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 opportunity 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!

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?

What’s Different About NPOs?

Consider several questions posed to the group of 30 executive directors, managers, and staff participating in the Nonprofit Supervision & Management Series at ONEplace@KPL:

Is managing in a nonprofit organization (NPO) different than managing in the private sector? Is it different than managing in a governmental organization? If so, what is different?

The major difference cited by the course participants was: not being able to use financial rewards (raises, bonuses, stock options, etc.) as an incentive for performance or as a reward for outstanding results.  While that is true for most NPOs and is well understood by those working in the nonprofit sector, it makes me wonder if there are other significant differences – is managing simply managing or is it really different from one sector to another?

What do you think? What is your experience? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Order your copy of “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” today at Amazon.com.

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

An Irritating Guy!

Communications Stories from the Trenches – III

Once upon a time I worked with a colleague – we’ll call him Ralph – who seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in looking directly at me when we talked. The moment I walked into his office he stood up and did not sit down until our conversation was finished. At first I thought it was me. Then I discovered he did that with everyone. He also had an irritating habit of jingling his keys or the change in his pocket when anyone was speaking to him. He would stop that whenever he was talking. And since we had daily interaction with him, these annoying habits became a form of subtle torture for some of us, to the point where several of his coworkers went out of their way to avoid having to deal with him. He was a clear Introvert although his senior level required him to speak regularly in staff and divisional management meetings and he was reasonably effective in that setting.

Ralph was either completely unaware of the effect his irritating habits had on others, or he didn’t care, or he was at least somewhat aware at some level and couldn’t help himself. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist (and I don’t play one on television). I do know that his nonverbal messages seemed pretty clear to most of us:

  • Ralph was clearly uncomfortable in face-to-face, one-on-one communication situations.
  • He was not paying much attention to what we were saying
  • He would like us to leave as quickly as possible

To say the least, Ralph was a poor listener. He violated most of the basic rules of effective listening. What do good listeners do?:

  • They maintain eye contact with the other person
  • They show non-verbal interest in what the other person is saying; they nod occasionally, have an open expression, and smile if it’s appropriate
  • They avoid fidgeting, crossing their arms and legs, looking at their watch. Ralph violated this one constantly.
  • They ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying
  • They repeat or paraphrase the other person’s message to check for understanding
  • They are patient and allow the other person to make their point fully

How are your listening skills these days?

When Things Go Wrong

Communications Stories from the Trenches – II

Nearly 30 years ago I sat in one of David Allen’s seminars on personal productivity and heard him say, Virtually every problem that would show up in your business can be traced back to communications; somebody didn’t talk to somebody about something.” The truth of that statement was brought home to me recently as I met with a long-time client. Our monthly discussions tend to be an equal mix of business strategy and people management issues. The CEO realized that on those rare occasions when people’s performance fell short or when a project did not turn out as planned, the cause was almost always a breakdown in Communication. Indeed, somebody didn’t communicate something to somebody.  

Much of the time, when things go wrong, the cause is a lack of clear expectations. You’ve hired good people, you’ve brought them on board and have come to rely on them to produce the results you’re looking for. And they become pretty good at getting things done well most of the time. When things go wrong, ask yourself, “what did I do or not do that contributed to the results? Was I clear about the outcome we were looking for? Did our focus shift somewhere along the way so we lost sight of the objective? Did priorities change? Did we overload the person or give them conflicting guidance?”

When things go wrong, instead of looking for “who screwed up,” look in the mirror and ask yourself what you could have done differently or better. Whether you are running a large organization or a front-line team, the results they achieve are an outgrowth of the communication you have with them.

You may want to check out Skill 2 – Communicating for Results in “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” To ordervisit 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.

Skill 2 – Communicating for Results

There’s no question in my mind that Communicating for Results is Skill 2. If Managing Yourself is the foundational Skill 1, then being an effective communicator stands between you and the rest of the 8 Essential Skills. Far too often when we see a supervisor or manager fail, that failure is driven by poor communication skills. Think about the four essential facets of Communicating for Results:

  • Speaking
  • Nonverbal Cues
  • Writing
  • Listening

Regardless of your purpose, you want to create, transmit, and receive information as effectively as possible. At the same time, you want to build understanding and enhance your working relationships. And if you are unable to get your ideas and expectations across clearly, you are not going to be successful as a manager.

What do you think is involved in effective communication – Communicating for Results?

“The problem with communication . . . is the illusion that it has been accomplished. George Bernard Shaw

“The quality of your communication is determined by the results you get.” Tony Robbins

Next Time:  Stories from the Trenches

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