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Catalyst is pleased to offer a fully funded opportunity for charity leaders and teams to receive leadership consulting workshops to help overcome the challenges of 2020. Capacity is limited. See details below and contact us to see what we can do together.

Click on this link for pdf and links:
Leadership Consulting Opportunity for Canadian Charities Fall 2020



Leading a charity is never easy, but this year’s unexpected challenges have multiplied the difficulty while simultaneously taking away some of the capacity needed to address it all. 

Catalyst Foundation (www.catalystfoundation.ca) is pleased to offer a selection of consulting services to charity leaders at no charge for the remainder of 2020. 

The generosity of our founders to support the cost of this opportunity is much appreciated.

Chris Wignall (Executive Director) is a respected consultant and trainer with more than 20 years of leadership in the charitable sector. He has been exclusively focused on the health of leaders and organizations through Catalyst since 2008. His combination of insight, compassion, practicality, and humour provide leaders with a rare advisor who understands the demands they face and is able to give guidance that makes an actual difference.

Programs Offered:

  1. The REACTION Dashboard: A practical tool leaders and teams use to understand, assess, and improve their organizational culture. This memorable and repeatable approach will guide you to address culture warning lights; but also to tap into the remarkable leverage of strategic celebration. (90-120 minutes)
  2. Self-Care and Stress Strategies: Timely, practical approach to help develop healthy habits, identify your own stress strategies, and improve wellbeing. A great way to demonstrate your care for your team. (45-90 minutes)
  3. The Six Hats of a Board Member: Many board members don’t really understand the various roles they play. The resulting confusion creates chaos and hurts the organization. This unique, interactive approach helps your board with clarity and focus. (60-90 minutes)
  4. Leader’s Kryptonite – Insecurity & Identity: Nothing undermines leaders quite like insecurity does. This engaging workshop is a reflective and applicable approach to managing insecurity and leading out of a rooted identity. (90-120 minutes)
  5. Custom Sessions: Your leadership needs may not align perfectly with any of the above programs. Chris has the experience and insight to work with you to create a session specifically for your team. Contact him to explore the ways we can help.

**All of these programs can be delivered remotely for the safety and convenience of everyone involved if preferred.**

There is limited capacity for this opportunity. If you are interested in discussing whether it might be a fit for your organization please contact Chris@catalystfoundation.ca


Bonus: Catalyst is able to offer a free copy of The REACTION Dashboard book to up to 20 charity leaders who would like to receive one regardless of their involvement in this opportunity. 

Email chris@catalystfoundation.ca with Subject Line: REACTION Offer 2020 and your mailing address to request your copy.


0

Leadership, Resources
My cynicism got the better of me.

A few weeks ago, when this COVID-19 pandemic was beginning I had multiple conversations in which I was asked how leaders could improve organizational culture in this time of distant work and high stress. I said there wasn’t much hope.

I was wrong.

In the time since those conversations I have seen leaders demonstrate care and compassion for their teams. I’ve seen them display sincere vulnerability in appropriate ways. I’ve seen them rally their teams around their mission and take on immense challenges, often with remarkable success. 

I’ve seen cultures strengthened significantly.

It turns out (as people wiser than myself already knew), that times of stress don’t only reveal the cracks in organizational health; they also provide a powerful opportunity to address some of those issues. There is great opportunity in crisis for those who are able to engage it well.

Of course this shouldn’t be a surprise. Some moments are high leverage, and this is certainly one of them. Physical separation from our teams doesn’t prevent us from deepening our connections and affirming our shared commitments. In some cases the change of situation becomes an excellent opportunity to make impactful adjustments.

So, how can leaders improve their culture in the midst of great challenges?

1. Be Human: Sudden adjustment to working from home and worrying about the wellbeing of our loved ones gives us a glimpse into life beyond work for our colleagues. Take time to ask more questions about how people are doing. Be compassionate about the limitations and difficulties of home schooling, cabin fever, constant stress, and loneliness. Talk about your own challenges in a way that doesn’t always set you up as the ideal. Emphasize relationship in the ways that mean the most to your people.

