: An indoor pool at the Jewish Community Center with a snow storm blasting my town) and as I was exercising, I was thinking about the new year and related topics. Here are a few thoughts I wanted to share:

I was struck by the oft-repeated greeting of "Happy New Year" and what we intend for it to mean...what we hope for it to mean...and how we have so little control over any of it! I notice, in the face of everything we are experiencing as a country and as humans, there is a joyful hopefulness around this new year. The alternative is so depressing.

I wonder, what is it that makes the new year the milestone of milestones? That we get a new day every 24 hours is not enough. Or the new week every Sunday or the new month every first. Think about it... we get 365 "Happy New Days" and 52 "Happy New Weeks" and 12 "Happy New Months" and yet we put all of our hopes and plans and energy into one day. What is significant about this day to you? What is it about this day that enables you to pause and see a whole year? What is possible when we fail in our new year resolutions and have the rest of the year to trudge through until we can re-start, renew, re-boot? Or, what is possible when we achieve our resolutions and have the remainder of the year to do...nothing?

I work with people and teams and couples and partnerships. There is a constant need to recalibrate tasks, realign resources, and renew commitment to the goal. Nothing is ever neatly set in stone and then worked toward its achievement. Change occurs daily...often over and over in a day. If coaching is about anything, it is about change management. A marriage vow must be renegotiated, freshened, acknowledged more often than on the wedding anniversary (and certainly more often than milestone anniversaries). A strategic plan must be used daily, not only when measuring a year (or two or three) of activity. A culture of a team or organization must be reconsidered with every personnel addition or subtraction. Change happens!

This year I am going to strive to acknowledge the moment and use it to guide the next moment. I am not at all opposed to looking long term; it's just impossible right now. My commitment to myself is to bring alignment between the Happy New Minute and the Happy New Year. It is not enough to only look from year to year; to do so ignores everything in between. I will strive to build on one minute into three weeks into five months and into one year. Now. Next. Repeat.

Happy New Minute.
Happy New Day.
Happy New Week.
Happy New Month.
Happy New Year.

(And for those of us so hopeful for smart, compassionate leadership in the American government, Happy New Era... one minute at a time...)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mad Men

I do love a good advertisement! I love print ads best, especially when they draw me in and interact with me. Lately there seems to be a lot of really nice ads that ask provocative questions, invite me to think and reflect, and then they try to sell me something. I am not particularly "print ad responsive" (okay, I admit I hate shopping!) but I do enjoy a good ad!

Recently I was waiting for an appointment and flipping through a magazine when an ad for a major national clothing retailer caught my attention; it was 12 full pages long and on each page was a model wearing a clothing item being advertised and across the page was a question...each page was a similar format with a different question.

The questions were:
  • Trust your own __________
  • Originate your own __________
  • Free your own __________
  • Make up your own ________
  • Perfect your own __________
  • Look for your own __________
  • Compose your own __________
  • Name your own __________
  • Invent your own __________
  • Create your own __________
  • Believe your own __________
  • See your own __________
I am not too sure what the questions (and possibly my answers) had to do with motivating me to purchase clothing, but that's another matter. What I really like is where the questions take me. The questions point me to planning for the new year and to what is possible. The questions move me forward into creation and limitlessness. The questions--and my answers--make me feel good.

If you're game, answer the questions for yourself. Where do they take you? And in 2009, what are you going to do about it?

Enjoy the season!

P.S. In case you were wondering:
  • Trust your own voice. Sometimes I actually do know (contrary to what my teenager wants me to believe).
  • Originate your own story. The story of my life is the story of my life. I get to create it.
  • Free your own creative contribution. I try to unlock what is in me and do it!
  • Make up your own mind! It amazes me how much of our world is about trying to convince others how to think, spend, pray, vote. I have to do that for myself.
  • Perfect your own life. No one is going to do that for me. My life and my happiness is my job.
  • Look for your own wonder. I look for the wonder in my day; snow in my yard, sea glass on my beach, my son turning into a man, my hair turning gray. It's all pretty cool.
  • Compose your own soundtrack. As I go about my day I try to hear music and lyrics. My life has a musical score, sometimes an opera and sometimes a country song.
  • Name your own price. Asking myself "what will it cost me to/not to X" helps me to remember my values and make a better choice.
  • Invent your own anything. I draw from those before me and then invent my own whatever! I make it up.
  • Create your own success. Having success is an active, participatory experience. It isn't going to be given to me.
  • Believe your own story. I worked hard for my story. It's mine.
  • See your own future. I try to keep looking forward, out, to the horizon. Sometimes it's not too clear and I do keep looking out there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Apes

