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#LeaveItIn2015

During holiday break last December, the hashtag #LeaveItIn2015 trended briefly on Twitter. I enjoyed scrolling through my timeline as people used it to discourage certain conversations in the New Year, like talking about over-hyped bands and Presidential debate hot takes. Then I noticed that one of my favorite health and wellness bloggers was using it to list personal habits that she feels are stifling her self-development. Since I have found great success in naming and claiming personal goals, I want to do the same. The following are the habits of mind and behavior that I plan to leave behind.

 

               Formation Still by Parkwood Ent used under CC 2.0 


Waiting for the perfect time to act

 I am very upfront about my Type A personality, which has undoubtedly helped me accomplish my goals. The thing about being a perfectionist, though, is that you are less apt to take risks. I'm likely to do hours of tedious research and planning before making a decision because failure is not an option. Now I understand that failure is natural, and waiting around could mean missing a great opportunity. This year I vow to have more faith in myself and simply wait for preparedness, not perfection. Then I can grind and focus on my target.

 

 Letting someone else's opinions set my limits

One of the hardest lessons I've learned since graduating is that people might like you or respect you, but they may not believe in or invest in your talent. I have been hurt in the past because people I look up to have not given me opportunities to excel. No more. Half the time, someone's doubts aren't about you, but rather a general impression based on where you grew up, went to school, who you date, or how you dress. This year I'm going to focus on being someone that I can be proud of above all else.

 

 Going it alone 

Working independently is typically my modus operandi, but I'm learning that it's not necessarily the most efficient or productive way to get things done. In fact, burnout happens when I am doing precisely too much, completely alone. I have come to terms with the fact that I truly find joy when working in formation with a determined collective towards a shared goal. It makes success more tangible and enjoyable once you cross the finish line.

 

 Underestimating bad energy

As an empath, energy, or the "vibes" in a given environment, determines how comfortable I feel. If I sense negative or nasty energy, it clings to me like a veil, and I have found that it even alters my thoughts. With that knowledge I have decided to avoid negative energy when I can, and when I can't, to do my best to be positive and remain gracious. I expect mindfulness will be a big help with this.

 

I'm very excited about this list because it gives me a context for goal-setting this year. What things would you have in your #LeaveItIn2015?


Expectations and feedback

His total playing time added up to less than a minute, and virtually every second he was on the field, he was the center of attention. Yet, Denver Bronco’s kicker Brandon McManus – who scored 10 of the team’s 24 points – was hardly mentioned in the postgame discussions and gave few, if any, locker room interviews. Why?

With kickers, “successes are largely expected and failures magnified.”

Do you ever feel like that? You strive to stay current. You prepare for countless hours. You go through draft after draft of the plan or presentation. And when it’s all said and done, only the mistakes and missteps get discussed.

While we assess our own performance, feedback from colleagues and managers carries great weight. For most of us, feedback is scarce, and we tend to hang on to the critical and the negative. The latest statistic I’ve seen says that it takes eight positive comments to balance out one negative comment.

And, the occasional nod is not feedback.

When recently asked about their offensive players, the often-interviewed quarterback Peyton Manning named McManus and Colquitt (punter) as “two of our best.” That’s similar to the boss saying, “good job” to you in a staff meeting and thanking everyone for their hard work. It’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not feedback.

Feedback is specific. It references previously set goals or expectations. And it allows room for people to develop.

People need space to develop. After struggling for two years to make it in the NFL, McManus finally earned the kicking job last fall. He went 30 for 35 for the regular season and was a perfect 10 for 10 in the playoffs. Even so, he was working with his coach last week to adjust his kicking stride, “a seemingly minute change that can be a significant one in a craft where inches matter.”

Professional development, like football, is a game of inches – a nudge here, an adjustment there.

How are you helping your staff to develop? How are you addressing your own professional development? If you’re stuck or not sure where to turn, ONEplace can help. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Best,

Thom

Quotes are from Sacramento Bee


Just ONEthing - Feb 2016

Three times a year, ONEplace hosts a gathering of our Consultants and Trainers Network – area professionals that work with nonprofits. During each gathering, we check-in with each other and discuss the underlying issues related to nonprofit operations, management, and leadership.

