Why It’s Important to Pause

Earlier this fall, an executive coaching client introduced me to the following quote by Existential psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, which continues to resonate in my mind:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I can’t get it out of my head! It is relevant and important every day, for all of us. It helps us think before we speak. It keeps us from reacting in habitual ways. It affords us opportunity to shape our lives, to do our finest work, to tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to continually strive to be our best selves. It signifies our maturity.

It is in the pause that I have the privilege of working with my clients – the engagements related to strategic planning, executive leadership transitions, board development, or other organizational development issues are often set off by some stimulus. In the case of strategic planning, it may be as routine as the conclusion of a prior plan or as exciting as charting the course for significant organizational growth. The departure of a nonprofit CEO or retirement of a founder sparks an organization into transition mode and the need to seek new leadership. A nonprofit whose programs and management have matured more quickly than its governance model may inspire a board development project.

When prompted by any of these stimuli and myriad others, nonprofit leaders need to respond. The hope is that before responding, they take advantage of the space that lies before them. Too often, when facing these triggers, an organization’s leaders may be inclined to plow through, perhaps because they work in such high-tempo environments. When leaders respond without taking advantage of the space, there is the likelihood of overlooking or missing the potential or opportunity.  But when they seize the space between stimulus and response, not only do they find growth and freedom, they can become exceptional leaders.

HALT – So Your Board Members Can be Their Best Selves

During his freshman orientation, my younger son was introduced to HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired – a stress management technique. For entering college students, it was supposed to help them increase self-awareness and understand what was going on with themselves and how this affected their interactions with roommates and others. It was geared to help them from becoming less pleasant versions of their normal selves.

HALT resonates with me. Especially regarding nonprofit boards and board meetings. After all, aren’t nonprofits better served by directors who function at their finest and highest levels?

Don’t Make it Sink or Swim: Orienting New Board Members

Does your nonprofit bring on new board members annually as a class, rather than randomly throughout the year? If they start out together, I commend you for choosing this wise approach. If not, I hope you will consider making a change after reading this.

When we think about it, nonprofit board members have a significant responsibility. Through their leadership, they hold the organization in trust for future generations. Exactly what this means for any organization depends on its life cycle stage and all the factors in play at any given time.

The Essence of Hiring Right: The Key Role of Values and Personal Qualities

Think about the most successful people in your nonprofit. What do they have in common? Now think about those who didn’t succeed and have left your organization. What caused the disconnect?

While it is natural to concentrate on experience and preparation when interviewing candidates, those hiring may overlook the importance of culture and values. I learned the fundamental significance these play in identifying the ideal candidate in my earlier life as an executive search consultant (prior to becoming an organizational development consultant with nonprofits).

The Goldilocks Approach to Meeting Minutes

Why Minutes Are Worth Doing Well

The first time I was chair of a nonprofit board, I realized how important the role of the secretary was, as well as the value of good minutes. As board chair, it was necessary – crucial – to be in the moment, fully engaged with what was happening during the board meeting. The minutes were essential to being able to do that and know what had transpired. Because that board, that year, had the good fortune of having a smart and highly capable secretary who took the job seriously, the minutes were thorough and balanced. Reading them after a meeting allowed me re-live the board meeting and reflect on it. I was able to keep track of actions taken and follow-up work I needed to do or prompt others to do. The minutes pointed out the essential activities of the organization and what the board was doing. The information I gleaned from each month’s minutes became my to-do list and work plan. The minutes focused me by highlighting the things that may have escaped me as I stayed attuned to being in the moment at the meeting.

Onboarding a New Nonprofit CEO – Tools and Activities

You have just hired a new senior executive. Congratulations! Now what?

When the search activities conclude, the transition continues and a well-planned onboarding process is critical. In the best scenario, a transition task force (which might be the search committee) will have contact with the new executive in the period from offer acceptance to first day on the job. Having a plan for this “in-between” time will make onboarding go more smoothly. It will also permit the transition task force to discuss onboarding with the new executive to learn what she/he would like included.

Onboarding a new nonprofit executive may seem daunting. Depending on the size and complexity of an organization, it may be. A nonprofit organization should always have a plan for orienting new staff. For a senior position, it would likely need to be enhanced to match the magnitude of the role. Thinking through the high-level expectations for the new executive leads to a sharp focus on the goals for onboarding and thus, the related tools and activities that are part of it.

Why Aren’t You Talking to Each Other?

Nonprofit chief executives and their board members do not simply wake up one morning with the following revelations:

  • The demographics of the area they serve have changed;
  • Funding for a signature program is at risk; or
  • High staff turnover is a dangerous threat to service delivery.

Yet, nonprofit leaders confront these realities often. When I read a story or hear about a nonprofit in extremis, I wonder if the leadership has been asleep at the wheel. Did no one see the signs? Why did they not point these things out to each other? What were they (or were they not) talking about at board meetings?

Why Job Descriptions Are the Keystone of Your Volunteer Program

Volunteers are strategic assets for nonprofits. Some of my clients rely greatly on volunteers to fulfill their missions. In addition to board members and committee members, there are event organizers, fundraisers, service providers, tutors and mentors, crisis/helpline responders, people who shelve books or who staff the waiting rooms of a hospital to let you know your loved one is out of surgery. The list goes on.

To treat your volunteers with the respect they deserve, first think strategically about the different roles they play within your organization. Next, create proper job descriptions.

New Year Surprises: Are You Ready to Manage Staff Transitions?

A new year often inspires life changes, big or small. Among these are the decision to pursue a new job or career. Because employees at all levels contribute to the fulfillment of your mission, nonprofit leaders need to be tuned into staffing transitions throughout the organization. How a nonprofit executive copes with staff transitions both draws from and contributes to the organizational culture. If handled well, a staff transition can boost an organization’s well-being and capacity, but if handled poorly, morale and service continuity can suffer.

Resolve: The Will to Lead

It was not necessarily my intention to mine any further the situation put forth in my August 2016 blog post, Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #1 – Settling for Less. I had a completely different topic in mind for the December blog post. However, it turns out that the last lines of the August post are haunting me now.