Death by Delay - Never!

It takes more than leadership to get an idea through to implementation. In most organizations, you have to learn the political moves necessary to see a project through. Sometimes, that even means planting the idea with someone else.

HBR's Tip of the Day addresses just this in 3 steps. In How you protect your good idea

  • Death by delay. Adversaries may try to put off the discussion, ask for additional information, or otherwise delay a decision on your idea, thereby slowing momentum. Keep your audience focused on making a decision.
  • Confusion. Detractors often present distracting information or try to link your idea to several others in an attempt to confound people. Be clear about what your idea is and what it isn't.
  • Fear mongering. Nothing kills an idea faster than irrational anxieties. Know what fears your challengers might stir up and be prepared to allay them.
  • I like these tips so much, I bought the book and it is currently waiting for me in my Kindle app. To make it even more compelling, a coworker finished the book in two days and is recommending it to everyone. I plan on getting through a good portion waiting in line today for the second DC Daily Show taping. (Yes, I have a "can be admitted if you get there before 500 other people" ticket.) I hope it lives up to the recomendation my coworker gave.

    Board Leadership - What Not To Do

    The Situation

    The other night I was at a committee meeting for a group I volunteer with. The group, in a round about way, does have an organization that it is affiliated with and a board member from that organization came to our meeting to give us an update on ways we could get involved with upcoming events. We are going to call him Al*.

    Al came to the meeting about 30 minutes late for a 1 hour meeting. The committee members didn't know Al was coming, but our Chair may not have passed that information along. Al was hoping to get us all involved on an event that is this coming weekend and wanted us to come to their annual meeting. But, Al couldn't give us any information on either opportunity. Al didn't know the dates of the annual meeting, but he did know it was coming up!

    Al continued talking, causing out meeting to run late. He was trying his hardest to provide all the information he knew. But, outside of the event this coming weekend, we weren't sure how we could be involved. We knew the Board wanted our aid but were confued with how they needed us.

    *Not the real Al So what can we learn from Al?

    First, educate your Board members. Al had a captive audience of 20+ people including the Mayor of the city for a few minutes. He should have this information at his fingertips. I had my iPad with me and had to lookup the dates of the Annual Meeting for him. Al should have been ready to answer any questions we have, within reason, about that meeting; really sell it to us.

    Second, that we, as nonprofit staff, need to teach our Board members what they should be doing in these situations. Imagine what all Al would have been able to accomplish if he would have had the right tools at our meeting? He could have inspired us to really lead our community to do more great things. Instead, we were all thinking about when the meeting was going to be dismissed. We were ready to leave and were not listening to AL. Board members need to be organization promoters and take advantage of every opportunity.

    Third, Al needed to define his ask. He needed to be armed with specifics of what the organization needed from our group. Al needed to be prepared to share that with us and get us on board. Then, Al should have gotten a firm commitment from all of us.

    In The End

    Luckily, we have some really great volunteers and we are able to make the upcoming event.  Based on the email chain, everyone has figured out everything else as well. Learn from "Al," and be prepared! 


    *Al is obviously not the board member's real name and I am purposely trying to hit which organization Al is a board member to. 

    Leadership Matters

    For those of you who don't know, I love HBR. The blog, management tip of the day (links to the email sign-up), and the magazine are great. When we get issue in the office I am usually the one hoarding it. I actually have a deal with another coworker. If she gets the new issue first, she has to share it with me when she is done. 

    It should comes as no surprise that this article on nonprofit leadership hit an accord with me. Leadership is a must. As the article shows, you organization will not achieve all that it can without a strong leader and a shared vision. Look at how much leaders aid the organization, how much of a difference they make and how passionate are they about the mission. Those are the promoters you want as the public face of your mission. If they are a skilled leader, they are not only who you need, but the ones you should want. You should cultivate them and encourage their development. 

    Developing the future generations is even more vital. Yes, vital. What is going to happen when you are gone? What is going to happen when your senior and executive staff are gone? Who is going to replace them? What is your succession plan? Even at the manager level, you should be preparing your spot for the next person. At the senior and executive level, you should be training your direct reports. They need to be learning leadership and management skills that will take this, and their next, organization to the next level. 

