Leadership

Funders Who Reward Capacity Development

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Creative and sustainable nonprofits are drawing more and more funding from "investors" while the pool of feel-good "donors" is shrinking.

You can trace much of how nonprofits operate back to the source of their funding.

The majority of nonprofits have a Development Director whose key role is not development of the organization, but development of funds for the organization. They are in charge of writing grants, reporting on grants, courting foundation contacts and major donors, managing fundraising campaigns, and basically asking for money.

In my experience, very few nonprofits see "development" beyond the role of asking for money, over and over and over again.

If we trace this back, it's easy to see the reason for this reliance on repetitive fundraising.

Historically, many foundations and donors demanded that the greatest possible percentage of their funds be invested in direct program services. In other words, donors have demanded that nonprofits spend donated funds right away, with no investment in the future.

This idea was set in stone by organizations like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar and Charity Navigator; sites whose profit model was based on giving donors solid information about the nonprofits they were considering donating to, but whose lack of concern or awareness of genuine indicators of mission efficacy resulted in a long era of comparing nonprofits based on one major indicator: their "overhead".

In fact, many states (including Utah) still publish the percentage of donations invested in direct program services on charitable solicitations permits - requiring these permits to be displayed on location and making such information available online, as if it were a genuine indicator of impact that was comparable across mission focuses.

This hyper-focus on a particularly meaningless percentage has resulted in enormous pressure to pay as little as possible for everything, from space to supplies to talent. Nonprofits are expected to get everything donated and to attract bleeding hearts who will work hard in crumbling offices on the bad side of town for less money and terrible health insurance.

I was talking with several talented employees of a local nonprofit that I admire a great deal for their forward-thinking revenue models last week. I was amazed to learn that because of their location, they are approached daily by drug dealers and have to watch their young clients deal with the same interactions as they come and go from classes.

A for-profit arts school would absolutely never subject their clients to this type of environment; it's bad for business. This organization is catering to the same clientele with unique and important STEM education, yet they have not made it a priority to move to a better location. Why? Almost certainly because it would increase their overhead.

While many nonprofits are responding to opportunities for sustainability and internal revenue creation, they continue to sacrifice in ways that ultimately lead to poor performance of those initiatives, or outright failure.

However, the nonprofit culture is shifting, albeit slowly.

Family foundations are now being run by a younger generation, a generation characterized by entrepreneurship and impact. More and more corporations are investing in nonprofit grants and awards that reward sustainability and innovation. And thanks to technology, we are witnessing nonprofit and for-profit startups that are making a splashy impact, while giving 100+ year old nonprofit in the same niche a run for their money.

With this shift, those big three online nonprofit rating services finally backed away from this percentage as an indicator of mission performance with an open letter in 2013 and a follow-up letter to nonprofits in 2014.

The days of doling out $10,000 checks for feel-good programs are petering out and it's a good thing.

While I've witnessed many nonprofits deny this shift and struggle to incorporate better business models into their long-term mission strategy, the process is leading to stronger, more accountable, and increasingly sustainable cause organizations who may very well multiply their impact on homelessness, domestic violence, animal cruelty, addiction, and every other mission focus.

And much of this credit comes back to funders and donors who are willing to invest in the long game, who are looking beyond the percentage of donations invested in one-time services and reinforcing the importance of internal capacity.

Eide Bailly's Resourcefullness Award is just one example of a funder that sees the bigger picture, investing a total of $15,000 in nonprofits with creative and sustainable revenue generation initiatives in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota (applications are due August 12th).

Here in Utah, our Community Foundation just held it's third Social Investors Forum, curating a community-wide dialogue around the importance of funding unique, innovative, and sustainable nonprofit initiatives while bringing new funders to the table who are more comfortable with "investing" rather than "donating".

Our state Arts & Museums Division invests up to $2,500 in arts organizations each year specifically to aid them in developing their capacity.

These focus changes are critical to creating long-term impact. In effect, these are genuine investments that multiply the impact of the funders. They trigger and support internal capacity development and revenue generation programs that allow the nonprofit to further its reach and its mission, year after year.

That's a donation check I want to write.

So, whether your making a personal donation, a grant award, or a creating a corporate giving program, consider reaching out to nonprofits within your mission focus area and finding out which ones are making this leap.

Invest in the long game, not low overhead, which is too often an indicator of low growth, unsatisfied employees, high turnover, and ultimately, low impact.

And for you nonprofits, invest in talented, creative minds that can challenge your status quo, and brag about how you are positioning to make a difference for now, and for the future.

When to Hire a Consultant

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In my experience, most organizations are fairly wary of consultants. We don't have the best reputation. My own personal experiences with consultants as an executive weren't all that impressive either.

Here's how it generally goes: 

1. We have a problem/opportunity, but we lack the expertise and manpower to act on it.

2. We can't stand consultants on the whole, so we either:

(A) do absolutely nothing beyond talking about the problem/opportunity; or

(B) we hire an "affordable" and inexperienced employee to tackle it.

More often than not the situation is a problem, not an opportunity: compliance issues, lack of funding, poor sales, a fried server, etc.

In the nonprofit industry where I focus my attention, executives often recognize the problem, talk about it a great deal, and then succumb to option A: do nothing.

Within the larger organizations I've spent time with, the route starts the same, but leads to authorizing a new part-time or full-time employee as the fix.

Why the fear of consultants? 

Consultants are a dime a dozen. Anyone can flunk out of their career and change their title to consultant.