Wauchula, Florida is a tiny little town close to the very middle of the very rural part of the Sunshine state. No high rise condos situated on long sandy beaches. No Cinderella castles or spinning tea cups. No space shuttle launchings. No country clubs and gated communities. Just orange orchards and apes...lots of them!


I spent the weekend with the staff of the Center for Great Apes, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a permanent sanctuary in a safe and enriching environment for orangutans and chimpanzees in need of lifetime care. And I left Wauchula a changed person and a changed coach. Go figure!

The apes--and the humans who care for them--reminded me of some of the bigger lessons of life and the challenges (and joy) of serving leaders of non-profit organizations. I learned valuable things about primates and what's involved in caring for them (all fascinating!) and what really stoked me was how the experience of being with the apes was also a big metaphor for how we humans are (or aren't) with one another.

Some of my (re)learning:
  • Animal rights are parallel to human rights, not subordinate to. I guess it's really about the rights of living creatures. Both efforts are about peace, learning, prosperity, freedom, health, dignity, relationships, rights and responsibilities, community.
  • Caring for animals (and in most cases, caring for people) is service to the voiceless. If not us, who? The staff and volunteers who work with and care for animals are driven by fierce passion.
  • "sanctuary" is a pretty amazing concept, one that deserves attention and contemplation. Animals need it. People need it too.
  • Demand is so much greater than the supply. All of the facilities combined could not accommodate the numbers of great apes needing sanctuary. Think of all the organizations serving humans, and there is still a great need for more.
  • Acting on an idea--in this case, to build a sanctuary for great apes--is a courageous act. Having ideas is one thing; having the courage to act on the idea is another.
  • We have to leverage our success into more and greater success.
  • People want to help animals and other people. Our job is to ask.
  • Expanding the capacity of a non-profit organization is really about being able to expand the ability to care for more clients whether ape or human.
  • Language barriers can be overcome with creativity and willingness. The apes are very clear about what they want and need; the human's job is to listen without the words. Doing so takes skill. What could be if we listened to animals and people with similar focus and intensity and interest?
  • We are often thrown off balance when the simple and the complex collide. For example, feeding apes is simple (although managed by skilled nutritionists) while mastering the use of specialized computer software is complex.
  • What would it be like if living creatures (humans included!) were able to live in the world exactly the way they were intended to live?
  • "Dignity" is a very big idea! What does it mean to have dignity or to ensure dignity? To have the ability to live one's life with dignity and ease--whether ape or human--is a concept worth fighting for.
  • Honoring our "stories" teaches us valuable lessons. Each of our stories shapes us and provides the context for how we live, for how we are understood. Animals have stories. Organizations have stories. People have stories. We have to honor the story as we move forward.
  • It must be easy to exploit animals (many humans are exploited also) since it happens all over the world. Exploitation is quite a business where many people have become very rich. What would it be like to rebalance the equation: where no creature is exploited and they are rewarded for the contribution they can make?
I am flooded with many ideas and concepts stirred by my weekend with the staff and volunteers of the Center for Great Apes. I saw people truly stand in their goodness, their kindness, their greatness. Me too! We worked together, in this case, to create a better sanctuary for apes, a sustainable organization for donors (and apes), and we worked to leverage the history and success of this terrific charity into even greater success. People working together to change the world--one topic at a time--is inspiring and tiring work.

In many ways, the effort was about the apes. In others, it was about the power of people working together for something bigger than themselves.

I highly recommend it!

A few thoughts: What do you notice about yourself and the impact of your contribution when you partner with like-minded people toward a common goal? What does and doesn't work? What is it to be "mission driven" in your work? What do you notice about "yes" and "no" when they are measured directly against the fulfilling of the mission? When the "client" (or the recipient of our effort) is voiceless, how do we know we are making an impact?

