Friday, January 16, 2009

An Apple a Day

Founders of organizations (and companies) are an amazing group of people. They are the types who incubate ideas and then make them happen by bringing people and resources together. It's leadership. What also typically happens with founders, particularly in the non-profit sector, is they ultimately learn they are not good managers of the programs they create. Incubating ideas and marshaling forces to create is a very different skill set than leading day-to-day operations and managing programs and people. In the quest to institutionalize (to become sustainable), this is the place where organizations suffer.

I notice there is a lot written about, talked about, and blogged about Apple Computers and their products lately. And what piques my interest is how much more is written about, talked about, and blogged about the founder Steve Jobs and his health and how the company is negatively affected (stock values are plummeting; brand power is diminishing) as he appears to wither away from a hormone imbalance of some sort forcing him to take a leave of absence for six months. Have you been following this story?

What intrigues me the most about the story is the negative impact a founder has on the organization they founded. When does an organization--whether for-profit or non-profit--become independent from the founder and truly self sustaining? And what about organizations whose very existence is so defined by the founder that when there is a "transition", the organization suffers? What responsibility does a founder have to protect the brand (in this case, to separate themselves from the brand) and help the public see the brand is solid, independent of the founder? And what about succession planning? What responsibility does a founder have to ensure the success and sustainability of the brand while they transition away and ultimately leave the organizations they created? When do founders acknowledge that what they created has become bigger than them and what will they do about it?

P.S. Just a little aside about the power of branding, I find it fascinating that when I went to the Google (that's a Bush-ism worth a giggle!) to look up an image for "apple" that of the 21 images that came up in the search, only 5 of them were of the eating variety and the rest were of the computer variety. Wow!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Change We Seek

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Barack Obama

What kind of change do you seek? What part of the change will you be? What is possible?

[Click this link to make your own Shepard Fairey inspired image. Good times!]

Dear Mr. President

I wrote about this idea on this blog in early December and here is an interesting article in this morning's Boston Globe newspaper on the same subject:

The Double Payoff of a Stimulus Plan for Non-Profits

AMIDST THE escalating demand for a federal stimulus package to rescue what seems like a new industry every day (first the financial sector, then autos, then steel), little attention has been paid to stimulating the nonprofit sector.

Yet the nonprofit sector is larger than the auto and steel industries combined, representing 10 percent of all US jobs, and 13 percent of jobs in Massachusetts. If the government fails to pay attention to this critical sector, there could be a loss of 1 million nonprofit jobs, leaving 1 million families without a paycheck, 1 million families buying fewer goods and services, and 1 million families who are closer to foreclosures and debt default.

The nation loses twice when there is a job lost in the nonprofit sector. Not only does a family lose an essential paycheck, but the community also loses a home healthcare worker, a preschool teacher, or an after-school tutor - people who often serve those most in need.

Just as job losses in the nonprofit sector has a double loss, a smart investment in this sector could have a double payoff: more jobs today and a more talented workforce tomorrow. President-elect Obama and New England's congressional leadership should team up with community foundations and other philanthropies - and with service organizations that stand ready to mobilize millions of Americans - to make a bold public-private investment in America's most effective and efficient nonprofits.

The stimulus package should include two far-sighted investments in the nonprofit sector:

  • A federal investment in national service, placing at least 250,000 young people (and graying baby boomers) in full-time service, many of them focused on education;
  • A $2 billion matching grant fund to encourage and match new philanthropic investments in high-performing organizations that power an "opportunity pipeline" stretching from neonatal care through preschool, after-school enrichment, college access, and job training.
  • A serious program of national service could put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work by this summer, replicating what FDR did in his day with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which Roosevelt biographer Jonathan Alter has called the most popular of his New Deal programs. For a small price compared with the creation of jobs in other sectors, this would make a big down payment on Obama's promise to create 3 million new jobs and would represent the type of "all hands on deck" approach to problem solving that the country is yearning for.

    An "opportunity pipeline" federal matching grant program could leverage $2 billion or more in new philanthropic investments in organizations that build human capital (from preschool to job training) and leave a legacy of shared investment in a better future.

    To earn a federal match, eligible foundations would have to either raise new funds or spend from their endowments at a rate higher than is required by their tax-exempt status, thereby pulling philanthropic money off of the sidelines and doubling its value. Moreover, federal support should go to only those initiatives supporting programs with a track record of success.