Many consultants make the mistake of taking any work that comes their way rather than exclusively offering services where they have genuine expertise, which leads to poor results for the client.

Plus, most consultants work in the arena of "soft skills" (ie. leadership development, retreats, communication skills, sales, etc). It's next to impossible to measure the immediate and long-term impact of these types of investments, so executives will often dismiss them outright.

When should you hire a consultant despite all this? 

A great consultant will provide value that is 10x their expense. These are specialists with substantial talent within a specific niche. They have the ability to quickly observe your situation and efficiently implement action based on diverse experiences with a variety of organizations like your own.

Doing nothing is not a viable option. I recently watched a small organization lose nearly everything because they refused to invest in an "expensive" IT professional to set-up a secure internal network or at least a cloud-based back-up. All it took was for one laptop to get stolen.

Conversely, I've also seen a small nonprofit triple their budget by investing in an experienced fundraiser to craft a strategy and develop grant templates to serve as the model for all future proposals. They raised more than $150,000 in the next 6 months and the consultant charged a measly $3,000 (a scary price tag at first).

Hiring an employee to fill the gap can be smart for ongoing needs, but for temporary challenges or opportunities that are outside of your expertise, a new employee will likely cost much more than a consultant while taking much longer to respond to the issue successfully, if they succeed at all.

The bottom line is that the resources that will be consumed by new hire activities, socializing with colleagues, supervision, lunch breaks, research, and failed attempts will rack up to an expensive missed opportunity and increased overhead.

Rather than reinventing the wheel each time you're confronted with a sticky problem or an opportunity, at least consider bringing a consultant into the mix. Their expertise can pay for itself right out of the gate while keeping your organization agile.

Not sure how to find a great consultant?

Get in touch with your industry hub for referrals.

For businesses, this is often your local chamber of commerce or small business development center. For nonprofits, you're local community foundation or United Way probably have a short list of experts they would be happy to share.

Prevent the 5 Pitfalls of Your Emerging Leaders

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I landed in my first leadership role in my early 20s, before I even owned appropriate executive apparel. Unfortunately, gaining the leadership skills to go along with my new pin-striped skirt wasn’t as simple as a trip to The Loft. In fact, it was a painful series of confidently crafted catastrophes. Your succession plan requires that your emerging leaders succeed. By watching out for these five common pitfalls of early leadership, you can prevent the fallout and grow your bench.

1. Fixer Upper Edicts

Do you have a hot shot eyeing leadership? Be wary of the tendency to project their personal expectations and begin making changes to suit their narrow focus right out of the gate. This often begins with executive orders and ends with a lot of frustration on all accounts.

Lacking experience, high achievers fail to appreciate the scope of planning and effort associated with what they see as simple requests. As McKinsey & Company notes, “…managers drive results via budgets and quotas; real change leaders achieve objectives by mobilizing a broad base of people.”

Don’t let your potential leaders learn the hard way. Involve top players in project teams early so they can gain the firsthand experience necessary to lead change effectively when it’s their turn.

2. Monochrome Cloning

Some personalities, especially the bold personalities of top performers, fail to appreciate the benefits of other, less driven personalities. I went through three secretaries before I realized I shouldn’t attempt to hire a clone of myself. In mentoring emerging leaders, it’s important to coach them in balancing the personalities and strengths on any given team, including their direct reports.

The Color Code by Taylor Hartman is a fun and effective way to increase awareness of different personality styles and how to play well together. The bold red COO learns to appreciate the stabilizing effect of the white CFO during difficult meetings, while the blue, people-oriented CEO takes advantage of the yellow HR executive’s ability to build a bright and exciting culture.

3. Isolated Juggling

For many first-time leaders, the lightbulb doesn’t click on that the how of completing our work has completely changed; we simply acknowledge increased responsibilities. If you frequently find your new leader in front of their computer issuing bits of communication via email, you’ve got a problem.

As Kevin Kruse defines it in his classic Forbes article, What is Leadership, “Leadership is a process of social influence.” This can be frustrating when your known method for winning is buckling down and doing the work better than anyone else.

Take your emerging leader along for casual coffee meetings and visits with frontline staff. Role model that the Ivory Tower doesn’t hold up in your organization, and create opportunities to demonstrate the insight and trust generated from face-to-face engagement.

4. Efficient Decision Fallacy

It can be easy to get caught up in the confidence of eager new leaders. They often have great ideas, albeit naïve at times.

The scenario: Your excited new executive stops you in the hall for a quick chat about how the organization can save thousands by going paperless. “Sounds great,” you say, and continue to the urgent meeting in your office.

The consequences of quick hallway decisions are often immediate. Those down the line who are already wary of the 20-something who advanced above them get a bit rattled when they aren’t consulted about change that impacts their teams. It’s a setup for the aforementioned Ivory Tower trust gap. Avoid it by always responding to good ideas with encouragement to gather input.

5. Expert Alienation

Taking on the mantle of leadership isn’t easy. Confident bravado can garner quicker results than genuine leadership. Observe your emerging leader in meetings and in teams. If he or she always has the right answer and fails to encourage the perspectives of peers and subordinates, they probably won’t get much done at the top.

Coach your rising star to become a better facilitator, rather than the oracle. Judith Ross summed it up in the Harvard Business Review: “…an empowering question does more than convey respect for the person to whom it’s posed. It actually encourages that person’s development as a thinker and problem solver, thereby delivering both short-term and long-term value.”

It all begins with the C-Suite. Are you role modeling leadership that empowers, involves and engages your organization? Or are you sitting in front of your computer carrying out a hallway decision? It’s not too late to invest in a robust and productive organization that grows mature leaders of the future.