And if you feel moved to do so, I invite you to visit the Center for Great Apes on-line and make a financial contribution today. You will grow from the experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Here's an Idea

[Note: I don't intend for this blog to be "political" yet I am aware that politics and current events might influence how I see a particular issue at times].

President-elect Obama is often speaking about his idea (among others) to stimulate the American economy by implementing a massive public works improvement plan. More bridges and highways, improved schools and libraries and hospitals, enhanced parks and open space, to name a few topics. The idea is to invest money in America, in American workers, in American infrastructure and this will be good for the economy overall. I'm no economist, but okay!

And I wonder...from my perspective as a person who works with leaders of non-profit organizations, what can be more to the core of who we are as a country than how we care for one another? In terms of a massive public works improvement plan, every American non-profit organization should be first in line to receive funds!

Every public homeless shelter and animal rights organization and civil rights task force and art museum and school and healthcare institution and domestic violence shelter and hospice and hotline and soup kitchen and youth sport team and English teacher in the inner city and prison librarian and pool lifeguard and social worker and community center volunteer should be considered first for the funds that will be made available to repair our country's infrastructure.

It is pretty simple: American non-profit organizations need trained volunteer boards of directors, qualified and trained and fairly compensated staff members who also receive health and other benefits, appropriate and safe and accessible and resourced facilities, support with planning for a sustainable future, computers and other useful equipment. Non-profit organizations need support for projects and equipment and staff specialists specific to the service they deliver. These non-profits need fundraisers who are trained and who have the resources to leverage a few gifts into many gifts. They need databases and web sites and file cabinets and lead-free paint and playground equipment and gallery space and veterinarian care. Unpaid staff people (and there are too many!) need to be paid for their tireless contributions and non-profit organizations need to move out of well meaning people's living rooms and into facilities more easily accessed by clients. We need to provide the resources so they can replace "basic services" with "we can provide you with what you need or we will link you to someone who can." Non-profit organizations should not have to have "sliding scale" fee structures or waiting lists; everyone should have service if they need it. Non-profit organizations should not have to choose between providing service or keeping the facility warm in winter.

I could go on!

I know a lot about non-profit organizations and the people who love them! No one can do more good with such limited resources than people who work for non-profit organizations. A massive investment in non-profit organizations--the human infrastructure of our country--when managed by people who demonstrate daily they can do so much with so little, would be a smart investment.

Now that's change!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Contrary Action

Almost twenty-five years ago, while sitting in an Alanon meeting in Southern California, I remember hearing a speaker talk about taking contrary action. The specifics of the story are long gone to me now but this person talked about needing to radically shift things up by doing a behavior that was contrary to what he typically would do. Contrary action... taking action from an opposite perspective or taking opposite action from your current perspective. I'm not talking about doing the opposite simply for the sake of being contrary; rather, consider taking an action that might be contrary to your current state of being.

I am sure taking contrary action is not as easy as it may seem, but it certainly sounds easy.

A common theme I here from coaching clients is being stuck or disempowered to act or immobilized in some feeling that inhibits action. And I wonder, what might be possible to decide to take an opposite, or contrary approach, to what you currently feel or believe? I wonder... if you feel too shy to raise funds for your organization, act outgoing and go raise funds for your organization. If you cannot bear the idea of terminating an unproductive volunteer for fear of hurting their feelings, kindly (and unapologetically) ask them to leave and trust your skills to soothe hurt feelings. If you regularly attend board meetings that bore and frustrate you then dare to attend and make them productive and useful.

There sure is somethig powerful, almost seductive or familiar, about staying in the stuck place. We know it well and when we make choice or take action from this place there is no possibility of change. Forget about contrary action. We choose to stay in inaction.

Think about it: If you want something you don't have, you may have to do something you haven't done or you may have to be something you haven't been before. It may be an act of contrary action to take contrary action.

Now go try it!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Farewell Snowbird

I have a friend at the pool where I swim three days a week. I really like her and we have a good time chatting as we work out. We are very different and we are close. This morning's workout was pretty typical for us--a little chat, some sweat, a little more chat-- and a topic that came up was how she and her husband (they just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary!) are leaving for Florida where they snowbird from the New England cold. Sadly, he is not at all well. I asked my friend when they will return and she shrugged her shoulders and said "I don't know and it is just fine. We'll be together."