2. Focus on Purpose, not Productivity: We all talk about impact measures and the importance of mission. Now is a time to lean in to that aggressively. People are working odd hours, without familiar settings and resources, and with more distractions than ever. Don’t add to the pressure by having unrealistic expectations. Instead have open conversations about the challenges we face and how we can have the greatest effect for our mission under the circumstances. We need to count results, not activity; and we need to give our people the opportunity to shape their work with that in mind.

3. Celebrate!: For most of us the desperate urgency of the first days of the pandemic is over. Life is turning into a grind, with no end in sight. We are longing for normalcy that may yet be far off. We’ve abandoned most of our goals both professionally and personally, and so many of the typical highlights of our lives aren’t happening. We need celebrations! We need to have our successes recognized and our accomplishments acknowledged. We need the moments of joy to punctuate our days. We need good news stories, victories, and opportunities to cheer one another on. More than ever, we need leaders who are attuned to the power of celebration and committed to making it happen.

I’m not proud of being wrong, but I’m really glad I was. 

This is absolutely an opportunity for organizations to become healthier in ways that will long outlast the current situation. We’d love to help you do that.



Check out The REACTION Dashboard for a practical guide to understanding, assessing, and improving organizational culture in any circumstance.
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Leadership, Uncategorized
How do we prepare our organizations for what comes after the pandemic?

Every organization has some things that are untouchable. A time of sudden instability may be exactly the opportunity to take a closer look at whether those things are still serving your mission well. As Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

My last post raised three critical things leaders need to do to handle the harder decisions that are coming very soon. But now I want to suggest two unusual activities that may be valuable in preparing you for the longer term: Elephant Hunting and Shooting Sacred Cows.

(It may be unnecessary but I want to be clear that I am not in favour of trophy hunting and I mean no disrespect to those who do consider cows sacred. I’m just using the vernacular.)

Elephant Hunting: The elephant in the room in such a common trope it seems absurd; but that’s because it really is. The reality that mature, professional, decent people can have unspoken solidarity to never mention or deal with a looming issue doesn’t make sense. But it is all too often true.

Several years ago I took the picture on this post in the offices of Muskoka Woods. I absolutely loved coming across an eight foot high stuffed animal in their lobby. It perfectly captures the mindset that inhabits teams that will not risk rocking the boat by calling out what is known by all but never addressed. We carefully step around the obstacle, pretending it isn’t there, until it basically becomes invisible even as it remains in the way.

In this time when so much is uncertain and we are continually adapting to reality we didn’t anticipate it may be just the chance to point at the elephant and say “Let’s do something about this!”

Of course there is a chance it will backfire, but leaders with integrity are more likely to appreciate someone having the nerve, or accumulated frustration, to state the obvious. At a time when things are so difficult we need to get these long overdue issues out of the way. All it takes is one moment of boldness to expose the elephant. What happens next will reveal a great deal about the culture of your organization.

Shooting Sacred Cows: While we actively avoid acknowledging elephants, we sometimes spend way too much time, energy, and resource on sacred cows. These are the things (programs, facilities, traditions, people, etc.) that have been a part of what we do for so long that we can’t imagine getting on without them, even if we suspect or know they are no longer effective.

You can usually recognize a sacred cow by the way they are treasured in unassailable esteem and never held up to scrutiny. 

Times of transition, whether its new leaders coming on board, relocation, financial turmoil, or something like a pandemic, often expose the way these things have become undeservingly unquestioned. The new person or situation may cause us to ask, “Is this really helping us to accomplish our purpose?”

As so many organizations try to make changes to adapt to the financial difficulties ahead and the impossibility of business as usual it is no longer an option for wise leaders to protect what no longer serves. It is time to put the nonproductive cows out to pasture, if not throw them on the barbecue. As with elephants, it takes one person with the courage to ask the direct question to free up the group for needed consideration.


