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Clean and Free to Lead

Darius’ room is clean!!!  Yeah!! Great news.  Cue up the band.  OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me regroup.  You may be wondering what my 13 year old son’s clean room has to do with leadership.  Ahhh, well I’m glad you asked.

This has been a struggle for a “minute” and by minute I mean a long time.  At times I’ve felt more like a prison guard or drill instructor than a dad.  We’ve explored the continuum of disciplinary alternatives and nothing seemed to stick – the change was never sustainable.  Many friends and others told me to let it go, he’s 13, it is what it is.  And I’ll admit for a time I did let it go – just close the door.  As long as nothing crawls out (including odors)  and he’s still able to get out unscathed I let it go.  After all there are worst issues we could be dealing with, right?

Well we both realized this “clean room thing” was a point of stress in our relationship.  I set an expectation, he wasn’t meeting it, I wasn’t enforcing it and we weren’t syncing like we want to because the big elephant in the room (no pun intended but there could have been one in there) was hanging over our heads.  So our daily and nightly routine became a series of my demands for him to clean his room, his half attempts at cleaning the room, my checking the room, his 2nd half attempt at cleaning the room, my yelling, his “sad face”, and on and on and on.

What a cycle, we had to break it.

One day, Darius and I had a conversation about sports.   He wanted to try out for the football team, so we began discussing football and the discipline and commitment required to be a great player.  We talked about practice and preparation and the blood and sweat great players shed when no one’s watching to make them better on game day.  We talked about the dedication and consistency of great players who did what others wouldn’t, who showed up when others didn’t, who kept going when others quit.  We talked about how great players accept responsibility for themselves and recognize they’re accountable to their team. Darius was getting “geeked” (that’s what the kids say) and I was getting “hyped” (that’s what old school says).  He was ready to do it.  I was ready to do it.  What a moment.  Wait a minute — then it hit me, we needed to have a conversation like this around cleaning the room.

We began to transition from football to room cleaning, but we kept talking about the same principles; discipline, commitment, practice, preparation, consistency, dedication, responsibility etc….  And then there was this epiphany – it clicked, I saw it in his eyes.  He realized the room was about his character, his responsibility, his image.  Darius was TeachABLE.

Darius stayed up that night and cleaned his room.  The best it’s ever looked.  Now here’s the great part – Darius walks in my room a couple of days later and says, “Dad, I feel free. I feel good, because you can’t say anything to me about my room being clean – it’s clean.  I handled my business. This is nice.”

What a revelation.  Darius is free because he handled his business.  The distraction of the dirty room was gone.  He was able to focus on more important things. I could see the confidence in his eyes.  He did what he was ABLE to do and he’s reaping the rewards.

What about you? What about me?  What business do we need to handle? What do we need to clean?  It may not be our room, but it may be our heart, it may be our task list, it may be our mind, it may be our reputation,  it may be our attitude, it may be our speech.   If being clean can make a 13 y/o feel free, imagine what it can do for you and me.  Let’s clean up our mess and free ourselves to lead.

Comments { 6 }

Why Does the Board have to Fundraise?

The majority of Independent Sector organizations have a need for their boards to fundraise .  This is why you see an abundance of Board fundraising trainings, tools, and efforts throughout the sector.  However, there’s something else we still see – many boards and/or board members that don’t, won’t or can’t fundraise.

For those Boards and Board members that struggle with the idea of fundraising or still don’t understand “why” we have to fundraise, consider this:

  1. Funders Expect It: The overwhelming majority of grant applications from corporate, foundation  and even government funders ask a similar question, “What percentage of your board financial contributes to the organization?”  Why do they ask this question?  Simply put, they’re not as close to the organization as the board is – and if the board won’t financially support the organization why should they?  I can’t overstate how impressive it is to a funder when you can claim 100% of our board financially contributes to the organization.  As a matter of fact I know of a few organizations that can claim 100% financial participation from the Board and staff. Wow!!!
  2. Increases your Credibility & Confidence during the Ask: How can you ask others to do what you don’t do?  Imagine approaching a friend or colleague to seek their financial support for the organization.  They look you in the eye and say, “Great, I’d love to support the organization.  By the way, did you give? “ If you can’t answer this question with a resounding confident yes,  you just lost credibility.
  3. Increases your Sense of Ownership: We are more likely to pay attention and care for those things that we own versus those things we don’t own.  Making financial contribution increases your sense of ownership and commitment.  When I was a kid, the phrase “put your money where your mouth is” was very popular.  In other words if you believed in something enough you’d put your money up.  Board members need to “put their money where their heart is”.  If you’re enthusiastic and believe in the cause this will come easy for you.