I was struck by how being together, where ever that is, is more important than plans and schedules that typically dominate our way of life. She had a look on her face that reflected an excitement for the adventure and for what will be rather than having a well planned trip that would likely result in disappointment because her husband's health is failing and their lives are quite unpredictable. They are throwing themselves, with enthusiasm and joy, into the unknown. I wish them love and peace on their adventure of no plans and doing what ever comes their way.

I love planning. I love plans and the process and how plans organize my life. My business is often about plans and strategic planning and fundraising plans. And I wonder, how do we plan when things are so unknown, unpredictable, fluid? In times of crisis (my friend's husband's cancer) or rapid change (massive economic downturns in our country), how do we plan when we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow much less in three to five years? What would it be like to really go with the in the moment? I have found the external reality of my world is forcing me to adjust my plans daily. It's all I can do. So I plan to be flexible. I plan to make adjustments. Does this count?

Okay, so I am having a visual image...driving in a storm. Driving in a storm is hard work. The rain, the wind, wet and slippery roads. Windows beginning to fog up. Other drivers navigating their own cars to safety (or not). Our lazy, reflexive driving skills become sharp and we become alert because the external reality forces us to. And miles down the road the storm passes and things become normal again. There really is no planning that can happen; the storm is on you! And it will pass one way or another.

I have no plans for the weekend. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Person or the Cause

My blog is not about politics but I often find inspiration for my work with non-profit organizations by what I see in the political arena. They are very similar in scope and structure and in many ways connected. Yesterday there was an article in the Boston Globe newspaper about the ongoing U.S. Senate race in Georgia and President-Elect Obama's ability to influence the outcome there and helping to get the Democrat elected. Two paragraphs of the article caught my attention:

Today's runoff election between Martin and Chambliss will offer the first test of whether Obama is able to bequeath more to local allies than merely the trappings of a presidential campaign. The results may offer a tentative answer to questions that will ghost American politics for at least the next four years: Is there a sustainable Obama coalition, and is the Obama machine durable? Has Obama created anything greater than himself?

"He has a political army that is truly impressive, but that kind of loyalty to a person rather than to an institution is not as transferable," said Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman. "Yet this is a new day and this is a new kind of organization: it is highly electronic and it might work."

What struck me was the parallel between Barack Obama's presidential campaign and the experience of founders of non-profit organizations, particularly those founders who are trying to move their organizations into long-term sustainability. Consider this modified snippet of the quotation above:

Is there a sustainable [insert Founder's name here] organization, and is the [insert Founder's name here] vision durable? Has [insert Founder's name here] created anything greater than him/herself?

"[insert Founder's name here] has a program/organization that is truly impressive, but that kind of loyalty to a person rather than to an institution is not as transferable."

Get the idea? I notice founders of non-profits incubate great ideas and give birth to powerful programs. They often do so because big needs are going unmet, they are committed and passionate, and they can (and if they can't, they find a way to). And what happens in the years of building and growing and struggling is that an over reliance on the founder is created to hold the fledgling organization together while there is also an under reliance by the founder to generate support in the organization by others. Unintentionally, founders create loyalty to themselves and not to the institutions they have created therefore destabilizing the very institutions they have created. Loyalty has not been transferred.

New organizations survive primarily because people are dedicated to the founder and secondarily because they are moved by the mission. And this is also why organizations fail! Founders need to let go; stewards need to receive. Founders need to share and collaborate in service to the mission. Founders need to enroll others who love the work first and care for the founder second. Stewards need to care for the organization by asserting themselves and their skills in the process. Stewards and founders alike need to remind themselves their service is bigger than any individual and that together they will be successful creating an organization built to be sustainable. There is an intentionality that comes with building an institution that exists to serve a greater public.

In today's politics, many are asking themselves if there is a hope for change without he the only one who can deliver change? Or is the message for change so great and people have been inspired that others can lead them to it? In non-profit organizations all over this country people are asking, is there a hope for [insert your non-profit organization mission statement here] only if [insert name of founder here] does the work or do we have the capacity to fulfill the mission ourselves? Is the loyalty we have for the leader transferable to the cause?