There are no guarantees in leadership. That is more clear than ever these days. Being the one who points out the elephant or challenges the value of the cow may be a career limiting move. Some leaders and organizations aren’t willing or able to even consider that these things are actually problems that drag against the good you are trying to do. That sucks, but it is occasionally the case.

But I have a strong suspicion that those leaders who step into that risk and respectfully yet directly challenge the status quo are the ones who will help their organizations have the greatest chance of emerging from COVID-19 intact and better positioned to increase their impact. 

Are you one of those leaders?

Catalyst can help you engage in dealing with obstructive elephants and outdated cows.
Contact us so we can take them on together.
1

Leadership
I have been very impressed by most of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by charity leaders.

With the exception of some dangerously ignorant religious leaders who insist on still gathering large groups for worship services, the sector has taken the risks seriously and adapted quite quickly to the temporary reality we are all facing. Many are caring for their communities in creative ways that allow them to continue providing some services without putting staff, volunteers, or guests at unnecessary risk. Others have made difficult decisions quickly to protect the financial stability of their organizations.

In my last post I made some recommendations for moving from the urgent crisis response stage to something more strategic and lasting. That seems well underway now. 

But as Winston Churchill said:

Leaders who have thrived on the adrenaline of the initial response to the crisis may be fatigued and suffering a bit of a crash from all that energy. And yet; the decisions made in the next few weeks are crucial.

Most leaders are at their best in times of growth. We are drawn to high potential and new opportunities for impact. Scaling down, reducing budgets, and taking the responsibility for decisions that will be very hard for others to accept isn’t something that many find inspiring or appealing. The best selling books and high profile conferences don’t say much about how to do this stuff. But it will be the role of many leaders in the months to come.

Some experts estimate that as many as half of Canadian charities may face permanent closure by the end of this year. Others are forecasting that a dramatic drop in donation revenue will hit hardest in early 2021 and last for a year or more from then. 

A lot of good organizations may not survive.

So what can we do to better our chances?

1. Mission First: As much as you, and many of your donors, care about the wellbeing of your employees, the real reason for your organization to exist is what you provide to the needs of the world. Programs, approaches, and facilities may have to be closed. Organizations that are very clear on what their real purpose is, and are able to adapt their model of addressing it, will be most likely to overcome.  Those that can’t communicate their mission or seem only interested in keeping the doors open for their own sake will face harsher difficulties. Clarity around priorities is non-negotiable.

2. Back To Basics: The elaborate systems we have built in brighter times may prove to be our undoing now. This is the time to reconsider everything about our approach and reduce what we can to the real essentials. Cutting the right costs means seeking the most efficient ways to work and communicate. Acquiring new donors is going to be much more difficult than strengthening relationships with those we already have. Many leaders have fond memories of leading scrappy, entrepreneurial, adaptable organizations. That kind of thinking will serve well.

3. Draw Lines In The Sand: There are far too few examples of charities that have ended in dignified ways. Determine now the criteria for layoffs, program closures, and the complete shut down of the organization. Engage the board and wise stakeholders in setting the limits beyond which you will not go. Having explicit financial, impact, and situational triggers for the hardest decisions you may ever make in leadership won’t make it easier to end something that has been good, but it will allow you to do so as well as possible. Instead of desperate scrambling for ways to avoid the inevitable, you will be able to focus on ending with compassion and gratitude for what has been done.

Of course there are some points for optimism. Some organizations will find this to be their most productive season in years. Some will fit the needs and donor interests of this moment. Some leaders will find wonderfully creative ways to remake their charities that will serve for years to come. I expect to see new partnerships, mergers, and innovations emerge that will inspire a generation.

These are times for leaders to gather the very best wisdom available, to take unflinching looks at uncomfortable realities, and to have the strength to be proactive about the path ahead. Who among us will rise to leading well in this season?
1

Leadership


Humble is hard.

As much as humility is an admired trait (for most of us at least), the process of becoming humble is rarely pleasant. It usually comes at significant cost to our ego, if not our reputation.