Originally posted on the C-Suite Network blog, the most powerful network of C-Suite leaders.

The Laws of Subtraction

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The Laws of Subtraction by Matthew E. May was selected in a book club I recently joined. It's a compelling concept and I would have picked up the book otherwise, but I might not have finished it. The six laws of subtraction that May proposes are designed to help us remove the superfluous because success in the "age of excess everything" demands the skill of subtraction. That piqued my interest, as we really do have unlimited options and distractions and the key is the ability to prioritize and tune out the rest.

May compiles more than 50 different stories and perspectives on the topic, resulting in a book more than 200 pages long. I am an easy reader - I love nonfiction and I love new ideas that I can put to use. Unfortunately, I fell asleep twice while attempting to read The Laws of Subtraction.

May failed to apply his own methodology to his writing. The stories and metaphors designed to illustrate his laws went well beyond the point. I would have expected a book on the laws of subtraction to be short, concise, and laced with thought-provoking "Aha!" moments. Unfortunately, the gems were buried in lengthy explanations and I truly don't recall any of the specific laws themselves - they weren't catchy and actionable.

That being said, I respect May's obvious expertise and passion for the topic and took away a few pearls that certainly made the read worthwhile:

Pulsing

Pulsing is the concept of working in 90 minute stints with recharging breaks in between, such as a walk, meditation, doodling, or reading. Studies of brain activity show that we move from higher to lower "alertness" every 90 minutes. May points out that the symptoms of pushing the boundaries include restlessness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus, which explains why I find myself staring out the window and eating M&Ms.

I would add emphasis on the first 90 minutes of the day. What would happen if you invested the best of yourself each day into your highest priorities, with a targeted deadline less than 90 minutes away followed by an enjoyable activity? Sprints result in quick wins that build momentum.

Design...In Everything

FedEx LogoWe often only think of design when it comes to logos and advertisements, like this FedEx logo. (Do you see the white arrow?) But simplicity and clarity truly are desirable in all our interactions, so why not consider how simple and clear our lives and businesses are designed?

I often explain too much, burying my focus in a muddle of words. I also save way too many documents in a pile on my desk, just in case I might one day want to review one. What areas of your organization are cluttered or absorb an inordinate amount of your energy? Do you have white space where a person can relax, create, and work effectively?

Intentional Limits

In the past two years, I have often found myself paralyzed by the sheer number of directions I could go in. We all have a variety of passions, interests, and strengths...which to pursue? May observes that intelligent limitations provide the necessary frame to contain our efforts. Without those purposeful guideposts, we stare at a blank page.

Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want, notes, "Give yourself some intentional restrictions in life and you'll finally get inspired to act. Restrictions will set you free." In what ways can you set better boundaries on your work, your time, and your relationships so that the next step is obvious and builds on the steps that came before?

The Principles of Skunk Works

Skunk Works is the top secret Advanced Development Program for Lockheed Martin. Their legendary chief engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, developed a strict set of principles for leading this shoestring rapid innovation team to repeated success, and they hold true for leading any team:

  1. It's more important to listen than to talk.
  2. Even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision.
  3. Don't halfheartedly wound problems - kill them dead.

The implications of the lessons contained in The Laws of Subtraction are open for application to large organizations, small groups, and individuals. Fewer distractions, clear direction, and clean space benefit everyone involved.

A surprising and genius vacation policy

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Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak to my local American Society of Training and Development chapter on building a change-ready culture. During the presentation, I had participants team up to discuss how they could tackle some of their urgent change problems. The teams shared some of their results afterward and a couple gems emerged around corporate vacation policies that I had to share:

The typical company vacation policy: 

Each employee has the opportunity to take up to X vacation days during the organization's fiscal year and must submit their vacation request ahead of time with manager approval contingent on coverage, seniority, yada, yada, yada.

Invisible fine print: We pretty much expect you to still manage everything while you are out on said vacation. While we can't force you to respond to emails and calls, we will reward and promote the type of employees who aren't ever really on vacation.

The genius company vacation policy: 

You MUST take at least X vacation days and management will actively monitor whether you are taking said vacation days and how your team functions while you are gone.

If YOU are required to deal with the situations that arise, then you are FAILING. If you are micro-managing from Tahiti, you will find yourself across from your supervisor when you return. In fact, we are going to monitor the number of emails you send while you are off duty and if it surpasses X, IT will shut off your access on your next vacation.

Why? 

As Wes Stockman of Nicholas & Company and Jay Naumann of RC Willey pointed out (two fantastic minds on organizational development):

Vacations provide natural opportunities to grow your teams and develop new leaders. Micromanagers hold their teams back and communicate to their direct reports that they are not competent or responsible enough to rise to the occasion, which sabotages a culture of ownership and excellence.  Leadership should empower synergy, not bottleneck growth.

Of course, there is also the more obvious benefit: your employees actually return to work recharged and rested and should they fail to return (or need to be escorted out at some future date), you will have plenty of competent replacements ready to jump in without interruption.

So, next time one of your employees requests time off, consider who will be empowered to practice their role while they are out and communicating strict email boundaries - for everyone's sake.

6 Steps to Boost Ownership on Your Frontlines

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If the complaints in your organization tend to burn up the ladder until you finally take the initiative to resolve the problem, you’re not alone. In fact, upset customers are communicating directly to the C-Suite these days, bypassing the ladder altogether. Once relegated to the limits of family and friends, a bad experience can now circle the globe in a matter of minutes, thanks to social media. In the Economist Intelligence Unit report, Getting Closer to the Customer, Frank Eliason, senior vice president of social media for Citi, puts it bluntly, “Consumers now own the brand.”  It’s become imperative for leaders to nurture customer loyalty.

