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May 27, 2010

The leader as mediator

Next up in this month's Leadership Inspiration series is Mary Ghikas, CAE, senior associate executive director for member programs and services at the American Library Association and a former chair of ASAE & The Center's Executive Management Section Council. Below, Mary shares the inspiration she has found in the writing of mediator and author Mark Gerzon:

Toward the end of his masterful book on leadership, mediator Mark Gerzon recounts the story of three bricklayers, working side by side. Each in turn is asked what he is doing. The first says, "I am laying bricks." The second replies, "I am building a wall." The third, however, responds, "I am building a cathedral." The "cathedral," in Gerzon's metaphor, is a vision of what is possible—and the story is a powerful reminder of the role of "possibility" in the work we do as association executives.

We live in a world in which we must "dwell in possibility," while managing the myriad details that go into successful conferences, publications, governance meetings. We live with conflict—between competing projects, objectives, perspectives. We are daily confronted with change—in everything from the tools we use to the level of control we are able to exert. In such an environment, Gerzon argues that the mediator has the "critical capacity to see the whole—and to act in its best interest."

Drawing on both scholarship and his own experience as a mediator in national and international settings, Gerzon provides a list of "tools" for "leading through conflict":

  • Integral thinking;
  • Systems thinking;
  • Presence;
  • Inquiry;
  • Conscious conversation;
  • Dialogue;
  • Bridging;
  • Innovation.

Individually these are not new concepts, and indeed they appear repeatedly, under various names, in the literature of leadership. Gerzon provides us with a guide to the way a skilled mediator uses these tools for "transformative leadership."

In speaking of innovation, Gerzon shares a poem inspired by his experiences in South Africa:

If you see two sides,
Create a third.
If you see many sides,
Form a circle.
If you see many circles,
Begin to dance.

...and when we do we change our relationship to conflict and focus on the wider possibility.

Looking at the leadership guides I have used over the past decade or so, I realize I have returned repeatedly to Mark Gerzon's Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities for its scope, its felicitous language, and its sense of the "dance" that I must still seek to master.


May 26, 2010

Dynamics of leadership

The latest guest blogger to take up our Leadership Inspiration Month challenge is Sterling Raphael, president and CEO of NFi Studios. Sterling addresses one of the challenges all leaders face--information overload!--and an inspiring figure who has helped him find ways to manage the digital deluge.

Here's what Sterling has to say:

Being a leader in the Information Age is not easy. In a world inundated with noise and clutter, and every communication channel competing for our attention, it's not surprising we easily become overwhelmed with distractions. Some experts even call this time period the Attention Age.

Do you feel stressed - weighed down from having too much to do and running out of time? Are you drowning in email? How many days do you start with priorities and a plan, but finish your day feeling like you missed your daily goals by a mile? With social media being an additional channel, how could anyone possibly keep up?

Maura Thomas (@mnthomas) is someone who has influenced my life by helping me become a better leader. Maura is a professional speaker and coach on the topic of productivity. She's as busy as many of us, but never appears stressed or overwhelmed. Why? She lives a life of intention, a life where she chooses where her time is spent, and what consumes her time. Maura is also a social media maven and takes advantage of the power of social media to enhance her life, not derail it.

In my time spent with Maura, she has helped me notice several aspects of my routine behavior. For instance, I constantly check my phone for emails, text messages, Twitter updates, Foursquare, etc. Suffice to say, I have become addicted to distractions. I find it difficult to live in the moment of priority that should be seizing my attention. The spin-off being: I entered the arena of self-inflected Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I have trained my mind to be endlessly distracted yet call it "multi-tasking."

In a moment of Zen-like clarity, Maura said, "If you're not in control of your attention, you're not in control of your life." That statement played over and over in my mind. Like a magnet, it pulled my thoughts together and definitely got my attention!

Encased in that thought, I found hope for those who want to overcome the challenges of a chaotic life. Through leaders like Maura, and great books such as Getting Things Done by David Allen, one can learn to channel stress into a life of intention and productivity.

A few pointers learned from Maura and other productivity gurus:

- Work on the most important thing first, not the most recent.
- Multi-tasking is actually cognitive switching. The human brain can only hold one thought at a time. By trying to do multiple things at once, you're not giving your utmost attention to any one given task.
- Getting the biggest, most important task out of the way, makes all others seem less daunting.
- Set specific times during the day for processing email. Doing this exerts control over what gets your attention. Your email is not a task list!
- Learn shortcut keys. Almost every action can be automated through a shortcut key.

