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


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 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?


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.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I am incredibly aware of noise this morning. Outside my home office I hear leaf blowers (a sign of spring, sadly). In the wall next to my desk I hear a water pipe humming. The radiator in my office is making a random "ping" noise. There are pleasant bird chirps competing with another leaf blower that just started from a different direction. My dog just barked. Noise.

The noise this morning is making me a bit tense. It is distracting me from the tasks I plan to do today because my focus is off (I like the bird chirps though). I'm a little fixated at the moment.

Noise as metaphor: I have things I need and want to do and I am distracted by the "noise" of interruptions, at times unreliable technology, too few additional hands to help, funds. This noise creates some tension, some impatience, a longing for it to end so I can resume what's important to me. I want to feel a sense of accomplishment by achieving a firm result; squishy half-results are okay but I don't feel fully satisfied, successful.

Think of your goals for a moment. What does your achievement process look like? You have a sense of the result you are trying to achieve. What does that accomplishment and celebration look like? Good. Now go back to the goals and add noise. Your computer crashed. Your grant application was rejected. A board member resigned. Your child is sick and has to miss school. You lost your job/manager/funding/client, etc. Noise. What do you notice now? What do you make up about this noise and your ability to advance toward your goal? If we accept that noise will always be there, and noise leads to distraction, and distraction keeps us from fully achieving the desired result, are we ever really successful? Are we okay with just being okay?

What's your noise reduction (or elimination)

P.S. Silence... the leaf blowers have left the neighborhood. My heart is slowing and the birds are delighting me. I can actually hear the tide out my now open window. Noise interferes with my sense of order, how I prioritize, how I sequence tasks. It can throw me off. I'm having some insight...I'll get back to you on this.