Reaching the Summit with Girls on the Run

Recently I partnered with Forward Community Investments and Girls on the Run of Dane County to present a case study on capacity building and strategy development at the Girls on the Run Summit in San Antonio, TX.  We had more than 85 participants interested in learning about how to build capacity and think strategically to chart the future path of their councils.

The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summitt. From left to right: Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services of Forward Community Investments, Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County.
The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summit. Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services, Forward Community Investments, Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County.

It was wonderful to work with Girls on the Run because their vision so strongly aligns with my own personal values:  “A world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.
The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.

Are you interested in reaching your limitless potential and boldly pursuing your dreams?  Let’s talk about how coaching can help you.

Or maybe your nonprofit organization is launching a strategic planning or capacity building initiative? Contact me today! I look forward to helping your organization reach the summit.

Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program that confirmed some practices that allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills and create a path for sustaining my leadership.

Leadership

Today, serving the nonprofit sector as a consultant, I have the opportunity to be a facilitator of leadership development programs. I draw from my diversity of experiences as an executive director and the seven key themes that sustained me in those positions.

Start with fire in the belly.

You absolutely must be passionate about the work that you are doing. That energy is what will drive you in tough times and will motivate your staff to do their best work. When people are feeling down and struggling, they will look to you as a barometer of the organization’s health. If you can’t see the path to better times, they won’t either. This is not to say you should be wearing rose-colored glasses but, as suggested by Jim Collins in Good to Great, it reminds me of the “Stockdale paradox”: acknowledging the brutal facts, but never losing hope is essential to success.

Everyone is a leader; leadership is a team sport.

Leadership is not a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a “star is born” phenomenon. I learned this when I started playing Little League in 1972. Everyone is a leader in some way, and the trick as an “anointed leader” is to identify the key to opening that leadership pathway in those around you. One tactic to avoid burnout is to spread the load of leadership throughout your organization. In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., calls this “roving leadership.” The only way to open that leadership pathway is to listen deeply to those around you to determine how their passion fits with the vision of the organization.

When staff feel that their thoughts actually do matter and that everyone is in the same boat trying to get to the same destination, there is a greater interest in paddling together. You must be genuine and authentic in your actions. When you say you want people’s input, it must be true, and your behavior must be in alignment with your statements. Leaders who are dictators in disguise will only achieve what they individually desire. There is greater success in collective power than in the power of one.

Create an environment that rewards learning and innovation.

We live in a world that seems to be changing with greater speed with each generation. As a leader, you have to be a change agent, not an idea squelcher. Fostering the desire to learn and explore new ways to address challenges enhances your success. This will keep your work interesting and allow your organization to be more effective. Many of the leadership gurus — Peter Senge, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and John Kotter — all emphasize the importance of life-long learning as an attribute of effective leaders.

Recharge your battery.

It is very easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of communication, particularly email, and never lift your head. This trap will become a downward spiral to burnout if you don’t carve out some space on a regular basis that allows you to fully unplug. Whether it is doing something outside, reading something completely unrelated to work, cooking or playing music, you must protect a segment of time that is dedicated to clearing your head of everything that burdens you as a leader. You owe it to yourself and to the cause you are serving. Take Tony Schwartz’s Energy Audit to see how you are doing.

Celebrate.

The work that you do can be fraught with what seems to be insurmountable challenges on a regular basis. One approach to mitigating the effects of these difficulties is to create a culture of intentional celebration. It could be opening your staff meeting with a standing agenda item of “Thanks and Acknowledgements,” or creating the organization’s “Let the Fun Begin” committee that is responsible for maintaining a level of celebration in the organization. Social support networks enhance productivity, psychological well being and even physical health, so make your workplace such a network.

Build a network of support.

Being a leader, particularly in an executive director position, can be a lonely place. It is important to identify a support network, perhaps a breakfast club or monthly brown bag lunches with fellow executive directors who have the same struggles as you and who can offer insights and support in maintaining your sense of purpose and inspiration.

Preparing for nonprofits of the future.

Because my generation bridges the baby boomer and Gen X generations, I have been fortunate to see the world through glasses with both sets of lenses. A leader’s appreciation of generational work styles is critical to success. Boomers display a heightened sense of commitment, dedication and long-term loyalty to one organization and employ a more traditional leadership style, whereas Gen Xers approach leadership as a flexible, “open source” affair, a collaborative work style that conveys the sense that it is everyone’s business, and we all have to do our part to achieve success.