Suggested productivity tools:

- RememberTheMilk (RTM): An online task management system to help organize your life.
- Evernote: Used to keep track of notes on your computer, phone, and via the web.
- Google Reader and Apple Mail: Google Reader helps organize your RSS feeds. I use Apple Mail too.
- Instapaper: Helps to save items for offline reading later on your phone or an iPad.
- Basecamp: Great for managing projects online.
- Quicksilver: A MUST for Mac users.


May 25, 2010

Leadership thoughts from Andy Grove

The latest contributor to our Leadership Inspiration theme is Amith Nagarajan, CEO of Aptify. Amith blogs at the Aptify CEO blog, and he plans to write three additional posts there about the lessons he lists below (starting next week with a post on encouraging debate at all costs).

Here are Amith's thoughts on a leader who has inspired him:

One of the individuals I look up to as a great example of leadership is Andy Grove. Grove emigrated to the US from Hungary in the 1950s and helped found Intel Corp. He later rose to the CEO position and was integral in its growth. In his classic business book, Only the Paranoid Survive, he outlines a number of principles for leadership. The ideas I try to uphold in my own role include:

• Seeking opinions at all levels of an organization
• Encouraging (demanding) vigorous debate at all costs
• Not holding back on decisions due to imperfect or lacking information
• Challenge your opinion continuously and not being afraid to change course mid-stream

In this blog post I'll focus on the first idea: seeking out opinions at all levels of an organization.

Seeking out and ultimately receiving unfiltered opinions from team members throughout (and beyond) your organization is a tough thing to do well. One of the requirements is to have a continuous focus on openness. Additionally, showcasing examples where input from all levels has been embraced and leveraged to the collective good of the group can help. If people believe their ideas will be ignored, or worse, put them in some form of jeopardy with superiors, your inbox will be pretty empty. Some people need anonymity to submit their thoughts, but many will speak openly if a culture supports dialog.

Grove speaks to all of these issues as he outlines the concept in his book. One aspect of approachability at Intel was the fact that Grove and other senior managers had standard cubicles in an open office environment and made sure they were easy to approach. There are other ways to create this environment. For example, the founders of Hewlett-Packard were well known for the idea of "Management by Walking Around" where they frequently dropped in to informally chat with staff at every level of their growing enterprise.


May 24, 2010

Leadership inspiration vs. leadership reality

Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog has joined the Leadership Inspiration Month discussion with a post on where leadership really happens. Here's the key quote:

"Leadership happens when you take those principles and try to apply them to a real situation in the real world, and unanticipated conditions begin to clash with those principles."

Read the rest of what he has to say here. Thanks to Eric for sharing your take on this month's Acronym theme!


Association mojo

Marshall Goldsmith's latest book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It, focuses almost exclusively on individual behavior rather than organizational. Goldsmith's take is that "mojo" is an internal quality that is developed on an individual basis.

None the less, after reading much of Mojo, I see ways mojo can be an organization-wide quality, as well. I'll explain why, but first, a quick glance at Mojo's central message:

Goldsmith's "operational definition" of mojo is "that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside," and he says the four ingredients are "identity, achievement, reputation, and acceptance." Within the book, Goldsmith details how these ingredients work and methods for developing them toward your own positive mojo (which I presume he'll do in person, as well, in his general session at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo in August).

I marked several interesting quotes from the book, and after each I'll offer my take on how they apply to associations, too [italics are Goldsmith's].

"Truly successful people spend a large part of their lives engaging in activities that simultaneously provide meaning and happiness. ... truly successful people have Mojo."

  • Associations and nonprofits were all founded with a purpose in mind beyond simply making a dollar, and the ones that relentlessly stick to that purpose (i.e., meaning) are the ones with the best mojo.

"Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without ongoing follow-up. Unless they know at the end of the day (or week or month) that someone is going to measure if they're doing what they promised to do, most people fall prey to inertia."

  • This might be the biggest mojo-killer of them all for associations. Too many associations fail to measure results, define success and failure, and hold themselves accountable for achieving goals.

"Our Professional Mojo is what we bring to the job. [...] Our Personal Mojo is what the job brings to us."

  • I'd rename these "Engagement Mojo" and "Collaboration Mojo." The former is what each member brings to the association through engagement in the community, and the latter is what that collaboration and power in numbers brings to members in return.