Finally, there are two ways we’ve seen the expectation of Board member financial support communicated:

  1. A specific annual amount is determined by the Board and agreed upon when board service begins. (i.e. Board members will contribute $2,500 annually..)
  2. The  specific amount is determined by the individual.  (i.e. Board members will contribute a financial amount annually commensurate with their ability.)

Bottom Line: Effective, high-performing boards don’t view fundraising as an obstacle, they view it as an opportunity – an opportunity to advance the mission that they committed to serve.

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Don’t Bother the Board

I recall a meeting with a Board Chair in preparation for a project.  Part of the project involved the deliberate engagement of the Board.  Individually and collectively the Board had to  commit the time that this effort demanded if it was to be successful.

The Board Chair had a concern – The Board members time.  I realize I’ve heard this before from other Board Chairs and CEO’s that wanted to protect their Board’s time.  Here are some common things I’ve heard:

“The Board is busy, we don’t need to bother them with this.”

“Our Board doesn’t have time, they’re just volunteers.”

“I’m trying to make it easy for my board.”

“The Board has better things to do.”

“Can’t we just do it and bring it to the Board.”

“My Board is full of busy people, they don’t have time.”

“Let’s not trouble the Board with this.”

Though I appreciate the fact that someone is protecting the Board’s time (by the way, a resource worth protecting), I’m concerned that in many instances  we are robbing the board of the opportunity to exercise their responsibilities and perform their duties.  Let me be clear, I’m  not for wasting time, I’m not for “meeting just to meet”, and I’m definitely not for engaging the Board in matters that don’t pertain to their roles, responsibilities, or expectations.  I am for the Board fulfilling their duties of Obedience, Loyalty, and Care.   I am for the Board providing proper over-site.  I am for the Board being engaged.

So what does this mean?? The Board is there to be bothered.  The Board isn’t there for the easy work, they’re there for the hard work. There’s nothing better for the Board to do than govern the organization and fulfill their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.  Yes they’re volunteers, but they’re accountable volunteers.   If the Board doesn’t have time to be the Board then they don’t have time to be on the Board. 

Bottom Line: Stop trying to make life easy for your Board.  Stop tricking people to serve on the Board by telling them “there’s not much to do”.  Stop depriving your board of the time, space, and opportunity to be the Board.  And most importantly, if you’re a Board member, stop letting your Chair and CEO let you off the hook – Be Aware, Be Engaged, Be Bothered!!!!!

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10 Things Every Board Member Should Know

There are plenty of lists regarding Board’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations – what every board or board member should do, etc…

We decided to take a different approach (a habit we’re kind of proud of) and create a list of the things we believe Boards should know.  After a crisis or challenge Boards have a tendency to “question” what they should have been “questioning” all along.  This list was developed based upon feedback from Board members (usually after a crisis) regarding the things they began to question.

So here we go.  10 Things Every Board Member Needs to Know:

