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.

3 Leadership Traits

What leadership traits will be needed 10, 20, 50 years from now? Recently I was part of an audience of business and community leaders, faculty, students, and others who attended the first event in the Frederik Meijer Lecture Series at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center. Distinguished author, thinker, and businesswoman Dr. Jill Ker Conway. The first female president of Smith College, Dr. Conway serves on numerous corporate boards and took as her topic “The Next 50 Years in the World.” Frankly, anyone willing to tackle that topic deserves my attention.

While Dr. Conway’s talk, and the subsequent Q & A addressed wide-ranging global issues, I found her answer to the following question the most interesting:

Q. – What kind of leadership traits will be needed in the future?

A. – Effective leaders will need the following three attributes:

1. The ability to deal with, communicate with, and work with opposition without demeaning them.

2. Confidence in their own ideas but open to the ideas of others.

3. The ability to find and attract good, bright people and to then nurture them.

The 1st trait would certainly come in handy today, when elected “leaders” tend to demonize each other.  When the relations between tribes, countries, even regions become excessively polarized, there is no search for common ground, compromise, or a way through our disagreements to a solution that works for all of us.

There is certainly no shortage of confidence in our own ideas, but far too often it seems we are, in the words of Ambrose Bierce,  “never in doubt, but often in error”. Win-Lose thinking, I’d say.

The 3rd trait is essential if a manager and their organization are to successfully grow and develop. We may be able to find and attract excellent candidates when a job becomes available, but if we fail to help them increase their capacity and capability to contribute the talented employee will either go elsewhere or settle into mediocrity.

What do you think?

Employers and Employees

The Kalamazoo Gazette on Friday, September 10, contained a Viewpoint by Karen Momber titled “In today’s work environment, employers hold all the cards.” In her Viewpoint, the writer paints a thoroughly negative image of employers as nasty, mean-spirited, scheming, abusive, unethical, and downright evil. I have no idea where Ms. Momber has worked in her career, but it certainly has not been in any place I’ve ever seen.

With more than 20 years of working, teaching, training, and advising hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers all over the U.S., I have found the vast majority of employers and managers to be the opposite of Ms. Momber’s description. Sure, there are lousy jobs and crummy managers. Some actually are jerks. Unfortunately, the writer uses a broad, all-encompassing brush to paint a wholesale indictment of business organizations and those who own and manage them. If personal experience has informed her views, she has my sympathy. But I believe the portrait she depicts represents a tiny fraction of the private sector.

The vast majority of managers understand that building and running a business means generating a reasonable profit over the long term. Otherwise, the business simply disappears, taking everyone’s job with it. They also understand that treating employees well yields much better results than treating them poorly. Employees who are treated as Ms. Momber describes will be minimally productive and will leave the first chance they get. If enough employees do this, the business ultimately disappears.

In any event (and thankfully!), organizations and managers that embrace “The 8 Essential Skills” don’t look anything like Ms. Momber’s Viewpoint. In the unfortunate event that your employer or manager does look like she describes, buy a copy of the book and leave it on their desk. You’ll be glad you did!

Order your copy today at Amazon.com

8 Essential Skills for Nonprofit Managers

For those of you managing nonprofit organizations – we’ve been asked to develop a 5-session workshop series for our friends at ONEplace@KPL. This series is designed for entry to middle-level directors and managers in all areas of nonprofit organizations (executives, programs, services, administrations, operations, fund development, communications—anyone who supervises others). Each session will be 2.5 hours and will run on five successive Monday’s from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Interested? You can learn more by visiting the workshop announcement and topic schedule at ONEplace.  And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the rest of what Bobbe Luce, her staff, and her network are doing – it’s great stuff!

Next Time: More Communications Stories from the Trenches.

PS – watch for my upcoming interview about “The 8 Essential Skills” on Mary Jo Asmus’ outstanding blog, Leadership Solutions.

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 4

Slightly more than a week has passed since we attended the Indianapolis 500 and time to finish reflecting on examples of The 8 Essential Skills in action.