"It takes courage to realize that, in some cases, other people's views of us may be just as accurate--or even more so--than our view of ourselves."

  • Your association does not control its brand, because your brand ultimately lies in the public's (or your members') perception of you. You can influence it (see next quote), but you can't control it.

"Reputations are formed by a sequence of actions that resemble one another. When other people see a pattern of resemblance, that's when they start forming your reputation."

  • For associations, building positive mojo through a positive reputation means a commitment to excellent customer service and high-quality member experiences, day in and day out. Every interaction between staff and members, whether a single phone call or an annual conference, is an action that will shape that reputation.

"[Acceptance is] the element that liberates us from toxic emotions. When everything around us seems confusing, acceptance reminds us what really matters."

  • I see this as a supporting foundation for organizational focus. Associations have mojo when they avoid mission creep by focusing on their core goals and letting go of that which may be beyond their scope.

So yes, I do think Marshall Goldsmith's idea of mojo can be applied to associations as well as individuals. My question to you: How do you know when your association has its mojo?

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May 21, 2010

What makes a leader great?

Although our theme this month is "Leadership Inspiration," I think an emerging sub-theme is the question of what makes for great leadership. Several of the guest posts you've seen so far this month have featured examples of great (or not-so-great) leaders that the writer of the guest post in question had seen or experienced.

If you're interested in further exploring the question of what makes a great leader great, you may be interested in the video below, where Barry Barresi, executive director of the American Optometric Association, shares his thoughts on that very question. (This video is the first in a new series of videos we're doing in connection with Associations Now's "CEO to CEO" column.)



May 20, 2010

The over-naming, over-thinking, over-strategizing rant

The great thing about learning from other people's mistakes is that it's less painful. The hard thing about learning from other people's mistakes is that because it's not you and your pain, you laugh smugly to yourself, oblivious to the fact that there's a lesson for you in there.

A nice post on Brand Autopsy talks about the major branding blunder unfolding at Starbucks--a company so good at branding that millions of people now pay four or five bucks for a product that previously had a comfortable profit margin when the price was fifty cents. So you might read the post and smugly think about how you would never make the mistake Starbucks is should you ever be in the position of rebranding a company that your company has just acquired. Congratulations, you're right, you can stop reading now. But if you want to see how the dots connect in my opinion...

Associations are guilty of over-thinking and adding complexity to the development of and communications about their products, programs, and services. They have to distinguish their products not just from their competitors, but also from the other products they produce. Every association I have worked for is guilty of this, and many, many others that I've talked to as well. We do it for so many reasons: internal staff politics or turf battles, messy board or volunteer politics, because we have a crappy product we're putting lipstick on, or because we just feel like we need to. The result is that we make everything much more complicated than it needs to be, than it should be--and there are real and negative consequences as a result. Here's the cold fact (apologies to Lindy, while I have to say it, you at least made me think about it): Content is king. Your member/customer/information consumer doesn't give a flip about what you call it, how you organize it, what it means to you (or a group of volunteers, etc) personally. They only care first that they can find it, and then, if you're lucky, they'll care that they found it from you. The point here is to ruthlessly simplify. Cut through all the reasons why you think you have to do something, and put yourself in the shoes of your members or customers and ask yourself what really matters then.

An example: A couple weeks ago, Steve Anderson, CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said at a Financial and Business Operations Symposium breakout that in dealing with the recession, his organization made a list of everything it does, prioritized it by member value, and then took the top 10 and cutting everything else away. It's a good strategy for a recession. I think it would be a great strategy for boom years.

If you can forgive the inside baseball, here at ASAE we've got a list of at least 43 different ways we try to get content in the hands of our information consumers (and just an aside -- all the section and other volunteer group newsletters combined counted as just 1 of those 43). That's a lot of differentiation we have to do just between and among our own products. What would happen if we took that list and pared it down to 10? Or even in half?

Turns out simplifying is a long, long way from being simple.

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Counterexamples of leadership

Our "Leadership Inspiration" month continues with a guest post from Glenn Tecker, president and CEO of Tecker Consultants. Glenn has had numerous opportunities to observe leadership in action in his career, and here, he describes two contrasting leaders who changed the way he thinks about association leadership.

Great association leaders seem to share a common view of human nature. One rooted in ethics and the ability to discern subtle patterns over time.