  1. Why they’re on the Board.  What value do they offer. What unique, relevant purpose do they serve in that seat.
  2. What constitutes acceptable “performance” for the CEO and the Board?
  3. When it’s time to leave.  Let’s face it, nothing lasts forever.  Whether the bylaws has term limits or not, isn’t the point – at some point wisdom dictates you give up your seat for fresh eyes, fresh perspective, and fresh blood.  Like great athletes Board members should leave “on top” of their game.
  4. When the variance between Budget vs Actual is a “lowered” red flag.  Don’t wait til the flag is raised, it’s usually too late then – Where’s the point prior to raising the flag?
  5. Whether the board’s financial reports are presented in a “cash” or “accrual” basis.  Avoid the “I thought that was what we had in the bank” moments.
  6. If your CEO disappeared today, who would step in immediately, and keep things moving forward?
  7. The total monetary value of the CEO’s salary and benefits package. (Yes, believe it or not, there are some boards that don’t know what their CEO makes. This one deserves a separate blog – coming soon.)
  8. They only serve one term at a time.  Re-election isn’t automatic.
  9. The rate of staff turnover – particularly for key positions.  (You may consider the CEO your only employee, but if he/she can’t keep employees you may want to know why)
  10. What the staff and stakeholders think of their CEO.  Call it a 360 evaluation, stakeholder input, or whatever you’d like.  At best the average Board member sees the CEO once a month for about an hour  – is that really enough time and information to evaluate their performance.
  11. ….

We’ve found that asking these questions and paying attention to these issues reduces board apathy, increases board engagement,  and improves board performance.

By the way, we stopped at 10.  How about you offer up #11? What else do Board members need to know???

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Am I the Reason My People Have No Initiative?

Leader: “I can’t get my team to take initiative and take charge of projects.  They won’t just jump in and “do it”.  How can I get them to grab the reigns and take charge.”

Me: “What’s been your previous pattern of delegating authority?”

Leader: “Huh?”

Me: “Do you have a history of delegating authority and tasks to your people?”

Leader: “No, I haven’t in the past, but I’m starting to do it now.”

Me:  “Well this explains why they won’t take charge and just jump in.”  Let me explain.

Your team feeds off of your behavior and your patterns – they know you, they watch you.  If you have a pattern of just doing it yourself, you know the old saying “by the time I show somebody else how to do it, I might as well do it myself” –  you can’t be surprised when they don’t jump in to do a job that you NOW want them to do.  Every time you didn’t delegate a task to your team, that should have been delegated, you were telling them, “I don’t have confidence in you” – that was your pattern.  So this is new territory for them – you can’t expect them to just do it.  For those leaders who have seen the “delegation light” and want to now realize all the benefits of creating an environment where your team members can exhibit their competency and skills through delegation, here are a few things you are ABLE to do:

  1. Reintroduce yourself to your team: Bring everyone together and introduce the new you.  Acknowledge the new pattern of behavior you are committing to, and also share why you are doing this. Acknowledge that this is new and there will be a transition period for everyone – you have to get used to delegating and they have to get used to receiving.  You’re restoring trust at this point.
  2. When you delegate be very clear regarding roles, responsibilities and expectations.  For instance, ensure the individuals you delegate to, have the capacity to perform the task at hand.
  3. If you want something a certain way, let them know.  Don’t make people “guess” to figure out how you want something done. If you have specific imperatives that must be met, let them know up front.
  4. Let them know where there’s room for flexibility, imagination and creativity.  Let them be flexible, imaginative, and creative.
  5.  Finally throughout the delegation process communication must be clear, concise, and consistent.    You may not want to wait til the end to see what’s been done – create a space where you can check-in with each other without anyone feeling disempowered on one end or disturbed on the other.

Remember this “delegation thing” is new to you and to them.  Every time you delegate with confidence, they have the opportunity to demonstrate competence.  This becomes a powerful  cycle that leads to greater confidence and competence.

Want to learn more?? Take a look at TWG_retreats to see how we can help you and your team improve your performance over time.


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“Your Old Isn’t The Same As My Old.”

I don’t know if it’s because today is my birthday or because my daughter can be quick with her words, but this exchange I had with her today was pretty funny.

We had a family conversation today to talk about plans to move in the next two years.  We discussed potential locations, plans, etc. .

After the conversation Devin did what Devin does – she began to research, investigate, and plan.  She jumps online, starts looking at houses in the areas we discussed.  By the way, I love her enthusiasm and willingness to jump in and get stuff done.

After bringing me several listings of modern styled homes, I reminded her of the type of house I’m looking for.  Without giving it much thought, I said, “Devin, I want an older style house.”  She shook her head, walked away and came back with some other available properties.  Again, I said, “Devin I want an older house.”  She looks at me and said, “Well daddy, your old isn’t the same as my old.” 