Our recent gathering took a deep dive into the question, “What drives an organization, and what difference does it make?” This was not a philosophical question but one of observation and assessment. We wanted to get a read on what’s happening in the field. Three themes emerged in the discussion.

First, we tend the follow the path we’re on. This was expressed as tradition, the status quo, going down the same tunnel, fear of change, or even as an object in motion stays in motion. While organizations are consistent, they may lose sight of other options or become risk averse.

Second, we’re bound by a common cause. While most organizations have a mission statement, this point gets to a more personal connection to the cause, such as all have a family member who suffers from the same disease or endured a similar experience. Being close to the cause elicits deep engagement, and it may cloud understanding relative to fundraising or community engagement barriers.

Third, the organization will rise and fall with leadership. Organizational success often is determined by how the Board and Executive Director partnership lead the organization. The organization thrives when the board conversation revolves around impact, and it falters when the board conversation delves into operational concerns.

We acknowledged the fact that organizations are always communicating a message – whether intentional or not. Being deliberate about that message and mission creates clarity internally as well as external consistency.


Coffee with Don Nitz

This month we sat down with Don Nitz, CEO at Lakeside Academy. With nearly five decades of experience, Don reflects on the people and events that have most influenced his career, and the lessons they taught him.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I’ve had a wonderful career – working with kids for 45 years. I started employment in 1970 with Kalamazoo County as an attendant at the Juvenile Home. Over the next few years, I was a Caseworker/Probation Officer, a Supervisor, and Assistant Court Administrator. In 1984, I accepted the position of Superintendent of the Juvenile Home and was asked to clean it up. I fell in love with the place, and we were able to bring the agency to one of the tops in the state. I served Superintendent until I retired in 2003. Funny thing – as I retired from the position, I was asked to re-apply for it. So I was rehired as Superintendent for another two years which allowed me time to finish up some loose ends. I was asked to consult with the Lakeside Academy in 2004, and I joined their board in 2005. I became Executive Director of Lakeside in 2006 and then CEO in 2007 – the position I hold today. 

In my work, I always focused on systems – revisiting why we’re doing what we’re doing. I look to improve the service delivery by improving the systems and processes. As one system changes, it has ripple effects throughout the organization. I got this from my Dad – he like working puzzles.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community? 

I’m a promoter of revolution. I enjoy looking down the road to see where new ideas and initiatives will take us, and ask, “Is that where we want to be?” So, Kalamazoo is a great fit for me. It’s a city that provides people the opportunity to think big, try new ideas, pick themselves up when ideas fail, and enjoy the ones that work. It’s in our communal DNA. I stay here because Kalamazoo is constantly working on its brand, maintaining its core, and keeping it a wonderful place to live. In addition, Kalamazoo has a strong downtown, arts, family-oriented, higher education institutions, great size, ease in getting around, surrounding agricultural and recreational areas, wonderful people and friendships. The community allows individuals to become involved in living their passions.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

The primary guiding principle has always been to ask, “What is best for the kids and their families?” Related to that, I share with staff, “If your son or daughter was here, how would you want them to be treated?” Sometimes, adhering to my principles meant putting my job on the line – doing what was right rather than following the rules. In fact, a judge actually fired and rehired me twice in the same day! Oh, I also keep in mind that, in addition to skill development and learning, success takes a lot of pure luck.

I developed a personal mission statement around 1994, and it stays before me to this day. It’s a series of principles influenced by my parents: Be fair with others; Honor my parents; Appreciate the wonders of nature and protect it; Advocate for the underdog; Maintain a high physical regimen; Nourish the spiritual inner self; Prepare mentally for a positive departure (death); Let determination and perseverance rule; Give back more than I take from this world; Accept my deficits and tolerate those in others; Leave no financial or emotional debt for others; Practice the development of new life skills and knowledge; Live a clean, orderly lifestyle; Never lose sight of the vision on how the world could be; Allow my sense of adventure and curiosity emerge, to seek personal fulfillment; and Crave learning and gaining knowledge.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

First, my parents were great influences. Both had 8th grade educations and worked hard for low wages. They valued a strong family, open-mindedness, taking in others in need, and being fair. They taught me about social justice and working hard, and they always said, “You WILL go to college.” Among all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, only my siblings and I went to college because of my parents’ encouragement.

