2016 Nonprofit Leadership Academy – Update

We’re nearly to the midpoint of this year’s ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy (ONLA). 2016 marks the 5th year of this superb leadership development program. Like all the services at ONEplace, the Academy is provided free of charge to the nonprofit community in Kalamazoo County, thanks to the generosity of local foundations.

Prior to the initial group session in February we used a pair of 360 feedback assessments to gather a wealth of data on how each participant is perceived by their managers, employees, peers, and key others. The feedback is anonymous and completely confidential; the results were given only to the individual Academy participant.

With a full compliment of 16 participants, this year’s Academy is turning out to be exciting, innovative, and a great professional development experience for the participants. It’s also a real pleasure for those of us involved in the Academy as instructors, panelists, mentors, and presenters.

The May class included an excellent overview from governance expert Larry Hermen on nonprofit Board structure and roles. We followed up with a panel discussion with four Executive Directors, who willingly shared their perspectives on nonprofit management leadership issues. The ED Panel included Kristen Chesak, Jennifer Johnson, Troy Thrash, and Jilisa Williams. The afternoon included working with ONEplace director Thom Andrews on communication with boards and effective board meetings. All in all and outstanding day!

The Academy meets again in June, then takes a break until late August when the monthly sessions begin again. Stay tuned for more on the Academy. In the meantime, take a few minutes to check things out at ONEplace@kpl.gov.

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Nonprofit Supervision & Management Course

The final few weeks of Summer are upon us and it’s time to think about professional development opportunities for Fall. This coming September and October marks another five-session Nonprofit Supervision & Management Series offered by ONEplace@kpl – the nonprofit management service center funded by the local foundation community. This is the fifth Fall in a row we’ve delivered this course for ONEplace and the participation has been great each time. In previous years the course has been offered on five successive Monday mornings with a limit of 40 participants.

We’ve wanted to increase the involvement of participants which just isn’t possible with a group of 40 people. So this year there will be two groups participating in the course, a group on Monday and another group onThursday mornings. Each class has an enrollment limit of 20.

If you work for a Kalamzoo area nonprofit you can keep an eye on the ONEplace website for details and times as well as all the other great programs and services provided by Thom Andrews and staff.

For those outside the local area, contact us to learn how you can bring this course to your nonprofit community.

Stay tuned,

Paul

The Many Hats You Wear

From time to time it’s helpful to think about the multiple roles we play as a manager; it’s one of the reasons why the job is so challenging. And if we want to do it really well it can be a life-long endeavor. The typical roles most supervisors and managers play include the following:

  • Coordinator, planner, organizer
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Technical expert
  • Culture developer & keeper
  • Interpreter
  • Decision maker
  • Communicator
  • Quality guide & monitor
  • Team member
  • Team leader
  • Relationship builder

Recently we looked at the related roles of Teacher and Coach. Today I’d like to focus on the roles of Interpreter and Decision Maker.

Interpreter – Every organization develops routines and standards. From the gas station or shoe shop on the corner to the biggest governmental agency . . . from the local storefront church to the billion-dollar worldwide nonprofit agency . . . all organizations have rules, policies, and procedures. They may be formal and written or they may be informal and unwritten.

Whatever those rules are, as a manager you’re responsible for teaching, guiding, interpreting, and explaining the rules to each of your team members. What are the rules, policies, and procedures in our organization? How do we do the work and why do we do it that way? Merely handing down the rules and explaining how to carry them out isn’t enough; people need to know why so they can truly understand “how we do things around here.” Once they understand the what, how, and why, they’ll be much more likely to do what needs to be done in the way it should be done.

Decision Maker – Managers make decisions all the time. Who to hire . . . what to have them do . . . what tasks take priority over others . . . which team members should attend a new training program first . . . when to start doing something new . . . when to stop doing something that has been done in the past. Making decisions is part of every manager’s daily life.

Some of us enjoy making decisions, seek opportunities to make decisions, and make them quickly. Others seem to struggle with making even the simplest decision. They postpone, waffle, beat around the bush, and change their mind a dozen times.

Over time and with practice, you’re likely to get more comfortable with this role. You’ll see that making decisions too quickly can lead to consequences you hadn’t thought of. At other times you’ll need to make a decision quickly, before you miss an opportunity. Shoot from the hip? Sleep on it? Regardless of how you tend to handle them, as a manager you must make decisions.