    Additionally, any good leader will tell you that there is an expiration date on their leadership. At some point, for the good of the organization, they will need to move on. It will be difficult, but it happens. The life-cycle will continue. I am tired of the argument that great leaders and talent will leave if you invest in them. It is necessary. Investment is necessary for them and for you. What good is a stagnant nonprofit or staff member? You need new blood to keep the momentum going and for change to continue. It is a natural life-cycle and we should embrace it. 

    OK, enough of my preaching on leadership. The HBR post, Does Leadership Really Matter in Non-Profits:

    Does leadership really matter? The executive director of a new foundation asked me that question earlier this year. At first I thought he was joking — after all, helping nonprofits attract and develop passionate and highly skilled leaders is part of what we do at Bridgespan. The back of my business card even says "leadership matters."

    It seems clear to me that leadership is the most important of the three legs nonprofit organizations stand on (the other two being strategy and capital). Nonprofits can develop sound strategies and attract sufficient capital, but without strong leaders at the helm, they're unlikely to deliver outstanding results.

    But maybe I shouldn't have been taken aback by the ED's question. Leadership often doesn't get its due in the nonprofit sector. A common sentiment is that good leaders and their teams are expensive to acquire and keep. Wouldn't that money be better spent on programs that aid those in need rather than on salaries? That fiscal response is often conflated with the belief by some in nonprofit circles that passion can overcome nearly any obstacle.

    I replied to the question from the foundation head by telling him stories about nonprofit leaders who had achieved wonderful outcomes for their organizations, instances where pre- and post-trend lines of impact and performance clearly showed that something had changed for the better because of these executives' actions.

    In some instances, such as that of Geoffrey Canada at Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), the leader's impact has been publicly acknowledged. President Obama selected the HCZ model as a template other cities can use to tackle the tough issues of their inner cities. The President had become aware of HCZ while still a senator, and had long endorsed Canada's work. He saw in Canada what others had — a hands-on, passionate manager with a solid track record of successful fund-raising and of developing effective community-based programs aimed at helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds grow into productive adults.

    Other leaders are less well known — people such as David Nelson, a former IBM executive who became the executive director at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NTE) and helped the organization increase the number of youth it served from 6,800 in 2001 to more than 50,000 in 2009. Nelson came to the role with a strong operations background and well-honed project management skills, both of which perfectly complemented the sitting CEO's deep fund-raising and marketing skills. Together they were able to develop and implement a business plan that increased NTE's impact sevenfold.

    These and a few other stories I shared helped to convince the foundation director (and eventually his board) that he needed to expand the leadership-development efforts in his organization.

    What about you? Would you have been similarly convinced?

    Do you think leadership really matters? If someone asked you, how could you persuasively answer that question? If you serve on a nonprofit board, do you live out your beliefs? How do you ensure that your organization values leadership?


    We Needed This Last Night

    I have this app on my phone called Square. It allows you to accept credit card payments anywhere via your iPhone and/or iPad. You can even get a little card reader so you don't have to manually enter in the credit card info.

    So, I have had this app for a little while and didn't think much of it honestly. OK, it is neat that I can take payments from friends via their credit cards and we don't have to worry about carrying cash. But, I still haven't used it that way. 

     This morning it popped into my mind how we really could use Square everywhere...

    including at our fundraisers, like the one we had last night. We traditionally take donations through the old paper and pen method which requires a lot of work back in the office after the event. I keep thinking how much easier Square would make this process. It is quicker for the person donating. All you have to do is swipe the card, sign, give an email address and you are done. Plus, the receipt is mailed to them on the spot. The big selling point for me is privacy and safety concerns. With everything being handled in the device, you don't have to worry about someone getting a hold of that piece of paper with your sensitive information on it. 

    It also allows every employee with a company issued iPhone could take donations throughout the evening. If we did this, I would turn it into an employee competition to see who can get the most number of people to donate. It puts the fundraising responsibilities on the entire staff at the event and not just the one person at the lone table taking donations. 

    All of this being said, this is just in theory (at least for my experiences). I haven't even used the app yet other than to install it on my iPhone and iPad. Nor has Square asked me (or given me anything) to write about their product. I am waiting for my card reader to arrive and I hope I have a reason to test it out.