Harold Dyer, Court Administrator, also was a mentor to me. He took me into his administrative domain and taught me the rigors of politics, administrative struggles, human resources, and the importance of staying focused on end results. He made my career!

What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

The Peace Corps changed my life at a young age. Living outside the USA opened my eyes to the many terrible things my country was doing around the world. Living in a mud house without toilets, running water, or electronics, relationships and daily survival were the common foundation for living. This made me question the USA model.

Another learning moment came in Kalamazoo when I was asked by a Chief Judge to clean up our Juvenile Home after numerous serious problems were discovered. After becoming Superintendent, I developed a 3-year plan for functional changes and never met my goal. To be successful, I needed to functionally change my approach and relationships with all other staff members before changing the system. This was a real “aha” moment that carried my career.

What’s an average day like for you at work?

At Lakeside, the executive director handles the organization, so for me, an average day is pretty low key: licensing, accreditation, audits, legislation watch, requests from prior students, consulting with peers and talking with students. It’s a big change from my days at the Juvenile Home where I was working 50-60 hour weeks.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

My greatest challenge at Lakeside was in 2006-07 when trying to save the agency and convince the Board members that “we could be a national model.” We faced the challenge and went from worst to first in Michigan as a residential treatment facility. It took many sleepless nights to get there. Today, our biggest challenge is educating our community on the outstanding work we do with our students and the sustainable health of the agency. It is slowly coming around.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I constantly keep my ear to the ground: legislative searches, talking with similar agencies, being a member of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families, and receiving updates on state and federal policy and legislative decisions. I chair the local DHHS Board of Trustees overseeing the local operations and I’m a member of the Michigan County Social Services Association. MCSSA keeps a finger on the pulse of Lansing policy and legislation, and it offers opportunities to discuss program needs and immediate citizen issues at any age.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Most of all, know who you are. Challenge yourself to be your best. Overcome competitiveness, defensiveness, and ego. Be forward thinking and fresh.

On the content side, understand the politics of your board and where each member stands on their view of the agency. Be inclusive in idea sharing and decision making. Also, understand organizational finance: budgets, audits, balance sheets, and fiscal health for the agency. 

I’ve found that the really fun side of living is talking with people and getting to know so many good people. The greatest joy in work is having an idea, sharing it, and watching it develop. That only happens in relationships.

What hobbies or outside interests do you enjoy?

I enjoy hiking, biking, golf, running, swimming, tabata training, weight training, yoga, pilates, gardening, cross country skiing, reading, international travel, college sports, Rotary, and family.

One more thing

I started a physical regimen in 1972, and it has been an integral part of my lifestyle all through the years. It’s worked well for me, and I’m grateful for it. Too many sacrifice health for work, and it’s not something that you can buy back. You must start early and maintain it.


Self determination

One day, long ago, my 4 year old son was crying. He was frustrated, angry, uncomfortable, or whatever – he was crying. In my wisdom, I offered him this solution…then that…then this…then that. No success. So I went back to the first “this.” Why? All my best data and experience convinced me that this is what he wanted…what he needed. He cried louder, his whatevers all in a twist. Then, having exhausted the taller, wiser parent approach, I tried this:

I sat with him, put all of my good ideas aside, and asked him, “What’s wrong? What do you need?”

Recently I read the January 2016 installment of Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE) – TDCE is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free. It’s often manifested in community-wide efforts that eventually falter under the weight of convening fatigue, a series of false starts, and no dedicated personnel.

Unfortunately(?) I followed the TDCE post with a scholarly article from a national institute staffer who had his “spirit awakened” by a renewed effort by his network of partner organizations to “step up our ambition, performance, and leadership as a national backbone organization.” (Release the Trickle!)

To add salt to the wound, all of this came on the heels of participating in a board meeting in which a list of “gaps” were circulated and discussed followed by a list “ways to fill the gaps” – a list which had no connection to the previous list of gaps. The proposed “ways” came from persons removed from the problems and included a lot of wonky language that didn’t make clear what specific action(s) could be taken.

(sigh)

When do we include the voice of the people being served and the staff who directly perform those services? 