When you interpret the organization’s rules, policies, and practices you provide crucial guidance that affects team performance. When you make decisions about what the team will do and where it will focus its attention, you’re helping determine the team’s direction and priorities.Understanding the true nature and scope of the job of the manager is critical to your success. And ultimately your success has a direct bearing on the success of your team and your entire organization.

 Paul

Perry Smith’s Powerful Phrase

In the late 1990’s I had the pleasure of teaching in George Washington University’s executive programs. And that’s where I got to know Perry Smith. As a retired Maj. General, author of numerous books, veteran of 180 combat flights in SE Asia, fighter wing commander, former director of strategic planning for the U.S. Air Force, former commandant of the National War College, Ph.D., former military expert of major TV networks, and all around high-level thinker, Perry is an interesting guy to be around. He is definitely not your average kinda guy.

Perry’s a great guy for checklists; things to handle, work on, get better at, pay attention to . . . One of his “useful phrases for leaders” that has stuck with me is a simple yet incredibly profound statement:

“Help me discipline my In-Basket; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide.”

Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels:

  • It says, “There are issues that fall within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.”
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.”

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint!

How many times have you said to yourself, “it’s just easier for me to do this myself than to take the time to teach someone how to do it.” What would it take for you to honestly be able to say Perry’s phrase instead of yours?

Paul

PS – now a young 81, Perry has always reminded me of the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps on going. If you want to learn more about this remarkable man, take a look at his website.

What If the Answer is “No?”

We seem to have this notion that becoming a supervisor or stepping into a middle management position is an irrevocable shift from being “one of us” to becoming “one of them.” Certainly our formal organizations – corporations, universities, government agencies seem to work that way. Many nonprofits too, for that matter; especially the large ones.

Supervising and managing is, frankly, not for everybody. And yet our organizations are set up in a way that basically says, “If you want to make more money and have a more secure future for your family, you need to become a manager.” I guess that may make sense to those that run larger organizations; certainly it was the path I chose for much of my career, since I worked in large organizations.

Suppose you’ve stuck your toe in the “supervision pond” and maybe even jumped in with both feet. There’s lots to like about management, but perhaps you miss the thing that brought you to the organization in the first place. Maybe that was direct contact with customers or clientele. Maybe it was the hands-on “making” of something; you, creating something of value. So where is it written that when you become a manager you no longer can do the things that attracted you in the first place?

I think it makes great sense for every supervisor, every manager, to stay in touch with their roots. Keep a hand in the game, an oar in the water to make sure you are connected to the folks that make it happen out there every day; the people making the products, delivering the services.

In the University world, presidents often make sure they continue to teach a class or two in their field, CEO’s take time to get out of the executive suite and see what’s going on in the trenches. Managers make sure they keep connected to their core interest by spending time with their sleeves rolled up.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

Paul

Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

While Washington Fiddles

Our federal and state governments do some things quite well; most career civil servants are dedicated, hard-working, and do a difficult job as well or better than one might expect. I’ve worked with great people at all levels of government; certainly none are more dedicated than the folks at the City of Kalamazoo.

At the same time many of our elected officials seem to be capable of generating only hot air and headlines. Now, if they could actually DO something instead of just talk about what’s wrong with the opposition, that would be deeply appreciated by everyone living outside the Beltway. I’m not holding my breath since they seem to be able to do . . . well, pretty much nothing at all.

Some states seem to be afflicted with similar extreme partisan rancor as the professional politicians prove themselves incapable of doing the job they were sent to do. And so it comes down to local government to lead the way in dealing with current financial reality, ’cause the folks in Washington and (insert your state capitol here) can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is.

I grew up in an era where the particular political party of elected officials was much less important than their willingness to find common ground, compromise, and discover a way to make local, state, and federal government function reasonably well. Most politicians were moderates and while they might lean a bit left or right of center on some issues, the focus was on doing the work of the people in the best way possible. Right-or-left-wing ideologues were few and far between and there was much more that united us than divided us.

In spite of the level of rancor, venom, and hatred that seems to be the norm in much of our political discourse, I still believe that trying to find a common ground is the best way for government to work. Neither of the two major political parties has a monopoly on the truth; reality seems to exist somewhere between the two extremes.

The transition to an information-based global economy continues to disrupt lives and communities and it will do so for some time to come. One thing each of us can do is to get involved in helping our local and regional communities through nonprofit organizations and local government. We really cannot depend upon state or national elected officials to do much of anything beyond run for office. The political system is clearly broken and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful.

So for all our sakes, please Vote – if the folks we elected to do the job can’t get the job done, maybe it’s time for somebody else to give it a try.

What do you think?

Paul

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