I've come to understand that, in organizations dependent in human capital, a leader's view of human behavior has lot to do with the behavior they choose to exhibit. Both good and bad leaders tend to assume that others will behave in a fashion similar to how they themselves would behave in a similar situation.

The good leaders seem to be guided by a particular appraisal of themselves and others: "everyone has the capacity for good; nobody is perfect; and evil cannot be tolerated."

I think much of what I see guiding the behavior of good leaders I initially discerned in the contrast of behavior between two execs I worked with at the same time--Mark, who I can talk about honestly because he deserves the thank you; and Ted, who I can talk about freely because he's dead.

I don't mean to either deify or demonize either of my models--but the opportunity to contrast their behaviors was a rich action learning lab for me.

When difficult resource choices had to be made, Mark would observe: "This association will be whatever its members want it to be--nothing more and nothing less." He knew the enterprise belonged to the members. Ted would say: "If you want to do what needs to be done--here's what you'll do."

Mark would start meetings with issues and choices. Ted would encourage show and tell. Mark would gather diverse opinions and remind us of his accountability for the final decision. Ted would begin discussion with a declaration and then accept arguments supporting his view. In conversation, Mark would ask "What do you think?" Ted would begin with "Don't you think that ...?"

Mark solicited uncomfortable information. He insisted that all views be accounted for--even if they were later to be dismissed. Ted ridiculed alternative views--and dismissed them by dismissing the worth of those who held them.

Mark's ability to see shades of gray sometimes made the missionaries among the group uncomfortable. Ted made people uncomfortable most of the time, but not because he saw shades of gray.

Mark was a policy maker and strategist. A win was defined as progress toward the organization's goals. Ted was a politician and propagandist. He defined a win as anything that advanced his own standing.

Mark was done in by Ted and an officer who sacrificed him to gain currency with politicos who could send his firm business. Mark's replacement lasted until Ted did him in and then took the job himself. Ted left after a state investigation alleged impropriety in a company he operated for the association.

So, the story ends where it began: People tend to interpret the behavior of others in terms of what their behavior would be in a similar situation. The leadership lesson I learned: distinguished leaders account for that dynamic in themselves and others--and make decisions about behavior accordingly.

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May 18, 2010

A dynamic, responsive leader

John Mancini is president of AIIM (the Association for Information and Image Management) and our next guest blogger in this month's Leadership Inspiration series. You can also find John online at AIIM's blog Digital Landfill and on Twitter via @jmancini77; here he joins us to share his thoughts on Seth Godin:

One of my go-to guys for inspiration is Seth Godin. Seth is a well-known speaker, author, and blogger on a host of marketing topics.

Seth's work is particularly important to me because of the many forms in which it is available. I've got a number of his books (Linchpin, Purple Cow, Meatball Sundae, Tribes, others) on my Kindle (oops, now on my iPad). Each provides a different source of insight related to the nutty work of associations (and yes, it's OK to admit that you have to be a bit nutty to have a career in associations). I will admit to being increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of information that comes into my RSS Reader, and as a result, I am increasingly judicious about who makes the cut. Seth's Blog always survives the cut and is one of the first posts I read. There are a host of Seth Godin presentations on the web. The simplicity of style and presentation and approach are things that I have tried to carry over into my own presentations.

But there is one mega reason why I so enjoy following Seth. He answers email like a real person. And quickly. And with insight. Imagine that in this day and age: a best-selling author who doesn't have anyone in between himself and his readers. Not a bad model for an association president and an association's members!


May 17, 2010

Learning from leaders all around us

As part of our continuing exploration of this month's "Leadership Inspiration" theme, here's a guest post with a slightly different take on the subject. Vinay Kumar of Marketing General was kind enough to share a post with us about the leadership inspiration he's received, not from any one thinker or author, but from the leaders we can find all around us.

Here are Vinay's thoughts:

When I began my career, especially given my engineering education, I prided myself on having the ability to fix problems and offer solutions. When later I entered management and eventually in a leadership role, what once served me well actually became my handicap and the transition was a struggle to say the least.

While it wasn't easy at first and I did make lots of mistakes, I learned some important lessons along the way by watching the leaders around me. Mentors, supervisors, peers, and colleagues--all of them had a role in teaching me ideas that in turn changed the way I see leadership. I want to share a few of them with you:

1. In leadership, we frequently deal with challenges that do not have clear cut solutions. Make improvement in one area, and problems surface in another. For example, if we cut into our marketing programs to meet short-term financial obligations, we risk long-term negative impacts. We cut staff to meet expenses to keep an organization financially sound, but our actions lead to reduction of trust and lowering of morale, frequently leading to staff disengagement and lower performance. One is in a constant Catch-22 and dealing with an inner tug of war. Goodbye peace of mind. No longer does work end at 5.