The C-Suite is fairly removed from the day-to-day customer interactions. Yet, many of us have a tendency to own the process. The very idea that a busy executive — removed from the customer experience by three to five layers of management — has the time to resolve every hiccup or even has the best idea of what will work is absurd.

How do we change the culture to instill ownership of the customer’s happiness with the ability to make a real impact in real time?

Click here to get the 6 critical steps.

 

5 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Intrapreneur

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I always imagined that once I reached the executive level, I would be free to focus on the bigger picture. Sadly, the C-suite is not a rooftop loft with inspiring views and glass walls where we hatch innovative ideas and brilliant plans with scented dry-erase markers. The reality, for many executives, is a never-ending load of administrative oversight with a fairly constant interruption of “not my job” problems that land on your desk as the last stop. After all the daily organizational maintenance, how do you ensure you stay ahead of the curve — or, better yet, pave the way in your industry with new and better solutions? Whether you’re naturally entrepreneurial — and your inner innovator has simply been stunted by the mundane — or you’re a traditional administrator needing to solve entrenched problems, you can quickly incorporate inventive thinking into your daily repertoire with a few interventions.

Click here to read my full article on the C-Suite Network

10 Steps to Nail the 10 Minute Pitch

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Last Friday, the Community Foundation of Utah held their first annual Social Investors Forum, Shark Tank-style. They solicited both for-profits and nonprofits through a call for investments, narrowed the 150 applicants down to six, and then invited them to pitch in front of the judges, investors, and an audience...on Valentine's Day. Startup founders are well-versed in the pitch and many begin honing and refining their public speaking skills and story long before they are served up to the sharks. But, nonprofits haven't frequently been put through a publicized pitch event. Most fundraising goes on behind closed doors with grant applications or donation request letters.

Pitch-style events probably aren't going away. More and more large donors are starting to see themselves as investors and some are even looking for actual returns by investing in debt opportunities or for-profit social ventures. The opportunity to have a dialogue with the organizations you're considering is invaluable.

While it might be terrifying for introverted mission warriors to share their message from a stage, the platform has its benefits and, if harnessed, can stir up new donors, patrons, and supporters. It's time to embrace the pitch.

10 Easy Steps to Nail the 10 Minute Pitch:

1. Know your audience. Find out exactly who you will be pitching to. If they're traditional foundation directors, then stories about community impact will probably be critical. If the judges are potential investors or from the business community (as with most boards), they will want hard numbers and evidence that you know how to run your organization like a well-oiled machine.

2. Tell a story. It's critical that your audience connects with the application of what you do. We all too often rely on statistics, which are not only boring, they depersonalize the very real experience of the people who make up those stats. A story can be delivered in about a minute and can start your presentation off with a clear understanding of the why and the what, before you launch into the details.

Example:

One of the groups on Friday was looking for seed funding for a youth game development program, expanding on existing media training they do with kids. The program would only initially benefit 10 teens, a sticking point that the judges hit on. Had they started out with the vivid story of "David" who comes from a low-income family and got involved in a video production team in elementary school, advanced to additional media training in junior high, and then received a full-ride scholarship to the award-winning game design program at the University of Utah...and he also happens to volunteer as a mentor for the students in the program now...well that might have answered some of the skepticism around the impact the funding would have.

3. Start with why. We often get stuck in the what too often. Start off in the why. Why does your organization exist and why are you uniquely qualified to deliver the solution you are presenting. The why can often be delivered succinctly in your story, just make sure you make a clear and compelling case for why your organization or project is needed.

4. Demonstrate optimistic confidence. Ever get irked when your kids whine about having nothing to do rather than coming up with an idea? The same reaction holds true for nonprofits, yet many of us still go to funders with a big whiny, statement about how hard things are. Would you invest in someone who comes to you for all the answers, or would you invest in their competitor who is coming up with the solutions?

If you're particularly resilient - brag about it. "Yes, we had a $20K funding cut from our government contract, but we immediately came up with several alternative funding solutions and then launched a social enterprise to bring in sustainable, ongoing funding while training our clients in marketable skills!"

5. Answer their biggest questions. By knowing your audience, you should be able to anticipate what questions they will be asking and what doubts they will have about you, your organization, and your project. If you can fill in the blanks before the Q&A, you'll invoke more confidence. Try out your pitch on someone who knows nothing about your project and have them grill you afterward to help you refine your content.

6. Demonstrate competence. While this shouldn't be a show about how great you are, you should quickly shore up any doubts about your ability to perform by documenting your team's credentials and a few examples of prior successes. Funders recognize that they are investing in people, not just a good idea.

7. Plan for sustainability. If you don't have some form of earned income or a sustainability plan, you are limiting your funding opportunities and losing ground. Highlight how you will leverage funding to create long-term impact, as well as how you plan to maintain funding for the project. A bicycle collective that pitched on Friday rightly bragged about the fact that 90% of their revenue is self-generated through tune-ups, repairs, and sales.

8. Storyboard it. When  you have identified the main components, draw out your presentation from start to finish, ensuring that you have a powerful opening and an equally compelling closing, with a logical sequence in between. Remember that even presentations need white space - if your script has you rushing to keep it to 10-minutes - make some strategic edits to deliver the information more succinctly. Tip: Your slides can help deliver content that you can't fit into the script.

