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Some people get a kick out of offending people. They find it exhilarating and it gives them some sense of superiority and righteousness.

These people are usually jerks.

Most respectable leaders try to avoid causing offence when they can. They go out of their way to consider the perspectives of others and sculpt their communications to ease the way for hard things to be received. They know that in the long term winning people over is worth the extra effort.

But sometimes it can’t work. Sometimes there’s no third way, no compromise, no managing the message that can keep everyone satisfied.

I’ve had several coaching sessions in recent weeks where we talked through specific, current situations where no matter what path a leader or organization chooses there are sure to be some stakeholders who are not going to be able to agree. There is no fully peaceful path.

So what does a wise leader do?

Offend on purpose.

If it is clear that you can’t keep everyone happy you need to have the courage to make a deliberate decision about who to hurt.

Of course this doesn’t mean we desire to hurt anyone. We do what we can to avoid, minimize, and compensate those who we can’t help but upset. But it is far better to do the work to consider who is likely to take offence and anticipate their reactions, prepare for them, and then move forward intentionally in the confidence that you’ve done your best.

I wrote about the process of discerning how to handle these tough situations a couple months ago. I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever offered.

As I said in that previous post, your mission/vision/values are extremely valuable anchors to deciding who to offend. But they may not be enough. You also have to consider some other factors:
-Are we choosing who to offend based on what is easiest or on what is truly best?
-Are personal and organizational biases being acknowledged and prevented from undue influence on the process?
-What are the real probable costs of this offence (both immediate and ongoing)?
-Is it possible that another leader would be able to find an alternative path that would require less or no offense at all?
-How can we guide those we decide to offend through the situation with compassion and grace; even if it means losing their contributions to the organization? What other organizations can we encourage them to consider?
-How quickly do we need to move forward? Would slowing down help find better options or outcomes (or are we dragging our feet because we don’t want to make the tough call)?
-What would a leader who reached a different conclusion about who to offend be considering that would lead them to a different approach?

I get concerned about any leader who relishes these situations, but I rarely come across people like that. Far more often I’m taking with leaders who feel they’ve exhausted every reasonable possibility of an approach that could keep everyone aligned. They’ve thought, discussed, reviewed input, consulted others, prayed, sweat, and lost sleep over the situation and reluctantly found themselves looking for the best of bad options.

To these leaders I say: Offend Intentionally. It’s not the most enjoyable part of leadership but it may be one of the most critical decisions you can make to keep your organization true to your values and moving forward.

If a coaching call could help you work through a no win situation Contact Us.

(Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels)
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Uncategorized
For too many leaders a bruised ego can feel like a life threatening injury.

When we are driven by insecurity we are dangerously vulnerable to being devastated by the slightest critique or failure. Our self worth is tentatively balanced between arrogance and self-hatred and we need constant boosts and affirmations to keep us from tipping into despair.

Maybe your experience is less dramatic, but most of us can relate to the sense of our identity being too closely tied to our performance and the approval of others. If we don’t get a handle on that insecurity it can all too easily lead us astray; with potentially devastating effects.

So what can we do? How can we practically defend against being undermined by insecurity and threatened by bruised egos?

1. Dig Deep: Ask yourself “What are the deepest truths about me?”. Explore the things that root your core identity. Consider both the things about you that are apparent on the surface (roles, titles, achievements, etc.) and the things that are much more personal (essential relationships, fundamental attributes, deepest beliefs). What are the anchors to your confidence that are least dependent on things outside your control and that give you the the surest sense of being seen, known, worthy, and loved?

2. Regular Reminders: Figure out ways to bring yourself back to these truths as often as possible. Post them in your bathroom, tattoo them on your arm, create or buy artwork that brings them into focus, attend a weekly religious meeting that affirms them, set a calendar notification to bring them up daily… The point is to understand that there are innumerable distractions and lies that will try to prevent us from living out of a secure, confident identity and we need intentional rituals and reminders to stay on track.

3. Seek Support: Being healthy as a leader is a team sport and a group activity. Find people you look up to and get them to mentor you formally or informally. Find friends and peers who can run alongside you for peer encouragement. Choose a couple people with potential you can invest in so you can learn by teaching. Taking the risk of vulnerability with even one person who will call you back to your best intentions and identity is a needed and a powerful act of defiance against everything that tries to drag you down.