Devin was right, her old, isn’t my old.  I had to sit down with her, show her different styles and then she got it.  More importantly, I got it.   In that moment I was confronted with a common communication barrier many of us face and learned another leadership lesson that my children have been so kind to teach me.  I realized that defining important terms is important to effective communication.  In today’s conversation with Devin the word “old” was the important term that needed to be defined – I was ABLE to define it, but I didn’t.

Leadership Lesson for the ABLE Leader = When we clearly communicate and define important terms, people understand what we want and are more likely to meet our expectations. 

By the way,  I’m not sensitive to the word old because It’s my birthday and I’m a year older, but because it’s the style of house I want.  :)

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Don’t Worry About It

A young professional shared this with me recently.  In the last few months several people had been “let go” from her organization.  Concerned for her own job security, she approached the Executive Director to find out if the organization was going to “be here” next month – she was told don’t worry about.  A few days later she overheard the CFO telling the Executive Director that cash flow was way down and the organization had never been this broke – she again approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.  Finally there has been an increasing number of creditors and subcontractors calling the office seeking payment for overdue invoices and bills, once again she approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.

By this time you do know what she’s doing, don’t you?  That’s right worrying about.  I understand that there are times when leadership believes the followers can’t handle the truth – not saying I agree with this or condone it, but I do understand how leaders may think it – they may think if everyone really knew how dire the situation is they may panic, they may leave, programs may suffer.  Well guess what, if they’re constantly worried about what you won’t talk about, the work and programs are suffering already.  AccountABLE  leaders help their people confront and navigate reality.

Reality is confronting this young lady on a daily basis and the Executive Director’s admonishings of Don’t Worry About It aren’t working.  Leaders are ABLE to talk about what their people are worried about.



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How’d They Get That Job???

“The reason she got the job is because she can’t do the job.  The leader (term used loosely) doesn’t like people working for them that will push back, question, or “rock the boat”.  She got the job because she’s a safe hire and will do whatever the leader wants. Everyone knows this.  The leaders entire team is composed of people that will follow orders, not question the status quo, and just fall in line.”

How would you like to be the “she” in that conversation?  By the way, it could just as easily be “he.”

How would you like to be the leader in that conversation?  Not exactly a shining portrayal of leadership greatness.

IF and it’s a big IF – If this is true, there are several issues any leader with integrity would have with this scenario.   I’m not going to discuss those issues – I’m choosing to treat this like a case study and go a different direction.  By the way, like all case studies we explore, the names have been changed to protect the innocent – so stop trying to guess who I’m talking about.

Now,  I want to ask some questions to spur all of us to engage in some Courageous Conversations to examine ourselves.  Why? Because the fact of the matter is any of us could be either of them, depending upon who you ask.

  1. If a leader of a major organization (large nonprofit, educational institution, city government) purposefully hires people that “can’t do the job” or “ who just fall in line”, how can they do that and not be held accountable? Whose job is it to hold them accountable?
  2. If this does happen, and the leader isn’t held accountable, what does that say about our expectations of our leaders?
  3. Where’s the line between proper authority and dictatorial or passive-aggressive control?
  4. Is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to hire and surround yourself with “yes men and women”?  If so, when?
  5. How long will you stay on a job, that doesn’t let you do your job?
  6. Why and when can people “thinking” be a threat to leadership?

So, what are you ABLE to do?  Spend some time answering these questions.  Better yet, if you’re a leader, use these questions during an open group dialogue with your team.  It’s one way to find out if you’re one of the two people mentioned in the conversation above.

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The Formula for Effective Communication

“We have two ears and one mouth, so let’s use them proportionally.”  I don’t know who said this originally, but I do know there’s some wisdom in these words – wisdom that leaders need to consider.

Sidebar, Pause, Timeout: Before you read any further.  If you work with me or if you’re related to me, you are not allowed to post a comment to this blog.    (Just kidding, I think..) “I’m a work in progress, like all of you reading this.  We’re growing together.”  Ok, continue on.

