Part of my personal professional development journey often includes challenging myself with reading books by leaders in “other” sectors. You know, those business books not directly meant for we warm-fuzzy nonprofit people.Some of my favorites have included: You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader; The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; New Ideas from Dead CEOs and a recent favorite Creativity Inc.
Thing is, I think that’s the story we tell ourselves as nonprofit business leaders. That those lessons aren’t relevant for us because we don’t have million (or billion) dollar budgets. That we can’t afford the cream-of-the-college-graduate crop so why even bother recruiting them. That we can’t afford to make mistakes, take risks, or learn from failures.
And though I’ve subscribed to these beliefs in the past I think it’s high time to call BS on them now. Nonprofit businesses are some of the most entrepreneurial I’ve ever known. Nonprofit leaders have long been asked and tasked with doing more with less, year after year. Nonprofit executives could thrive in a fast-moving corporate environment with resources available OR navigate the lengthy consensus process of the public sector with ease. After all, they do it often through their partnership with their boards and certainly thriving – or at the very least surviving – in the last 12 months.
Below are a few nuggets gleaned from Creativity Inc. and how nonprofit leaders can use the lessons learned from it (and all business sectors) to continue their important community work:
Trust the Process AND the People
“…if you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better… Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched… Find, develop and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”
A lot of what Connect For More teaches in board development, strategic planning, or organizational planning is that it’s a process first, an outcome second. Many times, we liken it to practice – i.e. it’s the effort and the continuing revisiting of it that creates improvement. This process can be uncomfortable and leaning into the uncertainty of what could be, always helps us frame more effectually what is. And yet, I find that as we help board and staff leaders build their generative muscles through the process it helps grow trust in the people.
In what ways are your processes building trust amongst leadership? How might your people be better served by encouraging greater connection amongst one another?
Focus on Culture Excellence
“Telling the truth is difficult, but inside a creative company, it is the only want to ensure “’excellence.’”
Let’s be honest. How your business defines excellence may be different from another. In fact, how you personally define excellence may vary greatly from your co-workers, team, or supervisors. These days very few of us have the bandwidth to lean into conversations where we might not agree. As a result, it means we’re avoiding the tough conversations and not focusing as much on culture as we are in the day-to-day development of our mission work. Focusing on culture and excellence begins with these “difficult conversations” and continues with productively challenging yourselves to move further towards excellence.
What is your leadership’s understanding of nonprofit excellence? What activities are you encouraging them to participate in to grow their common understanding?
Story (i.e. your mission) may reign, but Quality IS REALLY king.
“Quality is the best business plan.” – John Lasseter
“To ensure quality, then excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us to ourselves.” – Ed Catmull
Even the best missions can get lost in translation if the service delivery stinks. It matters to your stakeholders not only what your mission is but how you deliver it. Customer service is mission work. We don’t often tolerate terrible customer service from our for-profit businesses but often times tolerate it from nonprofits whose missions matter to us. Think of it: somewhere in your life you’ve probably come across an organization whose mission really spoke to you and your values… but didn’t live up to quality delivery of that.
What is your agency mission in your own words and what is a success you’ve accomplished in the last 12 months? In what ways can you utilize both to ask for more resources to accomplish more? How can you demonstrate the quality of service AND mission for your donors, community, and leadership?
Make mistakes. Then learn from them. Quickly.
“People need to be wrong as fast as they can…. We would be a company that would never settle. That didn’t mean we wouldn’t make mistakes. Mistakes are part of creativity. But when we did, we would strive to face them without defensiveness and with a willingness to change… when we trust the process, we remember that we are resilient, that we’ve experienced discouragement before, only to come out on the other side.”
I don’t know many people who like to make mistakes in their personal lives – believe me, I am NOT one of them. I also don’t happen to know many business leaders who like to make mistakes – especially in nonprofit businesses – where people’s lives can be on the bottom line. But I see the nonprofit sector, on the whole, doing itself a disservice by avoiding calculated risks or innovative service delivery methods. We can’t leave our business brains at the door when we come to serve the nonprofit sector.
How are you developing a deeper understanding of those you serve? What lessons have you learned as a board and organization? What professional lessons have you learned from work outside of the nonprofit sector? How – and WHEN – are you implementing those findings into your work?
Are you a nonprofit business looking to understand for-profit business processes that might benefit your mission work? Is your leadership team curious about how Agile can help invigorate your teamwork?
Join us March 24th for our FREE Virtual Workshop Incorporating Agile For Your Nonprofit Business featuring courageous leadership expert Kim Linton of 1Light Daring Leadership Facilitation to learn how to use this for greater community impact, faster.
Interested in learning more about how your board and staff can intentionally navigate a creative leadership process?
Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our expert facilitators to learn how we can help.
Want another consultant perspective on Creativity Inc.?
Check out our colleague Hardy Smith’s blog via BoardSource sharing lessons learned on collaboration.
Does a nonprofit you know demonstrate meaningful mission, quality service and culture excellence?
Tag them and share this blog as a shout-out to their amazing work.
Are you looking for a dynamic and engaging speaker for your virtual conference?
Book Liz today by contacting her amazing team member at email@example.com. Keynote topics include: Embracing Your Humanity, Courageous Leadership, Owning Your Entrepreneur, Somehow I Manage, & Shame(less): Surviving Self-Judgement & Maximizing Self-Care.
About the Author: Liz Wooten-Reschke is President/CEO of Connect For More. She engages leaders and empowers philanthropists by sharing resources necessary to help them accomplish their mission. Liz provides executive coaching, strategic facilitations and customized solutions for all sector leaders, philanthropists, consultants and rising stars interested in making a difference in their communities. She is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator, BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer and a professional member of the National Speakers Association. Liz is also a proud member of the University of South Florida Alumni Association Board, a fourth generation Floridian and Key West Conch. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, three children, two dogs, one cat and three fish. For more information about Liz or her work, please visit her company website, follow her on Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.