I like to think of it that hope or change or curing a disease or securing a civil right is in each of us. We each have the capacity to care for something bigger than ourselves. And naturally, it seems, we join together and make what is inside us a larger movement. Individuals generate an idea and with leadership the idea grows into a movement and then we all own the idea. In the case of a non-profit, individuals take an idea and create organizations because inherent is the belief that collectives can create greater impact than an individual. Because of the individual's effort a group can emerge and take over and achieve.

My hope: Leaders and founders will be honored because they saw something that was possible and believed so intentionally and cared so much and exercised such courage that we joined in and learned and grew and owned it!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shock & Awe

The past few days have been very unsettling and upsetting. India is a second home to me and I am very upset by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. What is the point of this killing and violence and destruction? I struggle with trying to understand it all.

I was a student in India when I was an undergraduate. I lived there and studied there. I lived on two university campuses founded by Mahatma Gandhi that were designed to foster a greater understanding of peaceful protest and self sufficiency. My research took me all over the country where I met amazing people and deeply experienced what India has to offer. My life changed.

In 2004 I took my then ten-year-old son to India for a seven week backpacking experience. Our goal was to see as much of the country as we could and to retrace my undergraduate footsteps by visiting the places I lived and reconnecting with the people I knew and who welcomed me into their homes all those years ago. We trekked all over the country and we visited and stayed with every family I knew and who welcomed us in as family. Our lives changed.

We began our journey in Mumbai. In fact, we began our journey in Shelleys Hotel, a quaint hotel in the Colaba district of Mumbai. At that time, Shelleys Hotel was a popular hotel for tourists that occupied the ground and first and second floors and the Chabad of Mumbai occupied the remaining upper floors. Since 2004 the hotel was acquired by the Chabad and the entire building was renamed and occupied as Nariman House. Nariman House is the "Jewish Center" that was occupied by the terrorists, where an intense battled took place, and where Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife were murdered last week.

While in Mumbai, my son and I attended Shabbat Services at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, also in the neighborhood. It was our intention to explore the lives of Indian Jews while we were in India. One Friday night we met Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife. I remember being greeted by him and I know we shared a wonderful dinner following services at the home of one of the temple members (the whole congregation left the synagogue after services and went to dinner together). As I type this blog entry I have Rabbi Holtzberg's business card beside me.

While in Mumbai we ate many of our meals at the Cafe Leopold, the site where the terrorist battles began last week. The cafe is a great place for travelers and tourists to get acclimated to Mumbai and India. We had some great moments sitting at the front of this open air restaurant and watching India--in all of its complexity--pass by on the street and sidewalks just beyond our gaze. Last week this restaurant was littered with gunshot and mayhem.

We would leave Cafe Leopold and visit the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel, two magnificent landmarks in the old city. It was in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel where my son first touched the Arabian Sea, experienced his first child begging on the street (he bought her powdered milk in the store), and where he took in the confusing contrasts that define India--rich and poor, homeless and housed, residents and tourists, British Raj and Democratic India, American child on summer holiday and Indian girl begging for daily survival. The Gateway of India, a big open monument, symbolically welcomes people to India's shores and was the site where the terrorists came ashore from boats in the harbor with bags of weapons and ammunition. It was the starting point for the days of terror that followed.

To get to and from Mumbai (something we did a few times) we would visit the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, a glorious monument to India on the go and another site of senseless terrorist violence and death.

It is all so overwhelming, really. Not only to have been to India and to the places that were all over the news in the last 72 hours and to have made an acquaintance with innocent victims of such a tragedy, but also to love India deeply and to feel pain and sadness for the people who have been so painfully hurt.

The loss of human life causes me huge grief. And what I notice today is the loss of voice--the settling of disagreements with violence and death and threats and fear and psychology and irrationality and hopelessness. I grieve for the people who feel such hopelessness that all they can do is kill and destroy. I believe fair minded people want to listen; but evil people have to have the courage to talk. Conversely, fair minded people want to talk and evil people might learn from listening too.

Is there a "coaching point" to make? Not so sure...I'll try.

What might be possible for the world if people talked and listened to one another, even to words they find objectionable and to ideas that they find impossible or repellent? What might be possible for the world if we were to recognize and solve problems from the stance that there is some truth to what we each have to say and some not truth? Pathways to peace and conflict resolution and love and understanding are complex; how are you with complexity? What's trying to happen here?