Communication, or the lack thereof, can make or break our relationships, our teams, our organizations, and even our communities.

If communication is so important, why are we so bad at it??  I’ll tell you why: Because we like to talk and tell.  We don’t like to listen and ask, we want to talk and tell.  Test it out on your own and see if I’m right – at your next meeting pay attention to the dynamics in the room.  There’s very little dialogue taking place – there are actually multiple monologues taking place.  Someone says what they want to say, people stare at them; they take a breath, someone else jumps in, people stare at them, they take a breath; another person jumps in, says something like “let me piggy back on that” (just to be nice), because whatever they say following this statement has nothing to do what was on the piggy’s back.

So you just spent another hour in a meeting with people talking and telling.  No one was listening and asking.  And IF a question is asked, if it’s not the question the talker/teller wants to discuss, it’s ignored.  By the way you’re lucky if anyone asks a question, because if the leaders are known for talking and telling, people that have something to ask, will stop asking because they consider it a waste of time.

So what’s the Leadership Lesson here?  It’s pretty simple stop talking/telling and start listening/asking.

4 things you (we) can do:

  1. Ask others if it’s ok for you to take notes while their speaking.  It’ll stop you from interrupting them, help you sort out your thoughts & remember what you want to say at a later time.  Oh yea, take notes – don’t doodle.
  2. When someone is finished making a point, repeat it back to them to confirm you heard the correct message.  It shows that you are listening and you value what they say, and you want to get it right. (I gotta work on this one)
  3. Ask open-ended questions that allow others to expand upon their thoughts.  Don’t ask closed-ended or leading questions that take people to where you want to go.
  4. Be willing to NOT BE the “smartest person in the room” – Someone knows what you don’t know.  Be TeachABLE. Give your people the space to express their genius and creativity.

Remember the Formula:

2 ears


1 mouth

= Listening twice as much as you speak.

I think this will help some of us communicate more effectively.   What do you think?

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A SustainABLE Pace

It’s a beast.  It’s a “grown folks” race. It’s rough.  It’s all the way around the track.  It ain’t no joke.

These are just a few of the phrases used to describe the 400meter race in Track and Field, and I agree with all of them.  More importantly, my 13 year old son Darius (Big D), agrees as well – this weekend he competed in the event at the 2013 USATF Junior Olympic Regionals – not bad for his first year running the event.

Did he win? – No

Did he place? – No

Did he finish? – Yes

Was he disappointed? – Sure

Did he learn some lessons? – No doubt

Here’s one lesson worth sharing with all of us: Run Your Race to Sustain Your Pace.

The runners that excel at the 400 have identified and mastered a sustainABLE pace.  They start strong, they stay strong, and they finish strong.  They know they can’t expend all of their energy in the first 200 or 300 meters because then they’ll have nothing to finish the last 100 meters with.  They come out in a burst of speed, they settle in to their “zone” and then they keep a “little something” in their tank so they have that extra gear to kick in when they need it.

Runners that haven’t identified and mastered a sustainABLE pace come out as fast as they can and continue to run as fast as they can, running at one speed (as fast as they can), and usually around the 200 meter mark you can see them visibly  begin to slow down – their mind is saying “run, keep moving”, but their body is saying, “I have nothing left to give you.” As they slow down, you see all the runners pass them by on their way to the finish line. Their pace wasn’t sustainABLE.

Let’s all remember this lesson as we start our day and our week.  Is our pace sustainABLE?  Do we start out strong and energetic, but lose energy and focus before the end of the day.  Remember the goal isn’t to just finish your day, finish your project, or finish the week.  The goal is to finish strong.  Check your pace.  Are you trying to do too much, too soon?  How long can you sustain this pace?  Just like the track athletes, you have to “run your race” – just because someone else can go at a certain pace, doesn’t mean you can or you should. Start your day with a burst, settle in to your zone, and kick in the extra gear when you need it.  Start Strong, Stay Strong, Finish Strong.

Have a great day – see you at the finish line.

Thanks Big D, for giving me permission to share your story.  Daddy’s proud of you.

Oh, by the way, will he be back? – Absolutely!!!!

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