Leaders don’t control and control freaks don’t collaborate.
In the charitable world, we’re a bunch of helpers. Naturally we’re drawn into human and social services, saving the environment, and bringing arts to our cities because we want to help and share good things with other people.
We’re also working in organizations that have tight budgets and broad missions. We’re attempting to do way too much with way too little. I’ve seen countless organizations that “empower at-risk youth” (what does that even mean?) and create job descriptions that are way too broad. Last week’s example was the office manager that’s also responsible for grant writing, answering the phone, wrestlin’ gators, and bookkeeping.
We’ve created positions where people create their own little fiefdoms of information. They take ownership to a whole new, unholy level and won’t relinguish control…to anyone.
I once worked with someone who wore several marketing, fundraising, and admin hats; way too many for any one person to successfully wear at once. She wanted to control or have input on EVERYTHING that was marketing and fundraising related. She was cranky and overwhelmed. And it showed.
She didn’t have a positive reputation and was never able to evolve her work because all she had time for was to update what was done the previous time. There was never time for innovation or strategic thinking.
Collaboration and leadership are a necessity to effective charitable work.
Helpers will help themselves to death. (Full disclosure: I’m a recovering helper.) On more than one occasion, I thought I was being a good leader by saying, “Yes,” to a lot of critical projects and overextended myself. In reality, leaders at all levels (and every employee needs to exercise leadership) need to learn to say, “No,” when individuals and organizations are spread too thin.
Kouzes and Posner in their time-tested, research-backed work say that leadership is exercised in five ways. (To read more about leadership, invest some time in The Leadership Challenge.)
- Model the Way: leaders set the example with demonstrated and visible values.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: they paint a very clear picture of the future that harness possibilities and people.
- Challenge the Process: leadership is demonstrated when one questions the status quo, celebrates small wins, and is in a posture of learning.
- Enable Others to Act: leaders build and foster trust and demand the development of competence for others.
- Encourage the Heart: this is especially relevant in our line of work where leaders need to create a spirit of community and expect the best.
A definition that the Harvard Business Review uses for collaboration is this: “to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly, to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines, and to share resources.”
In a sector known for having five-jobs-in-one, how can we say we’re collaborating within our own organizations? Collaboration is needed to not only share the workload but also to have an outside perspective to help you say, “No,” to too much. But here’s the thing, dear helper, you have to be open to collaboration, open to leadership, and open to developing your own leadership. This is why charities need coaching.
Leadership and collaboration are entwined together and are needed more than ever in our work.
You are a leader, no matter your job title.
Every employee, volunteer, and board member needs to exercise leadership. Here are some ways to exercise leadership and collaborate, no matter your organization’s size and number of people.
- Say, “No,” to grant funding that pulls you away from your priorities and work plan. Chasing cash is a sign of desperation.
- Create operational goals each year with clear deliverables and metrics. Then re-read the point above.
- Scope your work. This idea of “scoping” is used often in consulting and it can be well applied to any project or job. It’s like putting a container of expectations around a project. A board member might have a great idea to do Facebook ads because they’re the latest and greatest in marketing. So the marketing intern launches Facebook ads targeted at volunteers and spends $50 a month with 0.05% click thru rate. The board member wants to know how many donations came in because of the these Facebook ads. Uh oh! Expectations weren’t aligned and the project wasn’t clearly defined.
- Speak up. It can be difficult to challenge the way things have always been done. But change starts with you. Find the support you need to have the courage to speak out. Often times this involves some inner work so you’re clear on your values and how you can respectfully speak up. Chances are others are waiting on someone else to speak up first. Be that someone.
- Demand process and strategy. Great organizations have great processes that support their learning and evolution. Clear strategies that align with a mission and vision hold everyone accountable and provide the path to the shared vision Kouzes and Posner have said is vital.
As the economy tanked in the mid-2000’s, it became normal to expect nonprofits to do even more with even less. We now have an entire sector that is stressed out while trying to take care of some of the most dire situations and most vulnerable people on the planet.
How can you exercise leadership as an employee, volunteer, or board member to say, “Enough is enough?”
Let’s focus our mission, focus our work, and in the process create collaborative environments where employees are competent, well compensated, and not pulled in a thousand directions.