When approaching leadership with these key themes in mind, you are sustaining yourself and developing your bench strength. You are creating a pathway for the next generation of leaders who will be ready to take over when their time comes if it hasn’t already arrived.

This article was originally published at Causeplanet.org, February 27, 2009.

What’s Goverance Got to Do with It?

Over my twenty years in the nonprofit sector I have held different seats at the governance table.

As a member of an all-volunteer organization, I’ve experienced serving on a board that worked essentially as the staff. As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I experienced a relationship with the board as my boss. While serving as a board chair, I was the leader of the board. In my professional work as a consultant, I am brought in to support boards in reaching their greatest potential.

What have I learned based on my experience in each of these roles? Your organization is only as healthy as your board.

governance wordle

When boards and board members are working in coordination with staff, the organization has leveraged the talents, and resources of 10-20 more people…for free!

When boards and board members are not working in coordination with staff, the organization stalls out.

I have seen the latter dysfunctional situation often as both a board member and as a consultant.  In these situations, staff start to work around or ignore the board, viewing the board as “a necessary evil.”  Board members wonder why the Executive isn’t “doing as they say.”

So what are the key elements to an effective board-executive partnership?  Although it was originally written for the corporate sector, the work of David Nadler, Beverly Behan and Mark Nadler, published by the Harvard Business Review on Building Better Boards, is a timeless resource for building engaged boards.

Key Elements of an Engaged Board

1. The Mind-Set: Board-building is an ongoing activity, continuous improvement means annual self-assessments.

2. The Role: The board needs to be an engaged partner with the chief executive and playing the correct role for each situation. Is it a fiduciary role, strategic role or generative role? This resource explores the role of Governance as Leadership.

3. The Work: Identify the areas where the board can add the greatest value and focus attention here.

4. The People: The right people are not merely based on technical expertise but other competencies related to programs, external environment, quality of input and style of interaction.

5. The Agenda: Agendas dictate the work of the board. “show and tells” kill board meetings and crowd out time for serious and important discussions. Boards need to find ways to engage with the organization outside of official meetings so “show and tells” during meetings can be limited.

6. The Information:  Boards can be left in the dark by either too much information to digest or information malnutrition. I have seen board tomes of 300 pages! Don’t only be a “recipient” of information but seek it out.  Board members should be encouraged to collect and share information that they have identified externally.

7. The Culture: Robert’s Rules of Order are great obstacles to an engaged board. Use them sparingly.  Engaged board cultures are characterized by candor, willingness to challenge thinking (respectfully), camaraderie, and teamwork.

Where is your board in getting it right?  Take a look at some of the other great resources on nonprofit governance or contact me to discuss next steps in building an engaged board.

Resources:
BoardSource
Blue Avocado
Nonprofit Quarterly

Is Your Organization Built to Last?

Recently I partnered with Forward Community Investments in hosting a webinar on organizational capacity building and strategy development.  In this time of constant change, nonprofit organizations need to think about building capacity to remain relevant in the field in which they operate.

800px-Cairo,_Gizeh,_Pyramids_of_Kephren_and_Khufu,_Egypt,_Oct_2004What are the key steps to building your organization to last?

1. Assess current organizational capacity.

Capacity refers to intentional, coordinated and mission-driven efforts aimed at strengthening the management and governance of nonprofits to improve performance and impact.

2. Start at the top.

Focus on your organization’s mission and vision.

3. Know Thyself.

Analyze your organization’s business model; focus on geography, customers, programs, and funding.

4. Know the market.

Your organization doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Map out where you operate and who you compete with.  What trends will impact your organization?

5. Build on your strengths.

What differentiates your organization from others in your market? What makes you unique? Build on that.

6. Make decision-making explicit.

Identify criteria for testing strategic options. Create a structure for discussion with board and staff.

7. Develop strategies to answer the biggest questions.

What are the most important questions facing your organization right now?  Draft strategies that answer each question.

8. Develop implementation plan.

You’ve defined the big questions facing your organization and created strategies to address those questions.  The last step is bringing strategy to life.  Document how you will implement the strategies that will build an organization to last.

Check out the webinar.  Or if you want to chat about building your organization to last, Contact me today to get started!