2. As we rise, we enter into the sphere of uncertainty, where there are no clear-cut paths, clear solutions. One wonders which path to take in light of limited information and which path to avoid. With each path success is not guaranteed for today's success does not guarantee success tomorrow. It part science, part art. One has to become comfortable moving forward in the face of uncertainty. And know that mistakes will be made. When they do, learn from them and move forward.

3. When we're starting out in our careers, we are rewarded for having the right answers. As we rise into leadership ranks, we must let go of the need to have the answers and instead develop the ability ask the right questions, thoughtful and provocative questions.

4. It is important to remain humble, realizing that leaders too are human and that we don't necessarily have all the answers ourselves and that we don't do it alone. It's important to recognize that when we start to think we're invincible and success is due to "me" that our decline begins.

5. To succeed, we have to engage our staff, less from perspective of compliance and more from gaining commitment. Our words and more importantly our actions play an increasingly important role in engaging the minds, hearts and souls of our staff. We have to walk the talk.

6. Let go of "my way or the highway" attitude. Just because someone does something differently, doesn't make it wrong. Focus more on outcomes, provide the necessary resources, and leading rather than on how something gets done.

7. Leading an organization is challenging and requires significant energy and time. To drive performance over the long haul, it becomes crucial to have a clear vision, preferably one that is shared by rest of the team, and one that is fueled by sense of purpose. This helps us move pass the speed bumps.


May 11, 2010

Making difficult decisions

Colleen Eubanks, CAE, is executive director of the National Child Support Enforcement Association and AVP at Coulter Companies, and wrote our second guest post in this month's Leadership Inspiration series. Here's her post:

I have found Patrick Lencioni's The Five Temptations of a CEO--A Leadership Fable a powerful and useful model to follow. In a concise manner, leadership is distilled into easy-to-understand (if not so easy to put into practice) terms. At the heart of the fable, it is clear that an effective leader makes personally difficult choices that have an impact on the organization. Over the past 18 months I have had ample opportunity to put such choices to a test. Our organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2009--due to the combination of a bad hotel contract ratified before my tenure and the catastrophic impact the economy had on our association's main constituency: state and county agencies and employees.

Lencioni's five choices: trust over invulnerability, conflict over harmony, clarity over certainty, accountability over popularity, and results over status all came into play as we moved through difficult and uncharted waters for a year. A little more than a year later, NCSEA recently emerged from Chapter 11 (something only 2% of organizations filing for protection ever do) with a much smaller, more engaged and effective board of directors, streamlined and strategic committees, and an appreciation for the need to make difficult choices, which need to be based in a leader's integrity and very clearly communicated.

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May 10, 2010

Building the self-confidence of others

As we continue Leadership Inspiration month (see the introduction and Joe Rominiecki's first post on choosing a narrow focus when seeking change), here's our first post from a guest. This message is from Kirk Pickerel, CAE, president & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors:

Jack Welch once said, "Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act."

Developing talent is one of the things that has given me the most satisfaction in my career. And an essential part of developing talent is helping folks develop the self-confidence they need in order to grow and thrive. It is easy to say that we all learn from our mistakes, but much harder sometimes to substantiate that statement through one's reaction when a person does make a wrong choice or decision. I like to think that my demonstrating my belief in that statement, through helping people learn from their mistakes, has been key to my helping them develop the self-confidence they need in order to be successful.

Heaven knows that I am a perfect illustration to my staff that making mistakes doesn't mean you're a failure! I have made plenty. Learning from those mistakes builds self-confidence and gives people the will to act.


Environmental scanning--Beyond the BP oil spill

It's hard to watch so many friends struggling right now.

The thousands of associations and nonprofits, as well as the millions of people, holding their breaths and praying that the April 22 oil spill by British Petroleum does not destroy their industries and livelihoods throughout the Gulf Coast. The friendly people working at in Nashville and at Opryland, who had to quickly evacuate hundreds of guests to a shelter and are watching CNN photos of brown water surrounding the popular meeting site.