Leaders today live in a tension between understanding that humility is the path to greatest organizational success and a culture that is increasingly geared to self-promotion. We know that everything we do is ultimately reliant on many others, but we also have to recognize our own contributions. With so much emphasis on the individual; empowered by social media, profiles and awards, and seeing those who champion their own achievements rising around us, it can be difficult to know how to represent ourselves honestly.

For many years I was one who ascribed to the idea that doing good work quietly would always be seen by those who really matter. I convinced myself that any promotion of my accomplishments was inappropriate and selfish. I deflected compliments and diminished my abilities as nothing special. I thought that was humility.

I was wrong.

It’s taken me years to be able to confidently and openly express the things I do well and have achieved. (Maybe it’s a Canadian thing).

I was intimidated by, and jealous of, people who posted their awards or called attention to their successes. It looked like bragging. It was beneath me.

Wrong again.

I am learning, so very slowly, that humility is not demonstrated by denying my gifts. It is in holding them loosely and being eager to celebrate the gifts of others. Pretending that I am not proud of the results of my hard work is false humility, waiting for others to prop me up with praise. It is no less insecure than the people who constantly trumpet themselves for affirmation. Demeaning myself isn’t humble it’s harmful.

So what are humble leaders really like?

-They talk more about team than about self.
-They take more responsibility for failures than successes.
-They understand their strengths and use them confidently.
-They understand their weaknesses and show them openly.
-They encourage others to surpass their own achievements.
-They accept praise and thanks with gratitude.
-They intentionally develop others, and themselves.
-They have an accurate assessment of their own abilities and contributions.
-Their identity is not dependent on their performance.
-They commit themselves to the cause, not their personal brand.
-They admit mistakes and ask forgiveness.
-They earn respect rather than demand loyalty.
-They are teachable and accept both affirming and critical feedback.
-They celebrate achievements eagerly and give credit where it is due.
-They inspire humility in others.

Obviously there are far more…

What does humble leadership look like to you?
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Leadership, Resources, Vision
One of the growth areas for Catalyst in the last few years is facilitating Strategic Planning sessions. It’s work I love but I confess I’ve had a hard time figuring out the best approach. Most of what I’ve seen and tried has left me feeling unsatisfied, like there’s something missing that keeps it from approaching the kind of impact we aim for.

The problem for me is that so much strategic planning is terrible. Whether its brainstorming sessions with no connection to reality, or droning meetings lost in detail, it seems like much of what passes for strategic planning is nearly useless if not counterproductive. 

There has to be a better way.

Pat of the problem is with our basic understanding of strategy. We treat it as something static that gives us a false sense of control. Strategy lies.

But what I’m seeing over and over in guiding charities, churches, schools, and businesses through strategy sessions is that the bigger issue is that we try to treat Strategy as a separate thing from Execution and Culture. 

It’s fine to consider each of these components of a healthy and effective organization with some distinction, but they are inextricably entwined. There is no brilliant Strategy that can work without focussed Execution and supported by a thriving Culture. Our attempts to solve Culture and Execution issues by improving or innovating Strategy are doomed to frustration.

So change the approach.

By incorporating Strategy, Execution, and Culture all into the strategic planning process we do a much better job of identifying the real issues and opportunities. We show respect for the participants who often know that strategy isn’t the problem. We recognize that our organizations are integrated systems, not simplistic machines. And, perhaps most importantly, we leverage the effects of all three components to increase engagement, improve outcomes, and align every form of energy towards a brighter future – which is what we were hoping for to begin with.

There are lots of ways to plan a strategic planning process that will draw on Strategy, Execution, and Culture. My approach is always adjusting to accommodate new insights and tools to better serve the uniqueness of each situation. What is clear is that any approach that fails to intentionally address all of these is dangerously incomplete and inadequate for the realities of leadership today.

If you’re anticipating doing some strategic planning this year I’d love to hear how you’re designing the process to get results that are useful and effective. And if Catalyst can help contact me.

For an introduction to the Strategy/Execution/Culture approach to leadership read the last chapter of The REACTION Dashboard.
0

Leadership, Resources, Uncategorized

Being the new kid is difficult.