    Obama has rightly called for a new efficiency in government, greater transparency, and greater engagement of the citizenry in solving collective problems. In many ways this is a return to our de Tocquevillian history of community-based problem solving, while also recognizing the federal government's role as a catalyst for change and an investor in solutions that work. An investment in the nonprofit sector that focuses on strengthening human capital and encouraging investments in proven programs would support Obama's vision.

    The front pages of newspapers are filled with references to Keynesian economics. Keynesian investments to prime the economic pump are seen by many economists as a necessary evil - required at times like these to prevent economic collapse, but capable of building nothing for the long term except debt for future generations. But what if a portion of today's stimulus package was focused exclusively on the one investment that would not only produce jobs now, but would also build human capital, making the nation more competitive in the future?

    Paul S. Grogan is president and CEO of The Boston Foundation and Eric Schwarz is president and CEO of Citizen Schools.

    One perspective that is certainly worth looking at!

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Hump Day

    There is a sense in the world right now that we're carrying the weight of it on our very own shoulders. Times are intense. I notice, for example, there's "good" intense--renewed optimism in our country that real hope and change will prevail and there's "bad" intense--the stress of economic collapse. Our bodies don't differentiate between the goodness and the badness of the stress. Stress is stress.

    It's only Wednesday and I notice I am carrying this weight--for my family, for my friends, for my clients, for my country, for my town, for my planet, for myself. No, it's not that I am taking it all on (that would be immobilizing!); it's just that I feel the weight, the heaviness, the stress, the challenge.

    I ask my clients "what's our topic today?" and I ask my son "how was school today?" and I ask my spouse "how was your day?" and there are others...and the stresses look something like this:

    Locked neck and tight shoulders. Hot. Cold. Loss of appetite. The world condition. Creating organizations. Restructuring organizations. Fund raising. Strategic planning. Terminations. Unemployment. Building a business. Demands of the economic crisis. Building a board of directors. Building an advisory board. Reviewing Bylaws and other legal policies. Writing a book. Publishing a book. Living with life threatening illness. Treating life threatening illness. Discrimination. Anger management. Skill building. Body issues. Barriers to consistent exercise. Excuses. Collusion. Enabling. Laziness. Overwhelm. Staying out of the results. Taking risks. Finding courage. Being okay with frugal. Being okay with change. Being okay. Celebration of success, of growth, of making a tough decision, of making it. Holidays were fun. Happy New Year. I hate New Year resolutions. Figuring out what to do with the rest of your life. Divorce. Resistance to using any technology. Homework. Snowstorms and cold. Cost of travel. Politics. Board members stepping up and doing their jobs. Staff people who are loyal. Staff people who play small. Staff people who need to Going on vacation. Getting shots for the dog, going to the grocery store, cleaning the house. Shoveling snow. The digital television transfer. "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Milk". To do lists. Time management. Board meetings. City zoning committee meetings. Mid-term exam study sessions. Ex-boyfriend. Abusive boyfriend. Rejected grant funding. Disrespectful teenagers. Rigorous study and certification. $. Ailing seniors. Disconnected families. Reconnecting with old relatives. Family conflict. Lawsuits. Wrangling over legal documents. Lacking accountability. Fear. Home repairs. Building a business. Securing contracts. Enrolling clients. Networking. Change. Big change.


    I wonder: How do you manage stress? What does balancing stress and relaxation look like for you? What does having stress cost you in time, money, productivity, health, and relationships? What do you know about "good" stress and "bad" stress in your life/partnership/organization? What are the warning signs to you that you are carrying too much weight on your shoulders? What are the signs the weight is lightening up? What is the difference for you when there is a stress you can do something about (a bad relationship, perhaps) and a stress for which you have no control (the weather, the economic meltdown)? What do you do that actually unburdens you or de-stresses you rather than ignores or simply avoids the stress? What would you be carrying on your shoulders if it wasn't the weight of the world?

    Go relax!

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    The Board of Directors

    This is a photograph of my ancestors taken in 1919. It is the only snapshot of its kind in my family--the Polish immigrant grandparents with their children and their grandchildren. In this case, that is my great great grandmother and grandfather in the middle of the photo. Of the subjects in this photograph, there is only one living relative, my dear great Uncle Bernie (now in his nineties; sitting third from the right in the front row), and there are hundreds of their descendants scattered from the east coast to the west coast with a large population living in Chicago and in Detroit. This is where it all began!