Our colleagues in the airline and travel professions who are trying to conduct business despite the astonishing quantities of plane-choking volcanic ash being spewed in Iceland. The first-responder associations and their brave members who are on high alert after an attempted bombing in Times Square, New York.

All of these events came suddenly, nearly simultaneously, and certainly with high impact. It's enough to prompt another quick conversation not only about disaster readiness but about environmental scanning. Will the oil spill, volcano eruption, and severe weather patterns dramatically change debate about everything from climate change legislation that affects your members, to your Investment Committee's portfolio of both fossil fuel-driven companies and alternative energy upstarts?

Who on staff is responsible for monitoring and analyzing for relevancy such a broad range of important events? When numerous high-impact events occur in particular clusters, do you re-direct some staff temporarily to ensure a comprehensive scan? How is their information to reach the highest decision makers? How will the board be kept updated? Will staff at other levels be apprised of possible impacts that may inspire organizational changes?

I feel very sorry for the many professionals and organizations with first-hand involvement in the above events. I feel at least as sorry, though, for the rest of our community that do not take the opportunity to put themselves in the others' place--and then prepare accordingly.

(For leaders wanting to following the oil spill progress, visit the American Petroleum Institute (API) has created a dedicated Gulf Coast oil spill website, as does the Environmental Protection Agency with real-time environmental data and updates. Wikipedia is being updated almost daily with news/timeline of the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption.)


May 7, 2010

A diverse idea

At a session on nondues revenue at ASAE & The Center's Financial & Business Operations Symposium, one of the suggestions offered by an attendee was to have younger staff purposefully engage members in dialog about the work that they do. They had done this at their association (they called them the Mod Squad), and, he said, you'd be amazed at how different the the young people's perceptions are, and how different the conversations they have with members are.

This shouldn't be surprising. Age is one component of diversity. My bet is, you can do the same thing with people of different experiences and backgrounds and the results would be just as amazing--and beneficial. This is the point of diversity--to examine issues, problems, opportunities, and experiences from a variety of perspectives yields a richer experience and more informed, better decisions..


Channeling Nemo

Here's a goofy analogy, but it's one that resonated well with me. And I'm not afraid to name the source; it's from Sacha Litman, managing director and founder of Measuring Success LLC who was on a panel discussing organizational dashboards at the Financial Business and Operations Symposium yesterday. Litman himself will tell you the analogy is a little goofy, but here it is...

Near the end of the movie Finding Nemo, Dory gets caught up in a fishing net with a large school of nondescript fish. All the fish panic and swim in panicky fashion this way and that, all the time slowly getting raised closer to the fishing boat. Nemo has the idea that if all the fish swim together in the same direction that they can stop the progress of the fishing boat. Of course as they convince the school to swim down, the fishing gear can't compete and busts, freeing everyone.

The point Litman was making, which is near to my heart, is that focus is what matters. What a dashboard can enable an organization to do is find focus, so that everyone is not panicked and swimming every which way. Frankly, I don't think a dashboard is a requirement for this; strong leadership, whether there is a dashboard or not, is what will enable everybody to swim in the same direction.

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Findings (and questions) on volunteering programs

If anyone is considering expansion or launching of a corporate-nonprofit volunteer program, I strongly suggest reading the latest Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey (pdf), which contains some helpful and even surprising data from its poll of 303 companies with more than 1,000 employees. Here were some responses that made me ponder:

1) The top metrics used by companies to judge the success of cash-based philanthropy in terms of business goals are "impact on employee morale" (55%), followed by "impact on employee professional development/skills" (48%). These ranked far higher than "impact on sales (31%) and "differentiation from competitors" (29%).

Question: With that insight, are nonprofits emphasizing enough internally positive benefits of volunteering to individual employees and the staff overall, rather than the more traditionally pitched benefits of positive "stakeholder relations" and boosted warm-and-fuzzies about a brand?

2) The frequency with which corporate senior management is requiring progress reports on the company's social goals is likely higher than I suspect many nonprofits realize. Respondents say that top leaders want social progress reports every month or quarterly (26% each) or even weekly (20%).

Question: Is your nonprofit providing enough updates to keep managers and their bosses supplied with fresh information about the impacts (both long and short) of their cash philanthropy and staff volunteer programs? That's anywhere from four to 52 updates being made to the highest decision makers each year. Keep data and stories fresh by installing a corporation donor communication system that ensures corporations aren't simply sent a single thank-you and chirpy summary of a one-time event. The survey report shares more data around this issue that seem worth a conversation as well.