4. Give Grace: You’re going to mess this up. There will be times when you are fatigued, distracted, or just plain selfish and you let insecurity have too much say in your life and leadership. The question is: How long will you let your mistakes and failures stay in control? How much damage and discouragement will you allow them to bring? By electing your own imperfection you create space to acknowledge it, address it, and move forward in healthier ways.

One of my favourite things to do with Catalyst is meet with leaders individually (PACE Sessions) or as groups (Kryptonite workshops) to talk through the dangers of bruised egos and the things we can do to foster deeper rooted confidence.

Contact us to talk about how we can help you and your team.
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Uncategorized
I love my country. And I’m ashamed of it.

The ongoing discoveries of unmarked graves of indigenous children removed from their homes and forced into residential schools for the purpose of ending their cultures is a stark and painful reminder of one of the most insidious truths about Canada. While visiting our capital with my family last week we were silenced by the hundreds of children’s shoes placed in front of our parliament. Many more shoes, toys, and works of art surround the nearby Centennial Flame. The power of the message, pointedly framed with the Peace Tower and House of Commons, is immense.

People far better informed, far more impacted, and far more eloquent than myself have commented on the meaning of these horrific discoveries and the lasting impact of the evil done under the authority of church and state. 

Among the issues raised in some circles is the tension between loyalty to Canada and addressing the injustices perpetrated by it.

The thing about loyalty (as I’ve written before) is that it comes at the cost of trust and time, and must be earned, not imposed.

Loyalty to any country, cause, creed, organization, or individual should involve a degree of critical assessment, an unflinching reality check to see the best and worst of what it offers. Blind or compelled loyalty is at best idealistic and always dangerous.

In a couple weeks I will proudly wear Canada shirts and cheer loudly for athletes wearing the maple leaf at the Olympics (knowing there are a great many problems with the Olympic movement, including fair questions about the wisdom of these games proceeding). I will do so in the belief that at our best Canada can be a blessing and an example to the world. But I will also hold in my heart the shadow of knowing how terribly far from our ideals we have been, continue to be, and may always be if we fail to reckon with reality.

In different, but similar ways I must do the same with every organization I’m involved with: I celebrate what is good, believe in the potential of our ideals, and commit to seeing our failures and wrongdoing as clearly as I can. Only then can I offer the kind of loyalty that makes things better.

I have compassion for those who believe Canada, or any organization, is too corrupt to save. I am increasingly aware that my many privileges make it much easier for me to wait for incremental change rather than insisting on a radical push for justice now. I’m wrestling with what that all means and how to act in this awareness.

But I do know that Maya Angelou’s wisdom applies as we try to reconcile the best and worst of any entity:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

One way to know better and do better is to read the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
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Uncategorized
I like my strengths a lot more than my weaknesses. Anyone else?

Years ago I worked really hard on some of my weaknesses. I had picked up somewhere that the key to my growth as a leader (and as a human being) was to turn my weaknesses into strengths. I committed myself to becoming excellent at organization, prioritization, and daily disciplines that never came naturally to me. And I got some results.

But then I ran into some conflicting advice. Bolstered by the research of Gallup and the massively successful Strengthsfinder tools I learned to focus on the things I’m uncommonly good at. It turns out that’s a lot more fun, and growth comes more easily, than grinding away at my weaknesses.

So many high profile leaders, authors, speakers, and influencers promote this strengths emphasis that it is pretty much unavoidable now, and that’s mostly a good thing. But we still have weaknesses, and they drag us down.

I’m working on some new workshops (and probably a new book follow up to The REACTION Dashboard) on what it means to be a Healthy Leader and how to be one. One aspect is considering how we handle weaknesses.

I encourage people to satisfy them.

It’s an unusual word choice, and a very intentional one.

Turning weaknesses into strengths takes a huge effort and rarely pays off. Ignoring weaknesses to prioritize strengths leaves dangerous vulnerabilities. So instead let’s figure out what level of development we need to achieve so that our weaknesses don’t undermine the things our strengths (along with hard work, team, and luck) otherwise make possible. 

Satisfy the needs of your weaknesses so you can make the best use of your strengths.