Being the new leader is too. 

For anyone starting a new leadership role or joining a new organization in a leadership capacity there are a mix of emotions:

Excitement – This is awesome! Can’t wait to get started! So amazing that I get paid to do this!
Insecurity – Can I handle everything this requires? What do I need to do to earn trust and build credibility? Will they like me?
Pride – I’ve worked hard for this. This is the chance I’ve been waiting for. Started from the bottom now we here! 🙂
Pragmatism – Where do I park? Which is my workspace? What details do I need to take care of so I can get on with the job?
– Hope – We are going to do some great things! I can imagine something beautiful from this! The future is bright!
– Doubt – What did they not tell me about what’s really going on here? Do I have the time/team/resources to succeed?

Whatever you may be feeling as you begin, this is a key time. What you do in the first few weeks and months of a new role has leverage for your entire tenure.

Here are a few things I’ve seen leaders do that set the right tone and lead to excellent results:

1. Prioritise. Find out what are the most important and most urgent things your supervisor/board expects you to accomplish. Early expectations can be unrealistic, but they are also the basis for your initial credibility as leader. Get as much clarity on these expectations as you possibly can and determine to act on them.
2. Plan. Don’t just wing it. Even if you’ve been able to rely on your instincts in previous situations that strength has the potential to undermine you now. I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days as a guide to establishing your first moves. It is deservedly the prime resource for this situation.
3. People. Building relationships is (almost) everything! Unless you have been given a definitive urgent change mandate nothing you do at the start will have greater positive long term results than getting to know your colleagues and letting them know you. Ask more questions. Commit to learning. Be relentlessly curious.
4. Patience. Leaders often think they need a couple “quick wins” to earn the confidence of the organization. That is partially true, but too often it is a reflection of insecurity more than reality. The wins you need may have more to do with connection than change; especially in a healthy organization.
5. Pray. (Or if you aren’t the praying sort: Pause). Take time regularly, more than usual, to connect with the deepest truths you believe and be reminded of what matters most to you. It’s tempting to be swept up in your new reality and lose touch with the core identity that is essential to your ultimate success.
6. Protegé. Build a list of experts and advisors who will take your calls. Even if your role has some assigned mentors you are wise to have interested outsiders who care enough about you to give honest insights. And make a point of reaching out to them sooner rather than later. It’s not a mistake to schedule a couple check-ins as soon as you can, even before what you will know what to ask them.
7. Persevere. Nearly all the leaders I advise quickly find some things in a new role that were not what they expected. Early challenges tend to be disproportionate as they are magnified by the stress of a new beginning. Dig in, trust your experience and strengths, and lean on the help that is available to you. It gets better.
8. Perspective. Take the long view whenever possible. As important as the first 90 days are, they are not everything. Your whole life and career are not likely to be determined by this season and the ultimate success of the organization probably isn’t either. Starting well is a significant advantage but there are many traps to be found by rushing to make things happen that aren’t going to matter much in a few years time.

If you are in a new leadership role I am rooting for you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

And as a bonus to those who read all the way through: I have 5 copies of my book The REACTION Dashboard to give for free to the first five leaders in new roles that ask for them. If having a healthy culture is something you care about this book can help you make that happen. Just contact me to request a copy.
2

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

Are you looking forward to getting your organization moving again after the year end festivities?

Most charities work hard right up to the final day of the calendar year to maximize fundraising as donors give for an annual tax receipt. 

For many, the first weeks of a new year are a relatively less urgent time when there may be greater potential for investing in strategic priorities beyond the daily whirlwind of tasks and deadlines. It can be a time to refocus and reinvest as well as to recover.

This may be the best opportunity all year to take a closer look at your organizational culture and see what is worthy of celebrating and what needs to change for you to achieve your ambitions for 2020. Of course you should be considering and working on culture all the time; but it rarely reaches the top of the priority list when things are busy. It’s very important but by the time it becomes urgent it may be extremely difficult to fix it without serious damage.