3) While 65% of corporate employees can choose the issues and nonprofits they want to volunteer for, 60% of employees also are self-selecting volunteer opportunities based on the professional skills they may develop.

Question: Is your nonprofit or association breaking down each volunteer task by skill needed or developed, so you can best pitch and recruit corporate employees? The write-ups I see often just define the project or task that needs doing, with maybe a line about the impact it will or could have on the nonprofit's clients. The survey shows a need for a more skills-specific approach.

With so many nonprofits holding major spring-summer events that require extra volunteers, this survey could be a good starting point for a brown-bag lunch discussion on volunteer recruitment and retention, as well as philanthropic pitches.

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A narrow focus for change

As Scott explained yesterday, we're focusing some posts this month on the wisdom of Bill George and Marshall Goldsmith, who are speaking at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo in August, as well as other leadership thinkers.

First up are Marshall Goldsmith and a blog post he wrote for Harvard Business Review in January, "An Exercise in Changing Yourself." You should go read the whole post, but here's the main message:

I teach my clients now to pick the one behavior pattern for personal change that will make the biggest difference, and to focus on that. If we pick the right area to change and actually do so, it will almost always influence other aspects of our relationships with people. For example, more effective listening will lead to being more successful in building teamwork, increasing customer satisfaction, and treating people with respect.

Goldsmith's message is good for individuals and organizations. It also reminds me of yet another HBR blog post I linked to a few months ago, "To Change Effectively, Change Just One Thing," by Peter Bregman. He points out that people who focus on reducing one single dietary habit are the most successful in losing weight, no matter what habit they change, and that this applies to change in any setting.

Goldsmith recommends an exercise in naming the benefits of making that one change, which I'm going to do right here. I'll focus on networking, specifically introducing myself to people more often. I'm a classic lurker, always hesitating to approach others, even people I have perfectly valid reasons to speak with. So here goes:

  • When I stop being a wallflower, I meet more new people.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, I learn more about the people around me and who they are, what they do, and so on.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, I get more ideas from the people I meet: for our publications, for  sharing with colleagues about our work, for my own professional skills, for my personal interests—anything, really.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people get to know who I am.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people may find that I can help them somehow.
  • When I stop being a wallflower, people will be more likely remember me if and when our paths cross again in the future.

I could keep going here for a while, but you get the idea. Focusing on the multiple benefits of a single change makes that change a lot more compelling. And take note that I focused just on introductions rather than "networking more." That could mean going to more events, spending more time on social media, or just remembering to carry business cards with me everywhere I go—but then my efforts would lose focus.

I think Goldsmith's message about putting your effort into making one specific change is based on faith. You have to believe that by improving one thing the rest will take care of itself. The exercise in listing benefits is a way to be more confident in that belief.

Goldsmith invited readers to try the exercise in the comments of his post; I'll do the same. If you're up for it, post a comment with the change you'd make and the benefits you'd see.


May 6, 2010

May is Leadership Inspiration Month

We're devoting several entries this month to the idea of Leadership Thought. We came up with the idea as our little blogging team was talking about how Acronym should approach this year's Annual Meeting, August 21-24 in Los Angeles (more on that next month!).

We looked at the general session speakers and had some discussions about some of the things Marshall Goldsmith and Bill George have written in their illustrative careers leading businesses and other leaders. Clearly from that discussion, there were some easy pickings for a few blog posts, based on them. Then we thought there are dozens, hundreds even, of other people who have inspired countless association leaders, from the likes of Jack Welch and Jim Collins to Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell or tons of others. So, we thought, let's tell some of the inspirations we've had, and ask some association execs to share their stories. The idea was to keep it more like the business leader/Peter Drucker types instead of the lessons you learned from your mom, but we may have a couple entries that stretch that. If you have something to share, feel free to drop a comment or send me an email (sbriscoe@asaecenter.org) with the idea.

So, enjoy! First up, I believe will be staff blogger Joe Rominiecki later today or tomorrow.


Quick clicks: Thursdays with zombies

Good morning, and welcome to this week's Quick Clicks!

- Quite possibly the best thing I've ever seen: David Gammel unveils a wonderful cartoon on the Orgpreneur blog. Go see it. Don't worry, we'll wait.

- Laura Otten at the Nonprofit University Blog has a beautiful post on the many people who looked to her father as a mentor.