9. Be creative and engaging. You aren't the only team pitching and if folks wanted to simply read your slides, they would have had you send them in rather than having you pitch. Make eye contact, use your hands, stand up straight, and don't read your slides. Take the time to get creative about how you deliver your most important message so that it leaves a distinct impression.

Example: 

One of the presenters was pitching for funding for a fruitshare program. Instead of delivering statistics about how much fruit is wasted and how many people are going hungry, he started his pitch by handing out an apple to each judge. He then shared a powerful statement about how those delicious-looking apples traveled more than 1500 miles and had likely lost half of their nutritional value. It was a simple, but smart attention-grabber that not only left an impression, it literally left an apple in front of the judges for the rest of the pitches.

10. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Don't fly by the seat of your pants. You may know your organization inside and out, but a well-crafted and well-timed presentation will give a clear, aligned message from start to finish and demonstrate how motivated you are to secure funding for your cause.

On a side note, if you're an introvert (like me), the more prepared you are, the more likely no one else will recognize that you are WAY out of your comfort zone. During the mingling on Friday, I heard too many presenters complain about how terrible they were or highlight the problems in their presentation.

Nobody likes a self-deprecating complainer and it doesn't make any logical sense to draw attention to our mistakes, but for some reason we seek comfort in gouging ourselves before others can. Be cognizant of this and instead smile, accept the compliments graciously, and roll with the punches - even if you seriously fall on your face or your technology backfires.

Good luck!

What happens when you curate real teams

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There comes a point in your career where the word team causes indigestion. We've all been on a "team" that did absolutely nothing beyond meeting and talking about doing. There was no one to carry out the plans or the team stopped being relevant long ago and no one disbanded it.

We've been on teams that got momentum (and therefore noticed by leadership), only to have the team's resources cannibalized and diverted to additional projects.

Then there's the dreadful committee, thrown together on a whim, without any real authority, and consisting of already overworked employees.

Whether you are developing your board, an executive team, or a project team, diversity reigns. This includes diversity in capacity. Without conscious curation of compatible personalities and balanced skill sets, leadership breaks down from within, never getting the chance to fulfill the collective goals of the group.

I've witnessed multiple nonprofit directors salivate over a potential board member from a behemoth law firm or bank. They don't consider that these high-level professionals often sit on multiple boards, have honed their skills at saying no when assignments or donation requests go around, and may never have time to show up to a meeting.

Similarly, I've watched as new executives are promoted into leadership teams based on their ability to do the day-to-day work only for chaos to ensue because their personality and style steps on the toes of the established team they must work within.

Project teams are one of the most obvious examples of terrible team dynamics. We assign the already swamped department head to oversee and add in her direct reports.

How many committees, boards, or teams have you sat on? How many have truly engaged you in action rather than just sitting?

Let's build our teams to get stuff done:

  1. Establish a list of priority outcomes for the team.
  2. Identify the critical skills and resources necessary to produce those outcomes efficiently.
  3. Begin identifying the people who have those resources AND the capacity to bring them to the table. Mix it up. Cross-functional teams create better results and companies that take advantage of energy and talent lower down stimulate employee engagement, problem solving, and intelligent succession routes.
  4. Once you have a list of ideal recruits, identify each person's personality and typical group role.
  5. Create a final team line-up with one dominant leader, at least two task-oriented doers, and at least one wise person who has a knack for setting the tone, managing dominant personalities, and drawing out the observant personalities.
  6. Finally, invite these players to your team specifically to fill those roles in a way that brings out their unique contributions. Don't leave your hopes and expectations to chance, but also provide space for them to share how they think they might best support the goals.

Ask your wise person to set the tone. Ask your type-A personality to record results and track progress (forces them to listen). Ask your doers to be implementation leads. When the team first meets, introduce the people AND the primary resource you hope they can offer to the team.

By using this method we:

  • Create ownership by allowing team members to opt-in;
  • Guide contributions to fill the actual needs;
  • Prevent the doers from becoming martyrs by appreciating their skills and ability;
  • Remove the guilt from the advisors who don't have the time or skills to implement; and
  • Produce momentum and engagement, leading to outcomes.

The bottom line: If you can't commit to at least rushing through these steps prior to creating a "team", don't do it at all. People are a valuable and limited resource, especially volunteers. Don't waste such opportunities haphazardly.

Have a horrid team experience? What was the problem? Conversely, what created the magic within the teams that brought out the best in you? 

Root Cause Analysis: The 5 Whys

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I love memorable and easy to implement tools for problem solving. After all, solving problems is at least half of what leaders spend their time doing. Mine as well make it simple. Root cause analysis sounds uber complex and it can be. There are a variety of methods and tools out there that take hours upon hours to complete. Sometimes that's necessary, but I'm a fan of trying the simplest solution first and then escalating the complexity if the problem continues to rear it's ugly head.

The 5 Whys is nothing new, it's part of the Six Sigma process and became well-known from it's use with Toyota Production System in the 70's. I was just recently reminded of it from a good friend, Kim Barber. Kim is an adjunct professor with the University of Utah's School of Business and a wealth of practical information. In fact, that's what she teaches: putting management theory into practice.

Quick & Dirty Root Cause Analysis: An Example of The 5 Whys in Practice

Problem: Phone calls and emails aren't returned in a timely fashion or at all. Instituting a "Return all communications within 24 hours" rule has been ineffective in changing the trend.