For me that means building habits to stay on top of administrative tasks and using my calendar and meeting systems to provide enough structure to not let necessary things slip. Then I have the freedom to focus the rest of my time and energy on the development and delivery of tools that can help charity leaders thrive. I’ll never be a master of efficiency but I can improve it enough that it doesn’t hold back the things at which I can excel.

All of this depends on having the self awareness to accurately recognize my weaknesses and strengths, and the freedom to prioritize things I can control. Changing circumstances will elevate different needs and provide different possible strategies to deal with them.

So, instead of striving to eliminate weaknesses or foolishly denying their impact, we can examine them with practical wisdom and satisfy them. Then we can confidently invest as much of ourselves as possible in the strengths that enable our greatest impact.

(Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels)
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Uncategorized
Feeling burned out? Frustrated? Overwhelmed and agitated?

You’re certainly not alone. But it might be partly your fault.

While the demands of leadership can be intense at the best of times, (and for most of us these are certainly not the best of times), it’s also true that too many leaders take on too much of the burden because we just don’t really trust our teams.

The symptoms can be subtle, and self-diagnosis is tricky when the disease itself is rooted in some degree of self-deception; but your healthy impact and survival as a leader may depend on taking an intentional look at whether you are holding too much in your own hands because you believe no one else is truly capable of handling it.

If every decision requires your personal approval.
If you find yourself redoing your subordinates assignments.
If you’ve been accused of micromanaging.
If in your heart you secretly feel like it would all collapse without you.
If you can’t take a day off, let alone a two week vacation, without checking in frequently and worrying the whole time.
You have a trust issue.

There are two possible legitimate causes for not trusting your team. 

1. Competence: If your people don’t have the skills, knowledge, or experience to do what needs to be done you need to get them training in whatever way they learn best. Developing staff is a key responsibility of effective leaders and it may be a time when investing more in addressing skill gaps or hiring better equipped people needs to be a particular priority.

2. Character: If you can’t trust someone to give their best effort or act with integrity you probably need to challenge, confront, or terminate them. It may be that they don’t understand the expectations or the effect of their failings. Or it may be that they have other issues outside of work that are dragging them down. In any case, character issues are too often tolerated for far too long compromising the culture and impact of the whole organization.

If your people really aren’t trustworthy and you can’t lead them to become trustworthy they need to go.

It’s also possible though that the real reasons you don’t trust your team are about your own issues.

If you are driven by insecurity, have a need for absolute control, lack deeply rooted confidence, are trying to prove yourself, or are feeling inadequate, intimidated, or like an imposter there’s a pretty good chance you’re vulnerable to not trusting others because you don’t trust yourself.

Maybe you’ve been burned or betrayed in the past.
Maybe you were raised with unrealistic expectations.
Maybe you have a compelling drive to perfectionism.

All are valid reasons for trust to be difficult, but you have to get past them if you want to approach your potential as a leader and as an organization. 

There’s good news here. There is hope. You can become more trusting of your team if you’re willing to do some personal reflection and some hard work. It might take some uncomfortable vulnerability but it will absolutely be worth it for you and for your team.

Catalyst has a couple tools that could be useful.

The REACTION Dashboard will help your team identify areas where trust needs to grow and set action steps to get there. Our Kryptonite session gives individuals and teams strategies to recognize how insecurity is affecting them and to make helpful practical changes. Contact us to see if there’s something we can do to help you build the kind of trust that makes leadership easier, more effective, and a lot more fun.
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Leadership, Vision
When the time comes that you leave your current role what will you leave behind?

I’m fascinated by leadership transitions; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast exploring the collapse of a one prominent megachurch and stopped in my tracks when one of the senior leaders described the reaction after the controversial founding pastor resigned: “It only took 2-3 hours for us to realize the only option was to shut it all down”. What a tragic outcome for something that really ought to have been bigger than a single individual.

In that case there are numerous factors that contributed to this ending, but it got me thinking about what remains in any organization after the leader departs for whatever reason.

I’ve always felt that if the organization fails after you leave it means you weren’t actually a very good leader, but I’m reconsidering.

Maybe it really depends what you’re trying to accomplish.

Sure, a cult of personality  around one charismatic persona is problematic, but there are some legacies worth pursuing other than an organization that grows and thrives in your absence.

