This month we visit with Steve Springsdorf, Executive Director of the YMCA, as he tells of capitalizing on opportunities, staying focused, and prioritizing relationship-building.
Tell us how you got to where you are today (positions held, career shifts, etc)
Mine is partially a story of being in the right place at the right time. I graduated from MSU with a degree in Environmental Education. I couldn’t find a teaching job, but I student taught in Saginaw and the Y Exec Dir. was on the school board, saw my resume and offered me a job. I took it until I could find a teaching job. I became the Asst. Camp Director the next year until the Camp Director quit two weeks into the season. After 9 years as the Camp Director, the CEO retired. I applied and became one of the youngest YMCA CEO’s in the country. I directed the Saginaw Y for 14 years when I was invited to apply to become the CEO of the State YMCA in Central Lake, MI. It was a very different experience for me, no main building, primarily residence camps, a unit in Petoskey and a state wide Youth in Government program. The camps served families not only across the country but also internationally. This job gave me a much broader perspective of how we can influence youth. After 8 years I was invited to be the CEO at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo in 2008 where I continue to serve.
What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?
I love the pride that people have in the community, I love the diversity of people and thought, I love vibrant downtown in Kalamazoo and the strong shopping area in Portage, I love the variety of restaurants and brewery’s; finally I love how there is so much energy to make our community better.
What guides or principles do you rely most upon?
Basically, if you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen and treat people as you would want to be treated.
Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?
My first boss was a huge influence in my career. He was a man of strong conviction, he held people accountable, but he also was a strong advocate and supporter of staff development, both in training and in challenging you to be better. He felt that being a nonprofit didn't mean you were less responsible or business minded than for-profit businesses.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
If you have someone working for you that is either not performing or doesn’t fit with the organization then make a change sooner than later. Attempting to be nice only prolongs the inevitable and isn’t helpful to the staff or the organization.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
I wish I had an average day. I begin with reading two newspapers, handle emails, check in with staff to see if there are areas I can help with; communicate with my board and other partners; building relationships is a big part of what I do. Finally, I have projects I am working on in the areas of organizational improvement, fundraising, and program directions.
What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?
We are in the midst of a capital campaign so concerns about donors and volunteers are on my mind. The other area is motivating and managing my staff; these are the people who make our Y successful.
How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?
I read two newspapers a day, I visit our professions websites, but most importantly, I network and talk with my peers on a regular basis. I try to stay involved on state and national levels.
What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?
Stay fresh, stay challenged, and stay focused on what is important – the mission of your organization, how are you impacting the lives of the people your organization touches. Keep your eye open for opportunities, but build your career on results.
What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?
I am an avid reader and enjoy a good game of golf, wish I had one. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling and camping around Michigan.
In January, several viewed a video by Kerri Karvetsky (Company K Media) on how to Find Your Audience on Social Media.
Focusing primarily on Facebook and Twitter, Kerri identified various ways to locate and analyze followers as well as several tools (many free) to help get the most from your social media presence.
She presented several points from the recent Pew Research Internet Project report. Again, focusing on Facebook and Twitter, she highlighted a few important trends.
- Facebook is leveling while other platforms are still growing.
- Facebook is still highest use, and it’s graying – fastest growing group is 65+ while 30-49 group use is declining
- Twitter is growing in all age groups, especially in ages 18-29 and 30-49
- Overall Twitter tends to skews younger and more urban
For more information from the report, visit the Pew Research Internet Project website.
I have a professional question for you: What’s in your locket?
A locket is a small pendant that includes a space for storing a small keepsake, e.g., a photo of a loved one. Worn on a necklace or bracelet, this charm holds a cherished item, and the wearer often opens it to be reminded of one so near to their heart.
So, what’s in your locket (real or imaginary)? Besides being a twist on a popular ad campaign (thanks, Capital One), it’s a relevant question for anyone who wants to enjoy their work. Job satisfaction – and effectiveness – is directly related to the laser-like alignment of your deeply held values, personal passions (loves), and outward actions and abilities.
Jim Collins calls it a Hedgehog Concept. Simon Sinek calls it his Golden Circle. Steven Covey calls them habits. Patrick Lencioni has a pyramid. And Peter Drucker posed them as six critical questions. While each of these authors (and several others) adds his own contribution to the discussion, they all build off of this place of inner-outer alignment.
Yet, while many write about it, few of us are so aligned. Like an aching back, painful barbs shoot through our activities and discourse. And we’re left feeling out of sorts.