1. Why? Quick interviews with the worst offenders reveal that they "just don't have time."

2. Why? They indicate that they have too much paperwork that they are behind on.

3. Why? Pushing the question, it becomes apparent that these staff are always behind, making paperwork more time-consuming since they have to go searching for the old information.

4. Why? Their supervisors nag about the deadlines, but never actually enforce them with any interventions or consequences.

5. Why? Addressing the identified issue with supervisors reveals that they don't feel comfortable enforcing the deadlines that they themselves don't keep. This is the way deadlines have always worked; ie. this is a problem embedded in the culture.

Without peeling the onion back five layers, the folks interested in solving the problem with returned phone calls would have been left with supervisors blaming their staff on the surface, but enabling the behavior through their own lack of commitment. The root cause of poor role modeling was able to be impacted directly, trickling down to the staff members.

Sometimes what appears to be the problem in the surface is only a symptom. More often than not in my experience. Try the 5 Whys for yourself next time you encounter a problem in your organization.

Sunk Costs: Let the Project Sink

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We'd all like to believe that we make decisions based on the best possible future trajectory given all of the available information at hand. But it's pretty common to pour more and more resources into a dead end rather than admit defeat. If you're a really thoughtful decision maker, that may be the case when you first approach a change. However, even the best leaders struggle to re-evaluate mid-course and accept the fact that we're clearly going under.

Part of it is an essential bit of entrepreneurial optimism and part of it is a fear of loss, which is apparently genetically encoded from our ancestors: those who were risk aversive were more likely to survive to parenthood and pass on the predisposition.

But we don't live in the time of saber tooth tigers and groin cloths anymore. No revolutionary success ever got off the ground based on the risk calculation and many certainly would toss in the towel when the inevitable waves washed over the sides of the little boat. That being said, there comes a point when sinking is inevitable and it's time to switch gears and try a different boat.

It can be hard to tell whether it's fear or optimism that drives us to purchase deck chairs for the sun-soaked beach that certainly lies ahead while our feet and fellow travelers get soggy, but developing the awareness and distance to call it quits when you've passed the point of no return is critical if leading the next boat, or an armada, is in your future.

In order to combat our tendency to believe we are the leadership-embodiment of Leo Dicaprio at the front of an unsinkable ship, the business world came up with the term sunk costs.

What's a sunk cost? 

It's the money, time, and other resources that are lying at the bottom of the ocean, completely unrecoverable. The Titanic has broken in half and no amount of money or effort is going to put it back together and deliver the passengers to America.

You have a few options here: 

  1. You can pretend that the Titanic is unsinkable. More time, money, and adjustments will certainly fix the problem.
  2. You can watch the ship sink in abject horror and sob violently over your losses.
  3. You can face forward, learn from the mistakes, and cut your future losses as early as possible. No use crying over sunken ships.

An everyday example: 

You purchase non-refundable tickets to a major concert for over $200. You dye your hair blue and make the 30 minute drive to the arena. 15 minutes into the show, your absolutely miserable. Turns out this particular band only sounds good synthesized on the radio and the lip syncing that you can clearly see from the front row seats you paid handsomely for is appalling.

What do you do?

The irrational part of us says, "I paid $200! I drove all the way here! I dyed my hair blue!" So, you stay and get angrier with each mutilated song.

If you're feeling particularly rational, you say, "I am not enjoying this at all and I think I would rather leave now, grab a pizza, and catch up on Big Bang Theory." So, you go and have a wonderfully funny evening.

Irrational decisions aren't a huge deal on this scale, but organizations buy much more expensive "concert tickets". In fact, the sunk cost fallacy is nicknamed the "Concorde fallacy" after the $6 BILLION (in today's dollars) dumped by the British and French into the development of the Concorde aviation project for many years after it was crystal clear that the venture would never produce a return. Just the year-to-year operating costs AFTER the Concorde was developed ran in the red.

Are there any projects that you or your organization are currently pursuing that are already waterlogged? How would you know?

The Most Valuable and Neglected Leadership Tool

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This isn't just a leadership tool, it's a basic personal development cornerstone. Without it, you are completely handicapped. With it, you can capitalize on your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses. However, it is time-intensive and must be purposefully engaged; therefore, it is often neglected.

Reflection.

Let's face it, unless you have an unbelievably amazing staff or you're a lazy leader, there is very little free time at the top. There is always more to do. The corner office might have a great view, but it likely doesn't get appreciated by the frenzied executive who spends the majority of their waking hours in that space.

My first three years as a leader are a blur. The pace was grueling and exciting. When I left my job, life went from 100 mph to 0. It was only then that I began to truly reflect on my experiences in leadership, the lessons I learned the hard way, and the larger impact I could have had if I just stepped away for a few minutes to refine my approach.

It's difficult to make time to do nothing when there is so much to do.

Productive reflection truly requires the absence of productivity. It's about time and space to simply absorb, digest, and consider our experiences.

Given the right environment, both mentally and physically, reflection leads to clarity and creativity. We gain a broader understanding of what we are doing and how we are doing it. Most importantly, we become acutely aware of our internal barriers to success and this insight can drive breakthrough change.

One of my brilliant clients reminded me of the classic tool, the Johari Window:

Johari Window - Great Leaders Take Time to Reflect | Leadership & Lifestyle by Emily Capito, LCSW, MBA

We get moving so quickly as leaders that we often shutter all but the known, public self. We don't make the time and space for reflecting on who we are as a person and as a leader.

Much of what we hide from public view can and should be integrated back in, producing a whole and genuine person that others can trust and follow.

