What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

Collaboration

Recently I gave a brief talk to InterCom, the regional group for communications professionals. The topic was collaborative organizations, using our Midwest Consulting Group as a model. We believe MCG is the oldest virtual corporation in Michigan, and probably one of the oldest in the U.S. Building business through collaboration is what we have been about since 1990. The bright, diverse, neat-to-hang-out-with people who make up MCG are involved in both individual and collective projects and collaborating has become part and parcel of how we operate. Clients and projects may differ considerably, but working, thinking, planning together has become part of our hardwiring. The common denominator is helping organizations, individual professionals, and teams get great at what they do.

Whether it’s helping a nonprofit agency to create a strategic plan, guiding a university faculty member through the process of publishing in an academic journal, helping create a brand identity for a business or nonprofit, coaching executives and professionals, teaching and training people to be better supervisors, managers, and leaders or creating a comprehensive management development program  . . . the commitment to collaborate, cooperate, and help each other grow our businesses is in everything we do.

Who are you collaborating with? And what have you achieved through collaboration? Would be an interesting discussion, I think.

Exciting Times

Organizations in all parts of the economy, at least those that made it through the Great Recession, are running pretty lean at this point. During the Recession organizations tightened their belts, reduced or eliminated  discretionary spending, and concentrated on survival. Positions were eliminated, projects scaled back or postponed, and in many cases headcount reduced. The organizations that survived are now leaner, more thoughtfully focused on core products and services, and have a changed workload distributed across a smaller number of heads, hands, and hearts. Whether you think the result is positive or not, it represents reality. The question now is, “How can we be successful over time in a rapidly changing world? “

We see changing roles, expectations and challenges for supervisors, managers, and professionals all around us. Responsibilities and assignments change frequently, priorites are moving targets, and everyone is required to grow and adapt all the time. The increased pace and changing demands requires an adaptive and flexible approach at all organizational levels, and that means life-long, continuous learning.

Knowing what is needed for the future is only possible through knowing where you are right now. That’s where 360-degree assessments like the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory come in. They provide a baseline of valid, reliable feedback to serve as the foundation for an individual, team, or organization development plan. Click here for more information on the assessment tools we use; we know they work.

In addition to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, we are currently completing a 360-degree management and leadership assessment process for two large teams. In both cases the organizations recognized that the need to invest in professional development was long overdue. Helping our clients to adapt and change – and being part of the individual and team growth that results – is exciting, rewarding and just plain cool!

What is your organization doing to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed today and tomorrow?

ONEPlace Leadership Academy Launches

The initial session (of 10) of the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA) got underway on January 20th, with twenty of Kalamazoo County’s best and brightest nonprofit managers. After welcoming comments from KPL Director of Libraries Ann Rohrbaugh, an overview of the Academy syllabus and expectations, the participants received the results of their 360-degree feedback process. We used a great tool called the Mangement-Leadership Practices Inventory to gather feedback from their manager, their employees, and their peers.

Honest feedback is often hard to come by for most managers. When we manage a team or a department in a larger nonprofit the person we report to may not have much opportuntity see how you work with your employees and may have limited chances to see how you interact with your peers. For day-to-day, get-the-job-done managing, your employees will have a much better perspective on what kind of job you are doing at that level. And in most organizations, employees have very little chance to provide feedback anonymously.  That’s where a tool like the MLPI can provide supervisors and managers with feedback you can use right now to help you grow, develop, and improve as a manager and leader.

As you would expect, the ONLA group’s scores were generally above average on the MLPI Factors. And yet, in most cases, a bit of digging into the data (and there is lots of data!) reveals some surprises, some “ah-ha’s” and some good ideas about what to work on right now. I’m sure the ONLA folks wished they didn’t have to sit through my briefing on what the instrument measures, how it works, and how to understand the data. But I know from past experience that without that briefing, the wealth of data can be a bit daunting.

After nearly an hour to work with their data and start to build the framework of their professional action plan for 2012, it was time to hand off to Janice Maatman, Director of WMU’s award-winning Nonprofit Education Program . She lead a great session on Ethics that got everyone thinking and discussing ethical issues with a nonprofit focus.

With reading assignments and a discussion with their mentor ONLA participants are going to be busy folks between now and their next session on February 3rd.  This is going to be a great Academy, there is no doubt about it. Stay tuned.

A Leadership Academy

For the past six months I’ve been collaborating with the great folks at ONEplace@KPL in Kalamazoo (see “Building Nonprofit Capacity” for more on ONEplace) on creating the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA). The first group of 20 high-potential nonprofit managers begins their journey tomorrow morning, and I confess to being pretty darn excited! Thanks to Bobbe Luce (founder and ED at ONEplace) Kalamazoo County nonprofits will have a ready-to-lead group of future executive directors. Bobbe’s research shows that a majority of the EDs of larger nonprofits are above the age of 50, and many are within less than 5 years of retirement. This means there will be lots of turnover at the top of these organizations.

This is not an issue just for our local nonprofits, but a national issue that needs attention. Many of the current EDs are also the founders of these larger nonprofits, and grooming leaders to follow in those footsteps is just not being done. And in many cases little or no succession planning has been done by nonprofit boards. Thus, ONLA is born.

Tomorrow the group will receive the results of a 360-degree feedback survey of their Employees, Peers, and Manager. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the buzz within the group is pretty high. This is going to be a great series of experiences for these 20 future EDs. Stay tuned!

Building Nonprofit Capacity

This past week marked the final session of a 5-session course based on The 8 Essential Skills and delivered for ONEplace@KPL, a nonprofit resource center based in Kalamazoo, MI. With 40 supervisors, managers, and nonprofit executive directors participating, the course was lively and interesting. The work that Bobbe Luce and Monica Priest do in assisting area nonprofits is outstanding, remarkable, and a pleasure to watch. ONEplace@KPL provides one-stop resources, assistance, and advice for nonprofits of all kinds and sizes. From one individual with a new idea to long-established NPOs with a hundred employees or more, ONEplace@KPL has rapidly become the go-to place for nonprofit managers, executives, and boards of directors. ONEplace is funded by local foundations and provides its services free of charge to the nonprofit community and is housed in the outstanding Kalamazoo Public Library. Given the increased service demands and funding challenges faced by nonprofits in this economy, ONEplace is just a really great idea! If your community doesn’t have a resource like this, maybe it’s time to start one.

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