Maybe your lasting legacy is something different. Like one or more of these:

1. Inspired and Equipped Individuals – Building an organization may not be your primary skill or interest if what you really care about is investing yourself in one or a few particular people. Seeing them find and follow their own sense of purpose may be a greater contribution than the legal entity that provided the opportunity and context for your mentoring to happen.

2. Meaningful Policy – You might be motivated by a cause and see an opportunity to develop, support, or advocate for policies that reach beyond one organization into networks, industries, or even law. Establishing a lasting best practice or a statute that advances or protects something you care about deeply may be profoundly satisfying.

3. Geographical Location – If you love a particular wetland, neighbourhood, or nation it may be more important to you that you’ve affected that space in a way that will last than having established an eternal organization. Whether its environmental protection, impactful zoning, or enhancing the appreciation of the beauty and meaning of a place; changing a location into something you’re proud of is a credible achievement.

4. Impacting an Industry – Many leaders I get to work with have a vision that extends beyond their own organization into the broader systems of their industry. Maybe what will resonate deeply in you years from now is not outdoing your “competition” but helping the entire network rise, grow, and develop. Setting standards, training programs, networks, or gatherings that bring out the best in the entire group could count for far more than a single entity.

5. Something More (or Less) – There are endless possibilities that could be your leadership legacy. Some are drawn to national and international impact, others have less grand visions. Some aspire to breadth, others depth, others to things that don’t even fit that dichotomy at all. You may be drawn to the expression of something profoundly personal or to dramatic, strategic, epic challenges.

The point is; try to figure out what you want your legacy to be, what you’re called to, what will give the greatest meaning and satisfaction to your work; and pursue those things. There’s a pretty good chance they’ll change over the years so check in with yourself once in a while to see if you’re still on the right track.

I am grateful for those leaders who are gifted and committed to building healthy organizations that are ready to thrive after they move on. But I have a growing appreciation for the reality that there are other ways to succeed as a leader. The failure comes when we misunderstand or never explore what we really care about.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment with your strongest sense of the legacy you’re pursuing. And if I can help you figure out what it is, or how to align your efforts with it, let’s talk.
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Uncategorized
I get to work with some phenomenally impressive people.

Time after time I am amazed by the intelligence, insight, dedication, and accomplishments of charity leaders; truly some unsung heroes. In many cases they are people with rare and remarkable talents, who have then honed their craft through years of experience to be truly exceptional in their fields.

But it’s not really the technical mastery that impresses me most. My favourites among the leaders I work with are those who remain curious, trying new things personally and professionally. Those who take up new hobbies, join unusual clubs, or take on challenges outside their comfort zone just for the sheer fun of it.

This story about Kurt Vonnegut rings very true:

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

In the long run healthy leaders are usually those who have interests outside their expertise and who don’t need to be great at everything to enjoy themselves. Interesting people.

I often share the phrase ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly” as a reminder to myself and others that the important things in life are rarely east from the beginning. We need to be willing to do things at which we aren’t particularly talented alongside our areas of uncommon skill. Sometimes it leads to discovery of an untapped excellence, but often it may simply be a pleasant curiosity that gives us some perspective and fun.

What are you doing that isn’t an area of particular talent?

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Uncategorized
It’s all so much.

I don’t really know if the issues and injustices in the world today are really bigger than at other times, but it feels that way sometimes. Maybe its just the massive volume of incoming content and commentary bombarding us 24/7. Maybe its the ease with which we can be exposed to matters from every corner of the world. Whatever it is, it can be overwhelming.

Leaders are driven to respond. We want to do something. We want to make a difference.

The tendency to take action serves us well most of the time, but even the best of us don’t have the capacity to care and respond to every possible issue. At some point we run out of ability to do anything.

I feel like I’ve been there more this year than ever before.

In a conversation with a skilled spiritual director I described the feeling of helplessness I can experience when I can’t  handle the variety and weight of need I’m exposed to. With compassionate wisdom she encouraged me to sit with that sense of helplessness and see if there’s a lesson for me in it.

I think there is.

There are times when the only thing I can offer to a situation, or even to an individual, is my presence. I can’t change the difficult reality and I have nothing to say that could possibly be helpful. But I can offer myself.