So here are 7 Simple Questions you can ask alone, or with your team, to check in on the health of your organizational culture:

1. Do we all understand the Reason for our work well enough to state it briefly in our own words?

2. How are we being intentional about managing the seasonal ebbs and flows of Energy and developing the habits that fill us?

3. What are 3 things we are doing currently that are not in strong Alignment with our priorities and how are we fixing or eliminating those things?

4. Where is there a communication gap that is muddying the Clarity we need to have our greatest impact and who is responsible for closing that gap?

5. What Trust damaging behaviours have we tolerated for too long for fear of losing a high performer or just because we are uncomfortable with conflict?

6. Which potential or imminent Warning Lights are indicating dangers to the health of our organization?

7. What specific things are we doing this month to Celebrate our steps toward success that we want everyone involved in our organization to understand and/or replicate?

Taking even just 15 minutes to answer these questions, and then acting on the answers, could be exactly what you need to set your organization on course for a healthier and more effective year ahead.

For more practical insight into how leaders can understand, assess, and improve organizational culture check out www.reactiondashboard.com or contact us for a free initial consultation.
0

Leadership, Vision
It’s no coincidence that the words values and costs are so strongly associated.

Your values, political, organizational, or personal, mean close to nothing unless they cost you something.

We are living in a time when there is a rise in expressed hatred and bigotry. We are seeing the lowest versions of people and even nations celebrated. None of this is new, but it feels like a growing wave. It is difficult for leaders to know how to respond.

I hear increasing calls for public declarations of allegiance, participation in movements, and joining petitions. In some cases I sign on, in others I don’t.

I’ve written before about discerning when is the time to take a stand for or against a controversial situation.

But more and more the tension is arriving within organizations. As people are urged to declare their stance on matters that may have little to do with the reason for what you do they may try to force you into creating a policy, position, or proclamation. The pressure may come from the fringes of your team, donors, or network; or from core people.

With so much potential for being misinterpreted (even deliberately), the best guide comes from your organization’s established values. Even if you have never explicitly identified values, the stories you tell about yourselves and the things you do at your best reveal them fairly clearly. 

(Catalyst does offer a values training workshop that has been very helpful for recognizing values and distinguishing them from mission and vision; contact us to learn more about our story-based approach.)

When suspicion and consequences are both high, wisdom returns to core values and uses them to craft a response that expresses the heart of the organization.

A few tips to do this well:

1. Prioritize Posture Over Position: Unless the matter is truly essential for your organization, developing a new policy under duress can be a trap. Instead of rushing something that may raise further problems, express your core convictions and commit to learning and compassion. Those who demand a specific rule do not always have your organization’s interests in mind.

2. Offend On Purpose: Think carefully about the reactions you will face and craft your responses to align with those you serve, partner with, and relate to most closely. It may be impossible to avoid offending anyone, so decide who’s favour you can live without and anticipate their departure. If your organization is dependent on satisfying people who don’t fit your values you are better off suffering the short term impact of losing them than the long term impact of relying on them.

3. Refuse To Rush: The urgency of social media and the 24 hour news cycle make it seem like you need to determine your stance instantaneously. You don’t. Hurried decisions don’t allow for the quality of research and reflection that weighty matters deserve. Having to backtrack because of unanticipated consequences always undermines your credibility.

4. Listen Well: The loudest voices aren’t always right or even well-informed. Seek out input from those who have earned perspective over time whenever possible. Many matters are more nuanced than they may appear and the tendency to be caught in an echo chamber affects us all. There are some certainties and absolutes, but there are also many who oversimplify things to achieve influence.

5. Be Bold: Confidence comes from knowing that you have done your homework, followed your values, and gotten your key stakeholders aligned. When you decide to make a statement or take a stand do it with conviction. If it is worth your effort it is worth your courage, and worth the potential cost that may follow.  

Mature leaders don’t go looking for a fight in an area that isn’t core to their organization’s purpose. But if the heated tenor of our society requires you to enter the battlefield, do it well and with the assurance that your actions are driven by values you truly believe in.