    Over the winter holiday I spent a lot of time playing with my very cool family tree software package and delighting myself in my genealogy hobby. I am the keeper of the family photos and my uncle and I have been working on completing the family tree for a couple years. One evening, while talking about old family photos and stories, my son sweetly asked "Is Uncle Bernie the President of the family?" Now that's an idea! So I played with it for a bit and indeed, Uncle Bernie is the President of the family...he is the President of the Board of Directors!

    Being President of the Board, or of the family, is about leadership. It is about reminding people of the stated mission of the group and holding them accountable for there role in meeting the mission. Being the leader of the group is about nurturing, motivating, acknowledging, modeling. There is something especially beautiful about Uncle Bernie and his leadership; he is eager to share stories and the family history, ensuring continuity for generations to come. There is delegation of tasks and relying upon one another and asking for help. There is teamwork. There is adaptation to change, to crisis, to aging, to life. There is meaningful structure and useful hierarchy that serve to remind us of wisdom and experience. There is a plan for succession from one generation to the next.

    There is a very exciting and interesting parallel between family and boards of directors, the patriarch of a family group and the President of a board of volunteers. I could go on and on with what I know about my family and what I now about boards. But probably the most important part of the comparison is the mission that focuses group effort. In my extended family there is a lot of talk about "the Friedman family" and "Ethel" (my great grandmother) and how being together is essential and how family is everything. There is a pretty clear stated purpose. Boards have a similar focus point for gathering, for service, for impact. There is a deep feeling of love and meaning when my family stands fully in its capacity to connect and often we don't and the family feels adrift. And the same is true for boards of directors. There is profound feeling of impact when the board stands fully in its capacity to lead and to govern. When it does not, the organization it governs will be adrift (as is so often the case).

    When families and boards of directors feel adrift, it is useful to remember your roots, recall your history, reconnect with the intent of the original leaders/founders and their values. Sometimes it is a focused look backward that will help to move forward. When I look at the photograph of my family I feel a tremendous connection to something bigger than myself. I get a renewed sense of purpose and I have a framework for sorting out what is important to share for future generations.

    When I teach volunteers to be more skillful board members I will often talk about how today, they will occupy a role on a board that is the same board going back to the beginning of the organization. Today, a leader on the board of a 100 year old organization is serving with the hundreds of people who have populated that board from the beginning. There is huge wisdom and experience here. I know the same to be true of my relationship to my extended family.

    What do you notice about how the founder of your organization is still present? How is his/her influence still felt, honored, guiding your board? What do you notice about the history of your organization and how it is leveraged today? What does leadership transition look like in your group? When you look backward into your history, what are you finding and what will you import to your future?
    Much love to the President of the Board of Directors of the Friedman family, my Uncle Bernie (and his wife, Aunt Selma). And much luck to the President of your Board of Directors.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Outbound Train

    What I love about this advertisement at an in-town subway station is its directness. It makes me think about what we assign to others rather than look at what truly needs to be assigned to ourselves. Can it be that:
    • complaining about being stressed is really verbalized frustration for creating that stress? (your environment isn't creating stress, you are)
    • being unproductive in a messy, cluttered, disorganized work space is about having created that disorganized chaos and not knowing how to get it in control? (your work space isn't messy and cluttered, you are)
    • tolerating an unfulfilled relationship is because you're not adding to the fulfillment of other? (your relationship is unfulfilled because you are not filling it)
    • being in conflict with a board of directors or team or family is because we create the conflict and without conflict, there is no engagement? (your team is filled with conflict because you create the conflict)
    I wonder, if people weren't boring, stressed, disorganized, unfulfilled, conflict-seeking, what would be possible? What would be possible if we named what we were experiencing (boredom, overwhelm, stress, pain) and owned it and changed it?

    Enjoy the day!
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    Tuesday, January 6, 2009


    I was standing in a Boston coffee shop this morning waiting for my drink to be made when this conversation unfolded in front of me:

    Man: "Hey, how's it going? Happy New Year!"
    Woman: "Hey...and back to you...just getting my coffee before heading back to work."
    Man: "Where do you work?"
    Woman: "In the building behind the State house. I hate my job! But it's all about job security for me. Gosh, I hate it there! [roll of eyes and scowl] Whatever..."
    Man: "That's cool. See Ya!"
    Woman: "Yeah, see ya later."

    Wow. The whole way back to my home office I was thinking about what it means to tolerate something, to accept having no choice in the matter. Tolerating a bad job. Tolerating a bad relationship. Tolerating a destructive culture of an organization. Tolerating waste. Tolerating mean people. Tolerating gossip. Tolerating bad customer service. Tolerating broken promises. It costs us a lot to tolerate things.