When I worked in a large, multi-building organization in Chicago area, there were managers spending time in meeting after meeting developing policies and procedures to guide the work of people not in the room. These initiatives failed every time. When the managers asked those doing the work to propose policies and procedures to improve their work and job satisfaction, an effective solution was found in half the time. And the buy-in was 100%!

Self-determination goes a long way.

Our motivations and intentions are good, and we need to study all the evidence, data, and best practices. It’s important. Equally important is to sit down with those most affected, set our good ideas aside, and ask: “What’s wrong? What do you need?”

Best,

Thom


Reflections on Creating Change

With the success of last year’s Inclusion Series, I started 2016 excited to plan our next installment. Conversations about equity and inclusion are happening all over the country, everywhere from the world of literature to Hollywood. Being a part of that zeitgeist, and bringing practical tools to the nonprofit sector here in Kalamazoo is a great privilege.

 Photo by @thetaskforce Twitter used under CC 2.0
 

I took that energy to Creating Change, a conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, this year held in Chicago. Over 4,000 organizers, activists, and social justice allies came together for workshops and institutes concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. I attended just three out of the five days of Creating Change, and can’t quite believe how much I learned in such a short period. Here a few of the biggest lessons I took from the conference.

 

1.      Lean into – not away from – discomfort. One awesome panel that focused on the experiences of queer racial justice activists encouraged the participants to expect discomfort, and embrace that. The moderator noted that turning away or shutting down due to uncomfortable feelings or truths can be a major barrier to advancing important conversations.

2.      Don’t do for, do with. One very serious, heartfelt panel about the crisis of HIV in young Black American queer men focused on how realities specific to the African American community, such as religiosity, are exacerbating the issue of HIV transmission rates. The moderator noted that because these issues are entrenched, health organizations would do well to work with communities rather than dictating terms on how to lower infection rates.

3.      Visions of justice tomorrow may not look like yesterday’s. During the State of the Movement address, one of the Task Force staff members noted that it was the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, guaranteeing women the right to choose. That staffer further explained that while that event is an important one for reproductive justice, there is still much work to do to guarantee access to good healthcare for all, particularly the trans*, disabled and undocumented communities.

 

Creating Change was an excellent opportunity to illuminate how so many different things so essential to a fulfilling and productive life – secure housing, a good education, a safe work environment – must not be taken for granted. I am excited to use this new information as we plan for the 2016 Inclusion Series. And, if you have ideas of what you’d like to see addressed in the series this year, please email us.


No fear

I dreaded making the call. Every time I talked with this woman – the Treasurer of the New England area, based in Boston – she was short, direct, and seemed angry. Overall, she seemed pleased with our work, but I always felt put on the spot or called on the carpet when we spoke. Then, one day, I met her, and from that day,

I never again hesitated to call. In fact, I looked forward to speaking with her.

This happened early in my career when all correspondence was by letter, phone call or face-to-face – no email, text, or Facebook. I learned from my overly blunt colleague and from many others that no strong, working relationship can develop without face-to-face meetings. Email, phone, et al can maintain relationships. However, establishing or developing effective collegial relationships requires face-to-face meetings.

Everyone has experienced this. A lack of nonverbal cues leads to misinterpreted emphasis or tone of voice. And many a joke has gone astray because the reader wasn’t in the right frame of mind to receive our attempted jocularity (ouch!).

Few dispute what I’m writing. Indeed, article after article support the need for building and deepening relationships with colleagues, subordinates, board members and customers through face-to-face meetings. And yet, we do so little of it. Why? Most say this:

“I don’t have the time,” which is simply another way to say, “I don’t make it a priority.” 

From my chair, I can tell you this: those who make relationship building a priority are better supervisors, have functional boards, do effective board and volunteer recruitment, have loyal donors, develop an excellent reputation, and work cooperatively with other businesses and organizations. 

In other words, their investment in getting to know people creates efficiencies and builds effectiveness throughout their organizations. Indeed, strong working relationships increase capacity, saving time and money.

Electronic communication (email, social media) is disaffected connection – information exchange without feeling or subjective experience. It plays an important role in our workday, but it will never replace that which is required to do excellent work – real human connection.