0

Leadership
Update: I recently learned that the term “tone deaf” is offensive to some people who are hearing impaired. I am sorry.
 
 
 

I don’t sing well.

This isn’t any form of humility; it is an objective fact supported by decades of people cringing or shuddering when I let loose with my best efforts.. It has gotten somewhat better over the years but I can still vividly remember leading a campfire sing along as a teenager and being laughed at by the whole circle for how far off key I was. That kind of humiliation sticks with you.

I don’t get invited to sing these days, but I do a lot of other public communication. Writing, speaking, facilitating, hosting, and training are all regular parts of my work and personal life. I have a fair degree of confidence in all of them.

The danger is that I can be just as tone deaf in those forms of expression as in music.

And so can you.

It used to be that a lot of leadership communication was to a predictable and supportive audience of insiders and supporters who could be relied upon to give the benefit of the doubt if something sounded a little off. We got comfortable being off the cuff and informal because the conversations were with “the family”. Even if we messed up people assumed the best about us and did the work to figure out what we were trying to say.

Endless examples show us that’s no longer the case.

Today we have to expect that anything we say, write, or post may find it’s way into the public. And that includes those who may be motivated to find and exploit the flaws in our messaging.

Some of us are annoyed by this. We liked it when we could get away with using outdated vocabulary or borderline stories. We felt secure in the confidence that people would “know what I meant” and not “take it out of context”. We feel betrayed by being exposed to critique, ridicule, and judgment.

That may be justified, but it doesn’t matter. The raw reality is that we can no longer control the audience or reach of our message. We need to expect that what we say in a whisper may be broadcast widely.

This requires developing some new skills and sensitivities.

1. Cultural Awareness: As language and culture evolve it’s common for words and phrases that were once clear and acceptable to become ambiguous or even offensive. Haydn Shaw in his book Sticking Points reminds us that only about a generation ago thongs were sandals with a strap between the toes; that’s not the understanding your younger colleagues or community will assume if you talk about leaving yours at the beach.

We need to be active students of the culture, and not just our particular subculture, to ensure that we are sending the message we actually intend.

2. Expertise vs. Opinion: Leaders (like teachers, physicians, or clergy), can easily get into the habit of expecting our ideas to be highly valued. We’re used to people listening to us. Too often that leads us to assuming confidence about things we really don’t understand. Being exposed as ignorant for spouting off on a subject outside our true expertise is a fast way to lose credibility on what we really do know.

We need to stay on topic and be clear about where we are truly expert and where we are just giving our own take.

3. Humility Works: I need to get a lot more comfortable using the phrase “I don’t know”. Admitting some level of uncertainty or incomplete awareness disarms critics and actually increases the confidence of most of our followers who already know we aren’t perfect. Taking a curious posture and being eager to learn are far more valuable in the long run than being a “know-it-all”.

We need to commit ourselves to a lifetime of learning and be students more than teachers.

4. Sincere Apology: Even the best of intentions and careful communication may not prevent a misstep from time to time. Arrogant leaders double down on their statements, feeling victimized, and demand to be judged on their intentions. That only serves to alienate all but the most devoted followers.

Taking responsibility for our errors, acknowledging any harm we have caused, and committing to being better builds bridges. It may be taken advantage of on rare occasions, but more often it will earn an opportunity to communicate again more effectively.

Some of you don’t care. You figure if people don’t or won’t give you the benefit of the doubt you don’t need their support. You’re tired of being so “politically correct”. You value boldness and authenticity and refuse to be so careful all the time. You want the freedom to say things the way you want to say them.

That’s an option. It will inevitably cost you the chance to be heard by significant numbers of people who might be really interested in joining you; but you can rest in your confidence that your way is always right and anything else is compromise. There are a surprising number of people who will rally to that kind of leader.

As for me; I’ll be over here trying to figure out how to share my message in ways where my delivery won’t get in the way of what I’m really trying to say.
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