    I make this up about my fellow-coffee shop patron this morning--she has chosen to tolerate a bad job as a way of coping with an uncertain economic climate. I get it, and having job security will likely cost her peace of mind, her joyful spirit, her ability to make an impact, her ability to savor her cup of coffee. And I wonder, what if she didn't tolerate this situation at all...what if she accepted nothing less than having a satisfying job and stable employment at the same time? What would it be like to have both?

    It's one thing to find something intolerable. It's entirely a different thing to do something about it. Imagine, what is possible if we name what we cannot tolerate and actually risk to make a different choice?

    Think about it.

    Sunday, January 4, 2009

    New Year Declarations

    I am totally making this up!

    Perhaps one of the reasons why New Year resolutions don’t work for me is they are too squishy, they lack power to fully capture me, and they let me off the hook. “I resolve to exercise more…” sounds like a proclamation from the government. The “check list” nature of goal setting bores me. What about “I declare that I will…” Something about declaring—stating your intention and to a witness—that feels a lot edgier, way more committed, and accepts the reality that behind most good intentions comes some kind of barrier that needs to be overcome. The goal becomes about overcoming the barrier that leads to the goal completion. Declarations feel a whole lot more honest. Think about it:

    “Exercise more” drags me down…way down. “Feel great and have fun being physical” leads me to want to exercise more. “Manage a household budget” drags me down also. “Liberate myself from acts that waste my hard earned income” and “design my most joyful retirement” get me very excited to act. “Relax more fully” becomes “watch every Academy Award Best Picture on video” and “spend more time with my family” becomes “Meet distant cousins and have a family reunion.”

    More than just words. There is an energy that comes with the words that is essential. Do your words inspire you to act? Is there some fire in them? Are the words engaging enough where you will even remember the goal or will they fade to the background noise of your life? What will it take for you to leverage this reflective, goal setting time of the year into actual meaningful achievement and not more guilty avoidance and toleration of missed opportunity?

    What’s your view on all this?

    To support you in your resolving and declaring, I offer the following questions to focus your effort.

    Enjoy the New Year and your declarations.

    1. The Top 10 (or 20? Or 50?) highlights of 2008 for me were:

    2. I am different today than I was in January 2008 in the following ways:

    3. I will let go of these things that are hanging over from 2008:

    4. I will celebrate these things from 2008:

    5. I will celebrate the following things at the end of 2009:

    6. I will take the following lessons from 2008 with me into the New Year:

    7. I will enrich my life and my family’s life in 2009 in the following ways:

    8. I will add, change, or eliminate in my daily routine the following things this year:

    9. I will stop tolerating the following things in the new year:

    10. I will add the following joys and ordinary pleasures to my schedule, starting today:

    11. In order to meet any financial goal I have set for myself I know I will have to:

    12. In order to meet any health goal (fitness, vitality, wellness) I have set for myself I know I will have to:

    13. In order to meet any self improvement goal (intellectual, creative, skill mastery) I have set for myself I know I will have to:

    14. Here is my theme (or my theme song) for the new year (“Abundance” “Let It Be” “Pay Down Debts” “Be Alive” “Plan Strategically”):

    15. I declare my major values and purposes for the next phase of my life to be:

    16. I declare what brings me the most fulfillment and gratification is:

    17. I declare that something I would do this year if I weren’t worried about what other people thought of me would be:

    18. I declare I can use my greatest talents to benefit myself and many others in the years ahead by:

    19. I declare the one BIG lifetime goal I have is:

    20. I declare I can do these things today in service of this big goal:

    21. Picture yourself in the future – 10/20/30 years older than now. What would this Future Self ask of you now that would make his/her life better in 10 years?

    22. What role can coaching play in achieving any of these goals?

    Answer the questions and give me a call to discuss coaching and how we can work together as you take on 2009!

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Change of Plans

    We had a plan. We've done this several times before. Wash off the old and welcome the new by taking a frigid New Year dip in the sea. Off we went, towels and cameras in hand. Blue sky. Snow on the ground. Tide coming in. Stopped by the Internet to see the weather beforehand: 13 degrees with a steady wind making it -9 with windchill. Determined. Stopped for some photos along the way. Common sense ruled the moment. Plans change. Adjust. Laugh. In some cultures having cleansed feet is a sign of great respect and honor. Today, I adopt that tradition. Be flexible. We run into the house to get warm.

    May 2009 be a year of goal setting, determination, awareness, and flexibility!