This chiropractic conundrum of misalignment is often more intrapersonal than interpersonal. Few of us take the time to listen to our true selves (our inner voice) and understand our deeply held values and personal passions. Instead, many align with an external set of expectations packaged and presented as an appealing alternative to our dissatisfaction.
One of Simon Sinek’s (Start with Why) contributions to this discussion is the idea that people align with others who believe what they believe. He says it this way: “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”
So, we need to open our lockets and peer inside to that which we hold dear and then find the words to speak it clearly to ourselves, our families, our organizations and community. Take some time – quiet, reflective time – to listen and learn from yourself.
My guess is this: once we align ourselves to the most important things in our lives, we’ll find that interpersonal (also intergenerational, interracial, intercultural) alignment comes much easier.
Allison Hammond (Arcadia Institute) offered a Voice from the Field workshop last month. She explored the various ways our organizations can welcome and support persons with disabilities as staff, participants, volunteers, and supporters.
At the Arcadia Institute, they work to make it possible for children and adults with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of community life, as they choose. In supporting area organizations, they encourage working with staff to think through and plan ahead for how they may accommodate volunteers or participants with disabilities.
On the question of accommodation, Allison reminded us that we don’t want to go overboard. Trying to be over-accommodating may make everyone uncomfortable.
Instead, Allison suggested that we ask the person what they need. For example, “What can I do to help make your experience with us more enjoyable or more comfortable?” Or, if you see someone struggling (e.g., straining to read instructions or struggling to move about the area), we can ask how we might be of assistance.
Creating a culture of inclusion and hospitality will help your organization serve everyone better. Toward this end, Arcadia Institute hosts Building a Community of Belonging on March 26, 2015.
With New Year’s Eve just hours away, I again find myself at an intersection. In addition to being the calendar year end, it’s also the second quarter close of our fiscal year. And, as a holiday week, it’s a time of less (or different) activity.
I like these times. It’s an opportunity to look back and look forward, to evaluate and adjust, to celebrate and to anticipate.
In his book, Traction, Gino Wickman draws upon the work of Patrick Lencioni and others and recommends that top management gather off-site every 90 days to review the previous quarter and finalize priorities for the coming quarter. Why every 90 days? He says, “The 90-day idea stems from a natural phenomenon – that human beings stumble, get off track, and lose focus roughly every 90 days.”
Wickman cites examples of this phenomenon at work, and I could add a few examples of my own. While it’s easy to casually nod in agreement, I shudder at his observation that human beings “lose focus roughly every 90 days,” because…
…we cannot afford to lose focus.
Lost focus wastes time and energy, dilutes the purpose of the organization, confuses funders and donors, frustrates staff and volunteers, and eventually leads to all sorts of crises. As leaders of our teams, departments, and organizations, maintaining focus is at the top of our list of responsibilities.
So, take some time – a half- or full-day – every quarter to hit the Pause button and keep yourself and your team on track. It will save you time, increase your service quality, and promote job satisfaction.
I enjoy basketball. While some individual players stand out, it’s the performance of the team that decides the game: working together, anticipating each other’s moves, and sharing the spotlight. Sure it takes practice, but it takes more than practice.
It takes trust.
On a team, trust means…
- You hold one another accountable without assigning blame
- You willingly give and receive extra efforts without keeping track
- Knowing that the team has your back, you take risks without guilt
- You communicate openly and directly with your teammates without fear
…and you do it all for your mission…for your cause.
Being on a team requires us to extend beyond ourselves. In our recent workshop on Mindfulness in the Workplace, Eric Nelson provided a compelling research- and case-based argument for mindfulness practice. The benefits were so varied and plentiful, I finally asked, “What’s the downside?” Without hesitation, he responded, “It challenges your identity.”
Mindfulness practice makes us face our assumptions and how they often differ from others’ assumptions. It chips away at our ego and helps us recognize how much we need each other to achieve better understanding as well as better performance. By letting go of our need to be right, we free ourselves to be correct. We free ourselves to trust.
I’ve written before on ways to build trust. Yet, these efforts falter when individuals stay wedded to their own assumptions and agendas. The more we understand ourselves and let go of our own egos, the more we open ourselves to trust our teammates. And that’s a step we must take on our own.
The ball is in your court.
I expect that every organization and business strives to be hospitable. We want staff, clients, visitors, supporters, and vendors to feel welcomed and comfortable in our place and at our events. Yet, even with best of intentions, we may run into times when we’re stumped.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Some situations may throw us for a loop. Many of us have faltered around language issues, physical challenges, cognitive disabilities, cultural misunderstandings and more.
We can take steps to prepare ourselves and our organizations to be hospitable in these situations: glean your staff’s wisdom by initiating the discussion; identify gaps in understanding and then research and share information at staff meetings; and take advantage of workshops offered by area agencies.
