Thursday, February 26, 2009

If You Build It

A metaphor for founders and leaders of non-profit organizations from the world of architecture:

In the Spring 2009 edition of Boston Home magazine, there is an interview with author Matthew Frederick about his book 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. I love this explanation about the importance of [an architect] managing one's ego and how it can also relate to founders of non-profit organizations, the "architects" of institutions that foster social change.
"When your name is on a project, it's easy to get too invested. If you design what you want and ignore the client or the environment, the building won't work for anyone. The best architects are Zen masters--they nurture the design process without dominating it."
I'm going to adjust the quotation to make a point:
"When you personally create a non-profit organization, it's easy to get too invested. If you create what you want and ignore the client or the environment (or donors or volunteers or your board), the organization and its mission won't work for anyone or accomplish its intended goal. The best founders are Zen masters--they nurture the creation of the organization in a collaborative process without dominating it. It's never about the founder; it's about the children or the homeless or the animals or the sick or the scholarships or the opera or the civil rights."
What do you notice about being a founder or working with a founder? What is the joy? What is the frustration and challenge? What is the short term gain and the long term struggle of a founder-centered organization? Founding a non-profit is typically a very "I" centered experience that is happening in a very "we" centered container; what is needed to succeed in this paradigm? An architect designs a building and after its completion, the architect moves on to other projects; architects create, they do not build and they do not maintain. This is a huge challenge for founders of non-profits. Why do you think this is so? What's your experience?

I see founders in everything. It is core to my work as a coach who works with non-profits. I live in an historic colonial town north of Boston called Marblehead; the intent of the founding fathers (and mothers) of the United States is everywhere. Parents are founders. Business owners are founders. There is a clear cycle of creation and incubation followed by growth, operations, maintenance, and sustainability. Founders, and their roles, and their initial ideas will change, adapt.

There is a lot more to say on this topic in blogging to come!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chairman of the Board

Wow! Now this is my kind of board retreat. And if you dare to, come join me. We can talk all about the challenges of leading a non-profit today while we hit the slopes. I can assure you, snowboarding is a beautiful metaphor for all things non-profit and you will learn a lot, have a lot of fun, and get a little roughed up in the process.

All in the spirit of growth.

Let's go!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Am I remembering this correctly--"wired" used to mean "over caffeinated" as in "having had too much coffee to drink?" Because today, being wired has a lot more to do with computers and cell phones, the Internet, "The Google," (this link still cracks me up!) and social/business networking sites. Where ever we are, so is the entire world. We are connected.

Beyond wondering this morning if exploring my new Facebook profile and drinking my third cup of coffee is redundant, I am also wondering how being wired has made my life better, my business more prosperous, my clients more informed. What meaning does being wired have to me today?

What I do know is there is a lot of contradiction in my heart about it. I yearn for deep relationships and yet, it appears relationships are now a series of wall postings and tweets. I find that maintaining several sites, each designed with a specific audience in mind, takes time; I now wrestle with managing quantity when it was always about quality for me. This can't be good. Sitting in front of my computer cannot replace the feeling of seeing a person's face, sharing a handshake or hug, and being in the dynamic energy that is created face-to-face. I guess what's true (and I am willing to explore this more) is the more wired I am, the more disconnected I am feeling. What am I missing here?

I am in a very reflective, curious place this morning. Are we really building relationships on-line? Can family and friends be drawn closer, business connections deepened by electronic means of communication? Do hand written cards, letterhead, telephone calls, and "let's meet for lunch" matter anymore? What do you notice about your on-line relationships and your in-person relationships? How are they similar? Different? How are you on-line vs. in-person? What's the difference between being widely connected and deeply in relationship?

I love the convenience and ease and access that comes from having a computer and the Internet in my life. The challenge is to make sure the computer does not replace a handshake, a trip to the library, or a visit with a friend or relative.

And while we're on topic: Find me and Gro(w)th Coaches on Linkedin, Plaxo, Facebook, Skype,, this blog, and probably others!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In the Middle

I am looking out my window this morning and am struck by the contrast in my view--the igloo my son built perched in the middle of weeks-old snow and the ocean. It is a beautiful view in any season and at any time of day or night and yet, the snow and the sea tweeks me a bit (for context, I was raised in southern California where there are no igloos on the beach!). It's the being in the middle, in between winter and spring, one foot in and one foot out. It is the feeling of accomplishment for having (almost) made it through a pretty brutal winter in New England and knowing spring and summer and boats and flowers and fresh produce and warmth and shorts are very near.

The between...history and future...then and next. What a place to be. A friend called to tell me he lost his job; to be in between employment and unemployment. My spouse has a contract ending; to be in between one contract and the next. A client is in graduate school; to be in between undergraduate education and professional possibilities. Weathering the economic crisis in our country; to be in the middle of prosperity and catastrophe. My son is planning for his second semester in high school; to be in between being a scared freshman and a confident sophomore. A non-profit board of directors I coach is engaged in a deep planning activity; to be in between getting by and skillfulness.

I am curious about what it takes to be in this in between place. What does it take to be okay with where you are now, looking forward while honoring and taking the learning from where you were? How do you maximize this transitional, in between state? For me: I plan. I try to be patient. I strategize and research. I get excited. I try to be hopeful. I think of the "re" words that inspire me: renew, re-emerge, re-dedicate, restore, replenish. What I know is this in between state is not passive.