Much of what we are currently blind to is readily accessible if we take the time to consider how others interact with us, how we respond to stress, and how our stakeholders view our actions.

This level of perspective is game changing. 

Imagine the value of consistently engaging in your own proactive 360 degree assessment; refining your ability to observe and apply the feedback that others are constantly providing you about your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

You may have moved into leadership because you're goal-oriented and driven, but you won't succeed as a leader if you continue to apply yourself solely to production without the aid of adequate reflection.

This goes for most challenges, including marriage, parenting, friendship, or starting a business.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."                                                                                       - Confucius

Take 15 minutes today, away from work and email and people, and allow yourself to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to connect with the bigger picture.

Don't be a Tupperware Leader

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One of my favorite books on leadership is EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey, probably because I lean toward the entrepreneurial side of the continuum. The lesson that has stuck with me in the years since reading the book was that as a leader, I am the ceiling. To give fair credit, Ramsey takes this concept from John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Maxwell calls it the "Law of the Lid", as in the lid on your organization.

As leaders, we are both our organization's solutions and our organization's problems. Hopefully with more tally marks on the solutions side. Our strengths become our organization's strengths. Our weaknesses = the organization's weaknesses.

This is a fact of life. None of us are perfect.

That being said, if we fail to take a good, hard look in the mirror every so often to become increasingly aware of our weaknesses and act to mitigate them, our organization will run up against that lid sooner rather than later.

This is critical whether you are a project leader, department manager, or the CEO. So, how do we mitigate our tendency to micromanage, our inability to lead an effective meeting, or any other personal shortcoming?

  1. At the very least, acknowledge the deficit. Don't pretend it doesn't exist.
  2. Build your team purposefully to fill in your gaps. Don't clone yourself or you will simply magnify your own flaws.
  3. Focus on applying your strengths first, then work to improve your weaknesses where appropriate.

Opposites attract in marriage for a reason. I am great with managing the little details. My spouse is great at keeping perspective. This naturally creates conflict, but it also creates balance.

This is how a fine tuned leadership team works. Diverse strengths lift the lid a little higher, allowing the organization to reach greater heights.

This is also why filling in the gaps with natural talent is #2 on the list. It's faster, more efficient, and more reliable to bring established assets to the table than to try to course-correct your shortcomings.

You may never be the best meeting facilitator, but you should observe your empowered replacement to continuously grow and adapt because you also never know when the recruited talent could call in sick or walk away.

Bottom Line: Don't be vacuum-packed tupperware. With awareness, purposeful team development, and personal development, you should continuously push the lid for your organization.

How have you mitigated your leadership weaknesses?

Purpose over Perfection

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As we reviewed in the last leadership post, many early leaders and even entrenched leaders struggle to transition from performance to leadership. But we can spot a good idea when presented with one and most will accept the fact that we need to get out of the office and build influence if we're ever going to succeed at this whole organizational change business. This is about the time we are blindsided with terrible results despite following through on all that soft, squishy advice, which of course reinforces our original beliefs that we need to control the world from our ivory tower office in order to get things done.

Why does this happen?

Early leaders are frequently promoted because we are so productive. We are efficiency maniacs. It's all about tasks, quantity, and accuracy.

Leadership Fail: The Better, Quicker Mission Statement

When I was promoted into a leadership position, our entire senior leadership had turned over, leaving some pretty early leaders in charge of the hen house. We turned to the vision and mission statements for direction only to find that they were 30 years old and were pretty terrible to begin with. I believe our original missions statement was around 43 words with nearly half being adjectives.

As I mentioned, early leaders are excited people and we do spot good ideas. I was gung-ho about developing the best mission statement on the planet and immediately researched best practices. When we finally tackled the beast at an executive retreat, I was so relieved that we were taking this critical step forward.

I logically understood that the mission statement can and should be a powerful tool for creating unity, guiding critical strategic decisions, and acting as a rudder for the organization. I genuinely accepted that buy-in to the new mission statement was as or more critical than the words chosen.

So how did I behave in the retreat? Like a micro-manager.

I had already spent weeks researching and honing the perfect mission statement. It was beautiful, concise, and memorable. Then all my peers had to start sticking their crazy opinions in there, mucking up the water. Luckily our retreat facilitator was inclusive and had managed a few over-eager red personalities in his time.

Leaders must tame their overriding need for perfection in exchange for the greater purpose. 

The perfect mission statement, developed by mission experts (I'm sure they must exist), will never be internalized as well as the cruddy version with seven commas created by the people who carry out your mission.

One of those extra adjectives was suggested by Jim from accounting and he takes ownership of the mission with pride.

Another word was revised slightly by Alice from customer service who has the statement pinned up in her cubicle and can recite it from memory.

Perfect will always be less effective in producing change than the flawed version created by the people who must act on that change.

There's a time and a place for well-researched accuracy. Unfortunately for most leaders, those opportunities to design perfect products are few and far between once you're in charge. Successful leadership is measured by positive teams, positive customers, and positive balance sheets, not the sometimes ugly methods or vehicles that lead to those outcomes.

How could you better appropriate your efforts to produce better leadership outcomes rather than solo perfection?

4 Activities to Scale Your Impact as a Leader

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As we reviewed in the prior post, The Single Biggest Mistake Type-A Leaders Make, leaders are often very effective producers on their own. However, once you make the move into a leadership position, you're impact needs to scale. In fact, if you can generate results beyond your solo efforts early, your move to leadership will happen sooner and more smoothly. I would also add that this topic is easily adapted to entrepreneurs and startup leaders. Employees need the same types of interactions as your tribe, although the vehicles will be different.