- A challenging post from Joe Gerstandt on what inclusion really looks like ("Inclusion is not giving everyone a trophy.")

- Shelly Alcorn has strong feelings about the importance of net neutrality for associations and nonprofits.

- Chris Bonney argues that the power of free is in the mind of the giver, not the recipient.

- Carol-Anne Moutinho at the Association Resource Centre blog considers what reverse innovation might look like in nonprofits.

- Jamie Notter is thinking through some very interesting ideas about cultivating strategy without traditional strategic planning.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog ponders some potential implications of corporate social responsibility for the association sector.

- I continue to love Jeffrey Cufaude's "Wednesday What If" posts. This week, he encourages us to consider what our members would miss the most if it were eliminated.

- Peggy Hoffman considers ways to make chapters and components more effective.

- Jeff Hurt has a few suggestions for ways to encourage active attendee participation in learning sessions--even from folks who might not initially love the idea.

- Some helpful case study posts: Scott Billey at Associations Live on lessons learned from their first webinar, and Maggie McGary on what she learned on the way to 20,000 Facebook fans. (I guess technically now they're "likers," but as an editor I oppose that word.)


May 3, 2010

3 Community Building Tips from "Lost"

I've been faithfully watching ABC's Lost for six years, wondering what is really going on. The show will wrap next month, probably leaving some unanswered questions. I've watched the plane-crash survivors and others they've encountered interact and grow, make enemies and allies, work together, and bury too many of their own.

If you're not a fan, don't stop reading - because the characters of Lost are a community just like our chapters, committees, sections and interest groups. In honor of this final season of Lost, here are three lessons to help you make the most of your communities.

1. Have some fun.

You have a chapter meeting this week. And you're dreading it. Tension lingers from some issue that took place three weeks ago. New leaders are intimidated by the former leadership, who seem to be throwing daggers. What can be done?

In season one's "Solitary," tension is high on the island, with Sawyer and Jack competing for Kate's attention and Locke practicing knife throwing. Amidst all the drama, Hurley surprises the rest of the group with a new creation: A golf course. He felt it was time for everyone to have some fun, a place to relax and enjoy themselves and a respite from the mystery of the island. Characters were laughing and reminiscing about past golf experiences in this and four more episodes.

How can you build a golf course at your chapter meeting? No need for a group outing to the green. Try getting people to talk about why and how they got involved, share stories of greatest memories or accomplishments that occurred because of their involvement. This will unite your members (plus you'll get some great testimonials).

2. Problems will strike hard and blow over quietly.

A member fails to read an email saying a meeting location has been changed. He goes to the original location and only then finds out that the meeting is another 35 minutes away. He calls you and leaves a nasty message about how irresponsible you were to not communicate the switch. He hangs up abruptly. You're left shocked.

Sounds like Lost's Smoke Monster, first seen in "Pilot, Part 1." It seemed relatively harmless at first, making noises and knocking over trees. But then it started to rack up a body count. During each encounter, islanders are frightened, confused and don't know what to expect. Then the smoke dissipates, just like, well, smoke (or Icelandic volcanic ash).

Back to your aggravated member: You wait a short while and give him a call. You apologize for his inconvenience, assure him a message was sent and confirm his email address. You vow to consider you procedures for changing meeting locations. You direct him to the website, where meeting handouts and minutes will be posted soon. He's cooled off and even appreciative. The incident came out of nowhere but ended calmly.

3. Some people will flourish in another community.

You've seen this member in multiple interest groups. She lurks on listserves, texts during meetings, and rarely interacts with others. She seems bored. Something doesn't fit.

Rose and Bernard Nadler married in the face of Rose's recent terminal cancer diagnosis. Their honeymoon trip to Australia brought them to Flight 815. Over three seasons, Rose and Bernard are separated, reunited, and build a life on the island together. By Season Four, they are quite happy as residents of the island (which has mysteriously cured Rose's cancer) and refuse to join other survivors in their attempts to leave. The island is undoubtedly the best place for Rose and Bernard.

So what about your member who is clearly Lost? (I couldn't resist.) You invite her to lunch where you get to know her better. Then it hits you: The groups she's part of don't offer the experience she's really looking for. You direct her to another community. In a short amount of time she's offering valuable ideas and making a difference. In time, she becomes a leader and a role model to others.

I started with five lessons, but cut it short. Anyone care to add a few more?

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