Think about this: In the same way I can import from my past to inform my future, I can import from my future dream to inform my present. A couple years ago my son and I backpacked all over India (he was ten!) for the summer. Our planning for this trip was a fun-filled 6 months before we even set foot on the sub-continent. We read travel books and ate Indian food and devoured Bollywood films and studied up on Gandhi. And also, since I had lived in India as an undergraduate many years before, we looked at old photos, re-read my research papers, and re-connected with all of the friends and families I knew there. It was a moment of perfectly drawing on the past and future to inform our present.

Whether I am watching the melting igloo from my warm office and dreaming about the spring or remembering an India I knew as a college student while eating masala dosa in Minneapolis and planning for endless games of Uno on third class trains or honoring the intent of my organization's founder while I deliver services today and engage my board in a strategic planning process to guide our future, each place is an in between place that has value and can be leveraged.

What are you in between today?

Monday, February 9, 2009

How Daring

I have been very interested in the news about Boston philanthropists Phillip and Susan Ragon and their $100 million donation to create a Center to lead the effort to create an AIDS vaccine. The project, being billed as a modern day "Apollo mission," is a research partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, and MIT. Best of luck for a speedy discovery!

In another article in this morning's paper, the president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, declared the Ragons "have shown a level of understanding and daring that is rare in the world of philanthropy."


What is it to show a high level of understanding? And daring? What is so important to you, your partnerships, and your organization about which you show a high level of understanding and daring? What impact could we make if we were led by understanding and daring? How would the world be different if showing "understanding" and "daring" weren't "rare"? What will you try to understand today and then dare to demonstrate?

Have a great week!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mission Statement USA

"The US goes by the motto In God We Trust (but only since 1956, when it replaced the ‘unofficial’ motto, E pluribus unum). A motto (from the Italian word for pledge, plural mottos or mottoes) describes a quality or intention that a group of people aim to live up to - a mission statement of sorts. As such, America’s newer motto has invited more controversy than the older one, since it seems to run counter to the principle of separation of church and state. Its introduction did seem to make sense at the time, what with the Cold War against those godless communists.

As demonstrated on this map, the 50 states making up the US each have their own motto too. The two-and-a-half score state mottos display a wide variety, of quotations, languages and underlying messages. English is the favourite language, but not even by half: only 24 state mottos are originally in English; Latin, once the language for all solemn occacions (and not just exorcisms), accounts for 20. Two mottos are in native languages, and French, Spanish, Italian and Greek account for one each. The system of checks and balances seems to work for mottos too: if the national motto is overtly religious, then only six of the state ones refer to God, either directly or obliquely. Most deal with secular rights, and the readiness to defend them. The Bible is tied with Cicero as the source for the most mottos (three), while classical literature has proven a particularly fertile breeding ground for inspirational quotes (mottos originate with Lucretius, Aesop, Virgil, Brutus and Archimedes)."

I find this map and explanation so interesting. I love the idea that a motto is a form of mission statement. And when I look at the mottoes of the 50 United States, I get really curious about the essence of the chosen words and what a State does to truly live that essence. I wonder, what is in the essence of "Eureka" that thrives in California today? Wyoming is incredible: What is the essence of "Equal Rights" that lives in Wyoming today? "May the People Rule" is the mission statement of Arkansas and "I Direct" is the motto of Maine; what's it like to live in a State where the essence of these words is ever present? Or is it?

The thing about a motto, or a mission statement, is that the words have to mean something. They have to conjure up a feeling, a sensation. They have to light a fire of possibility and purpose. A mission statement has to have enough "oomph" to it where you want to do everything in your power to achieve it, live it, grow it, work for it.

What's you motto or mission statement? What does it move you to be? What does it move you to do?

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is There Comedy in the Tragedy?

The global economy in a tail spin. Wars. Invasions. Climate change. Disease. Hate crimes. Intolerance. Soaring costs of oil, medication, tuition and daycare, groceries. High unemployment and the incalculable negative impact on families. Political scandal and corruption. Pollution and traffic. Incivility. Greed and gridlock.

Who can stand it?

How are you coping in all of this? What strategies do you have in place to overcome the challenges of our times? I notice many people are "getting smart" as a result of the economy; they are choosing to cut back, save a bit more, drive a bit less, recycle, pay attention to consumption of goods and power and fuel, clear out excess, volunteer. How are you "getting smart" in your life?

My initial intention for this blog posting was to write about fun and how to have it it in these times. My concern is we are becoming so overwhelmed by the larger economic landscape that we are losing our sense of humor. Maybe this is okay (and hopefully temporary). I meet regularly with leaders of non-profit organizations and it's all about cutting back, laying off, inward thinking, serious governing. There is little thought paid to why they do what they do, just that they have to do. I find myself reminding them about their Mission! The work of governing a non-profit in these tough times has squeezed the fun out of service...completely. How uninspiring. Doing "sacred" work has been replaced with doing the work for less and for fewer clients or else shut down. Vulnerability is everywhere. It makes me sad.

What slice of joy and fun and ease can be found in your day?

Savor it!