1) Build influence.

First things first, you need influence within your relationships in the organization. Your influence factor is your ability to have an impact on the behavior of others. With your new title comes some perceived and real power and therefore some built-in influence.

However, new leaders often rely too heavily on this surface influence to get things done and are surprised when the outcomes are lackluster.

To foster a deeper level of influence with your colleagues you need create trust, buy-in, and engagement. These three elements could each generate a hefty book, but the basics always hold true:

  • TRUST: Be honest and transparent. Don't play office politics. Never gossip. Bring concerns up directly and early. Follow through on what you say. Admit to your mistakes. Be accessible and visible.
  • BUY-IN: Relate. Ask for feedback. Share experiences. Reserve your veto for emergencies only. Demonstrate commitment. Know the front lines. Learn spouses' and kids' names.
  • ENGAGEMENT: Interact often. Be positive. Nurture confidence. Invite perspective. Maintain an open line of communication. Ask questions. Listen. Appreciate.

2) Focus on a few priority projects.

Nothing is more deflating than the inability to complete assigned tasks, except maybe the inability to complete exciting voluntary tasks. Your impact will wane dramatically if you spread everyone too thin or take on so much that you overwhelm your teams.

Recognize that your level of impact on each project is inversely correlated with the number of projects you attempt to lead. Take time upfront, especially as a new leader, to intimately understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing your organization. An intimate understanding means that you grasp both the 10,000 foot view and get your hands dirty on the front lines.

3) Invite a variety of talent to your teams. 

No matter how much you try not to, there will inevitably be a handful of trusted direct reports and colleagues who you want to involve in every project. Unless you want to lose those assets, don't do it.

Formal teams, such as the executive team or the finance team, should not be the go-to team structure. Their views are biased based on what they have in common and any decisions that impact "others" will fall flat.

Regardless of whether your project campaigns are occurring simultaneously or years apart, always recruit fresh talent. While having one status meeting and managing only a few personalities is easier in the short term, each project's outcomes are further diluted by the number of repeat players. Like yours, their time, energy, creativity, and focus is limited.

Plus, if you are going to create greater and greater impact, you are going to need to consistently source new leaders and engagement from all levels of the organization. Project teams are excellent staging grounds.

4) Continuously source and meld ideas.

You may believe you have the perfect solution, but its not only highly unlikely, it's also a surefire way to kill your influence factor, which means that implementation will inevitably fail.

Always ask for ideas. Whether you're holding a focus group or having lunch with a colleague and regardless of what phase a project is in, ask for perspective and genuinely emphasize the value of their opinion.

As you meld ideas together or act on advice, give credit where credit is due and be sure to include everyone in the celebrating milestones, even if their advice fell flat.

Ultimately, these activities become your full-time job as a leader. They build on one another and generate highly impactful and sustainable results. With greater impact comes greater confidence and momentum to tackle the next priority.

The Single Biggest Mistake Type-A Leaders Make

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Highly productive Type-A's often rise to the ranks of leadership, whether we are prepared to scale our impact or not (usually not). Generally the first stop after the promotion is the new office, which is for the most part where we will spend nearly all of our time in the coming months, with the exception of mandatory meetings. This represents the single biggest mistake that is almost universal among new, traditionally Type-A leaders: blissfully productive solitude, known to the rest of the team as: rogue isolation.

Refining details, whipping up spreadsheets, and checking off tasks is the bee's knees for us folks. That's how we ended up with a promotion in the first place, which simply further reinforced that we should continue our proven formula for results.

We can create, create, create. Whether it's a full-color and scale-accurate plan for better utilization of office space or the most neat and grammatically correct meeting minutes you've ever seen, if left to our own devices this is what we do.

Unfortunately, the "Office Inventory Enhanced Utilization Framework" with companion forms for checking out 3-hole-punches and tracking copy paper usage isn't exactly the priority. In fact, it's a massive distraction from anything that matters.

Rule #1: 90% of the time that you spend alone in front of a screen is working against your organization's mission. 

While I will concede that some leadership roles are much more project-oriented than people-oriented, such as a CFO or CMO, I would still venture that if you are a typical "red" personality, you are likely wasting a massive number of hours alone.

So, when you find yourself slightly high from reformatting the employee manual, you must brutally remind yourself that you are failing in your role, shut off your computer, and go be with the human beings right outside your door.

"Leadership" is a pretty direct term. You are leading...someone or many someones somewhere. Even if your someones aren't employees, they exist in some other format and you are supposed to bring them along.

This does not happen by sitting alone with technology. I promise, I've tried. It occurs through relationship capital, which as we know is culled through trust, rapport, transparency, and excitement. If I trust you and the vision is palpable and exciting, I will follow you, write up reports for you, and participate in your overly rigid meetings.

One of the best exercises I attempted (several times) in my leadership role was to spend an entire day without isolating distraction. No phone calls, emails, word processing, number crunching, budget reviewing, or folder reorganizing from 9 AM to 5 PM.

The void was filled with critical circles of people: direct reports, key stakeholders, frontline team members, superiors, peers, community contacts, customers, and volunteers.

Critical is also a pretty straight forward term. Your fate lies in your relationships with these people. It only makes sense then to step away from the keyboard, stop volunteering for non-critical solo projects, and begin investing in the human beings that will determine whether you're a leadership asset or just a Peter who was overpromoted.

Unfortunately, most companies won't take the risk of un-promoting you, so it's sink or swim time.