Truth is, that seems insufficient and unsatisfying. I want to do something. I want to do more. I want to make it better. But when I can’t do that I can still be present, and in that helpless presence I can demonstrate support and empathy that somehow can be significant.

Years ago a friend introduced me to a song by the Holly Cole Trio called “Cry if you want to”. It’s a beautiful expression of the nonjudgmental kindness that may be the most and best I can offer when none of my preferred active responses can help.

I like being someone who tries to find active ways to get involved. I will probably always struggle with a desire to do something, even when I don’t know what to do. Even when there’s probably nothing I can do that will actually help.

I need to keep learning how to do things that will actually be beneficial in the realities of today’s complex problems. But I also need to learn the power and practice of helpless presence.
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Uncategorized
Silos suck.

(Except for agricultural storage I guess.)

The strong tendency for departments, teams, or groups to be loyal to one another but competitive or critical of others in the same organization is common and damaging. We’ve all seen it. Most of us have been part of it. Sometimes we justify it.

Of course its a problem, but its also understandable. We spend most of our time working with our closest team and have more understanding with them than with everybody else. Being accountable to organizational goals over which we have less influence is harder than the ones we can work on directly day to day. 

As much as we know we need to share strongly in the broad goals of the organization its difficult to keep those targets in mind in the midst of daily demands.

Leaders I work with have found it helpful to think of this challenge as a matter of Sponges and Buckets.

Imagine a classic steel bucket with soapy water and several sponges inside. 

The bucket represents the organization. The sponges are the teams, departments, and groups (even individuals) that fill the organization. And the water is the mission and programming. Ultimately the water is what its all about and the bucket is the container we are using to accomplish it. Sponges are the functional pieces that get the work done.

We can take out any particular sponge out of the bucket to have a look at it, see what kind of shape its in, and consider how well it is performing relative to its role. A sponge that doesn’t work properly can fairly easily be adjusted, improved, or replaced. But eventually the sponge has to return to the bucket and the water moves between sponges fairly freely.

In healthy organizations the mission is understood to flow between departments as information, resources, and support is exchanged. That kind of flexibility and priority adaptation makes for a highly productive and engaged staff. We can evaluate teams, but the standard is how they contribute to the overall goals of the bucket, not how they’re doing on their own.

Keeping a “bucket mentality” where our shared objectives are the higher priority enables us to evaluate sponges with greater objectivity and make better leadership decisions. Of course its really the water that matters most.

Consider putting a bucket and sponge in your office as a reminder of where loyalty and priorities need to be.
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Uncategorized

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels
 
Many years ago I led programs for teens at a large summer camp. At the end of one three week program I wrote a report to my supervisors that included the story of one of our teenage campers, I’ll call him Gavin. The story was meant to illustrate the kind of impact the program was having on young people and it shared some aspects of Gavin’s story that he had shared with me in our personal conversations. In that report, as in this post, I changed the camper’s name to respect his privacy.

I didn’t know the story was going to be used in a large scale mailing.

It wasn’t long before Gavin contacted me to ask why I felt it was okay for me to share things about his life with hundreds of strangers, including his family who saw through the name change and learned a couple things Gavin wasn’t ready to discuss with them.

He felt betrayed, and he was right.

I apologized profusely.

I really was upset that what I understood to be an internal report was published widely without my awareness or Gavin’s consent. Eventually he said it wasn’t that big a deal but I have never forgotten the feeling of having violated the trust of someone I cared about. (I believe the organization learned from that situation as well and is much more diligent about how stories are shared).

Those feelings came rushing back this week when I read The Ethical Storytelling Pledge

It seems like a dramatic shift is happening in the charitable sector in how we tell stories. No too many years ago I remember hearing advice about finding the most heartrending images to use in fundraising efforts because they bring in the most money. That may still be true, but those increased donations come at a cost to the dignity and privacy of people who may never have the opportunity Gavin had to call me out on breaking his trust.

I can acknowledge the reality of the tension. Raising more funds should lead to greater impact, and isn’t that the point? Ultimately it’s a matter of our values. If we believe in the humanity, agency, and autonomy of those we desire to help it is worth the cost of lower donations to treat them properly.

I signed the pledge. I hope you will too.
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