This week, ONEplace welcomes Allison Hammond (Arcadia Institute) to explore Supporting People with Disabilities in your Organization. Allison will help us discover how we can successfully include people with disabilities as participants, volunteers and employees. Plus she will highlight resources to assess and support our ongoing efforts.
Most of us desire an open and welcoming community. It starts with each of us creating that environment right where we are.
Most of us wouldn't call the holiday season relaxing, especially
for nonprofits with year-end campaigns to run. One way I divert some of the
anxiety that goes along with hectic year-end events is by setting a small, yet
achievable goal with a December 31 deadline. There is something distinctly
satisfying about bringing in the New Year on the heels of a personal
accomplishment. Below are five steps that have helped me set and accomplish my
1. When setting your goal, avoid your Achilles
Heel -- for now. Choose something less intimidating that will also have a
noticeable impact. For example, you might want to limit the time you spend
replying to emails.
2.Select the issue that you can easily measure.
Goals related to thoughts and emotions are tougher; i.e. "I will not
respond rudely to the client who always calls me screaming," is more
difficult to measure than something like "I will thank every client for calling."
3. Say what you will do. It may seem
trite, but words have power. When you mentally tell yourself not to do
something--"I will not let my paperwork pile up"-- it implicitly adds
pressure and negativity to the task at hand. Your goal should be an
action you will take.
4. Ensure accountability. I don't think
setting any goal is the difficult part, but rather, remembering the goal and
sticking to it. My favorite method of accountability is other people. I tell a
couple of close friends about my goal, and when they ask me about it, I can
either share the good news, or thank them for the reminder.
5. Adjust, adjust, adjust. You can't know
how realistic your goal is until you actually try to accomplish it. If eating
lunch away from your desk every day isn't possible, adjust your goal to one
day. Then, go back to step 4 and secure lunch plans with a colleague every
What has been your experience with goal-setting? What's your
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dov Seidman observes that we’re moving into a human economy. Having once been an agrarian economy and then an industrial economy, followed by an information economy, we now are transitioning into a human economy where successful employees leverage their creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit.
Seidman quotes Peter Drucker (Effective Executive, 1967) in support for committing to values and connecting with purpose in the workplace. He describes Drucker as being ahead of his time. I think he was simply more attuned to his people than the flavor of his time.
Successful leaders throughout the 20th century valued the human element. Look at Jim Collins’ list of top CEO’s and you’ll find several who built long-lasting organizations that valued their people more than their profit.
What they recognized is that – be it agrarian, industrial, information or human – each was an economy, i.e., “a system of interaction and exchange.” Regardless of what commodity is being traded, it’s people that perform the interactions and exchanges. It’s people that make any economy tick.
Seidman also points out that the systems are changing. Business and organizational policies and practices are valuing the human element more, and business schools are also attending more to developing so-called “soft skills.”
More and more, institutions are recognizing what many business writers keep claiming: it’s all about relationships. It’s true now, and it has been true for decades. Perhaps mainstream leadership thought is catching up with this.
One of the joys of working at ONEplace is the opportunity to meet and talk with a variety of people: from long-term nonprofit leaders to those incubating start-ups; from seasoned board members to neighborhood advisory councils; from funders sitting on millions of dollars to social entrepreneurs sitting on a single idea. From all these discussions and more, I’ve realized one undeniable fact:
Each person brings a critically important contribution to the discussion.
This is not about asking “Who’s not at the table?” or making sure the discussion includes “representative voices.” This is about recognizing that every discussion is ill-informed because voices will always be missing. It’s also about making the effort to go beyond representative voices and seek out, invite, and create an environment safe enough for each critically important perspective to be raised.
We’re doing this on a few fronts, at ONEplace and in community centers. It takes time – sometimes years – to get acquainted and develop readiness, and then more time to build trust. But, as they say, “In five years it will be 2019 either way, so we might as well start.”
Posing open, honest questions that draw out the diversity of perspectives brings new light to the matter at hand. Just as light from one angle illuminates only part of a structure and casts shadows on other parts, light from many angles removes the shadows and illuminates the whole.
And, when I catch a glimpse of the whole, I realize the specious nature of the phase, “people in need.”
Rather, I desire to participate in the diverse circle which hosts people we need. In this circle, there is no teacher or student, no grantor or grantee, no provider or client. In this circle, each person claims, “There are eyes that see things I don’t see, ears that hear sounds I don’t hear, and hearts that bear burdens I don’t bear.”
Until every light shines, unencumbered, we’re all left in the dark.