So, have no dread, no fear. Before the day is out, arrange to meet a colleague, board member, or loyal donor for coffee or lunch…just because…just because working with people rather than beside people will transform your organization.

Best,

Thom


No surprises

I hear it too often. The executive director brings a report to the board. The executive committee announces a decision it’s made. A committee chair proposes an initiative. A board member declares a public position taken. And, when any one of these occurs, the rest of the board is caught off-guard – total surprise incredulity, shock.

It shouldn’t happen.

Several months ago when asked by a new board chair for advice, the first thing that came to mind was “No surprises – especially with the executive director.” Everyone takes their cue from the top, and the relationship between the board chair and executive director – be it positive or negative – sets the tone for the organization. So, it’s to everyone’s benefit for these two to keep in regular, open, and honest communication.

This relationship models “standard operating procedure” for everyone else and it can be leveraged. Taking time to explain how, for example, there is a formal schedule of weekly phone meetings and monthly face-to-face meetings (in addition to email conversations) lets other members know the expectation. It set the bar. It also may increase their confidence in board leadership.

I raise this issue because surprises happen, often with devastating, long-term effects on the organization.

A board culture that allows surprises to occur, implicitly allows speculation, sidebars in the parking lot, and divisive cliques. A few years ago, I sat in a task force meeting where this was happening – “we-they” language was being used about the “nay-sayers” in the organization. I immediately said, “Stop it! We are one organization and cannot allow ourselves to be divided.” We then took time to discuss the merits and respectful intent behind the position held by “they.”

When surprises – or other potentially divisive practices – occur, someone has to interrupt the proceeding, name it, and call an end to it. Everyone knows its poor practice, but it must to be spoken to break the unspoken agreement that allows it to go on.

If you’re nodding right now (literally or figuratively), then that someone is you – take the lead.


Taking Time to Reflect

I don't have to tell you that December is a very full month. You can probably relate to the mad dash to get gifts and prepare for family gatherings. I am also hyper-aware that I want to make the most of the last month of the year. But unlike the fall, where I focused on productivity, this month I am thinking more about reflection. During these last few weeks before the New Year, I am thinking about where I've been, and where I would like to go. Introspection is an important part of learning from mistakes, and perhaps most importantly, setting a new vision for the future.

 Image by thingsorganizedneatly.tumblr.com, 3/4/15, used under CC 2.0

Here are a few different modes of reflection I have used for personal growth:

Learning from my "shadow" self. One frustrating thing I've encountered is continuing to see weaknesses in certain areas of life. Learning about the "shadow" self, the negative parts of ourselves that we are usually completely unconscious of, allowed me a window into those weaknesses. See this article for a revealing exercise on the shadow, and how to move past those negative behaviors.

Journal. I've always felt that I am a bad journaler because I don't do it every day. Nevertheless, studies show that those who journal display better work performance than those who don't. You can use your journal as an emotional outlet, or even as a way to remember the positive things when you're having a particularly rough day, week, or month.

Meditation. I mentioned in a previous post that meditation keeps me grounded, but plenty of research touts the health benefits of meditating. And while it certainly can seem difficult, it should be relaxing. If you're a true beginner, I recommend the guided meditations on Chopra Center. Find somewhere quiet to sit, dim the lights a bit, and simply listen to the speaker.

 

However you spend this month, I hope you are happy, healthy, and fulfilled.


Management Track to stay on track

Many nonprofit staff supervise others, manage programs, or both. Acquiring and honing management skills form a continuous process and a cornerstone of organizational effectiveness.

Our ONEplace Management Track workshop series addresses basic management skill development needs. Almost every month, we offer a Management Track series focused on skills critical to your success.

For example, we recently held our Supervision Series (Sep), Fundraising Series (Oct), and Operations Series (Nov). In the coming months, we’ll offer a Better Board Series (Jan), Volunteer Management Series (Feb), and more.

Spending valuable time on professional development is essential to your career growth and your organization's development. By scheduling Management Track workshops further in advance, you can better plan and coordinate your professional development activities and get dates on your calendar.

Plus, we encourage Management Track workshops as preparation for (and follow-up to) a Leader Academy experience.

Your professional development is in your hands. Plan now to make 2016 a growing year (visit our calendar).