Skill 7Leading & Empowering: I saw examples of Leadership and Empowering behavior from the time we walked in the gate at IMS. With few exceptions, and I mean really few, the staff know their jobs . . . own their jobs, whether they are full-time, temporary, or volunteer. There has been quite a bit of change at the top of the organization in the past year as Tony George was forced out as CEO and head of the Indy Racing League. And sometimes that sort of change can throw a lot of people off their game. Not in this case. You can see leadership in crew chiefs managing their pit crews, race strategists adjusting to changing conditions and challenges while maintaining an overall race plan. It’s not quite choreography, but more a large, fluid team, all committed to helping create the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Skill 8 – Growing Yourself:  Over the years I’ve watched a series of drivers develop from rookies into seasoned veteran drivers. Team owners like Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti graduated from the ranks of champion drivers. Their sons have “gone into the family business” and are now drivers. Sarah Fisher was a rookie in 2000 and Danica Patrick was a rookie in 2005. Both are seasoned veterans now and the 2010 race had five women drivers on the starting grid. The Indy 500 is the pinnacle of oval-track racing and to win one 500 is a remarkable achievement and is usually the result of years of preparation. Winning four 500’s like Al Unser, Rick Mears, and A.J. Foyt have takes a huge commitment to getting better all the time.

It was interesting to look for The 8 Essential Skills while at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Let me know when you spot examples in your own travels.

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8

Teacher vs. Coach

When you manage you fulfill a number of different roles in the course of your work. In this post I’d like to take a brief look at two of those roles; Teacher and Coach.

Teacher

Managers and supervisors work with employees who have a wide variety of skills and knowledge. This means you’re frequently placed in the role of teacher with employees, particularly if they’re new to your organization or team. You will, in effect, be teaching them how to do their job. At the very least you’ll need to teach your employees about the expectations that will affect their success.

 You also teach employees what they need to know to help them be ready for new challenges and opportunities. Being a mentor is a form of teaching; you are imparting knowledge that will help the employee prepare for a new assignment, position, or project.

Coach

The role of a coach is different from that of a teacher. As a coach you’ll be a guide, motivator, encourager, and supporter in your interactions with employees. When you coach employees you’re less focused on telling or showing and more focused on asking questions or involving them in figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it.

When you coach employees you’re actively demonstrating your confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, then you either have the wrong people in the jobs or you haven’t sufficiently trained them. In either case the problem isn’t with your employees but with you as their manager.

What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people?

Help Me Discipline My Inbox

A few years back I had the priviledge of teaching in one of George Washington University’s outstanding Leadership courses, along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith (Ret.) – the author of several excellent works on leadership. Like most pilots, Gen. Smith believed in checklists and created several that have proved quite useful. Among his “Useful Phrases for Leaders” checklist is one that has become one of my personal favorites; “Help me discipline my inbox; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide”

Why do I like this one so much? 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 are 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! From personal experience, I know it to be a very effective guide to leading, empower, and managing others.

Gen. Smith is currently the Secretary of the Medal of Honor Foundation and a noted speaker and author on Leadership. His military career spanned three decades and included several stints on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, 150 missions as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam war, Commandant of the National War College, and various other leadership posts. His final active duty post was as Air Force Director of Strategic Planning. He knows leadership!

What do you think? How about trying Perry’s approach to empowering your people? You might just be pleasently surprised!

Why Managers Fail – 4

For someone who believes, as my colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus does, that “it’s all about the relationships,” then this is a major cause of supervisors and managers derailing in their careers.

Failing to Build Partnerships & Cooperative Work Relationships

Most successful organizations have effectively broken down the walls or silos that once existed among their internal units or teams. People move so frequently in larger organizations, and responsibilities change so quickly, that you can’t be successful unless you build effective relationships. Your potential for success in higher levels of management depends on your ability to build partnerships and positive relationships with your boss, your employees, and your peers. In the end, being a successful manager and leader is indeed all about relationships.

Think about your own key relationships. Are they all in the shape you’d like them to be? Could one or two relationships benefit from greater effort on your part going forward? In The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers, you will find some excellent suggestions and tips for improving those key relationships.

Ken & His Talents

Ken was a middle manager in a manufacturing company. He had a talent for communication – for vividly passing on to others the company’s and unit’s vision and strategy. Like most managers at his level he also had budget responsibilities, for which he had little talent or interest.

Many companies would send Ken through a series of budget or financial training programs, trying to improve his skills. Over time he might improve his skills to the point of basic competence, but the financial end of the unit will never be a strong suit. Instead, Ken’s company recognized his strengths. He went through a basic training program in the company’s budget process and then delegated most of this responsibility to a trusted team member who understood the process and enjoyed working with financial data. This freed Ken to concentrate on doing what he liked and what he did best. He continues to work hard to improve his communication skills, keeps up to speed about industry developments, and is seen as a high-potential candidate for movement into corporate planning and executive management.

Lessons Learned

Thanks, in part, to his company’s support, Ken was able to focus on one of his talents and turn it into a significant strength. By building on his talents and managing around his weakness in budgeting, he is in line for the executive suite and the company is growing a highly valuable employee.

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