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Neuroplasticity

Leader development sits at the core of all our efforts. At ONEplace, we define a leader as someone who takes full responsibility and ownership for his/her role, developing the skills, knowledge, connections and awareness needed to fulfill that role, listens and learns from others, and teaches and shares with others. Or, to put it in a phrase:

Leaders keep learning.

An article in the recent McKinsey Quarterly reminded me of a fascinating, yet disturbing aspect of learning: neuroplasticity. It fascinates me because, thanks to fMRI’s and other imaging techniques, we’re being flooded with new insights and knowledge. It disturbs me because, like many of you, I continue to draw upon concepts of the hardwired brain, left-brain/right-brain preferences, and the fine art of multitasking – all which have been debunked.

Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change its physical structure and functional organization – changed the game.

We now know that the brain rewires itself (makes new neural connections) when we learn new things. This happens at any age. We also know that everyone utilizes both sides of their brains without strict preferences and, in fact, the brain is more active than we previously thought. Further, calming practices (such as mindfulness or meditation) actually generate more brain matter in the executive functioning areas of the brain giving us a greater capacity for complex thinking. Again, this happens at any age.

Recent brain research offers us more and more insights into brain functioning, learning capacity, and so much more. Furthermore, it’s giving us direction in what we can do to keep our minds sharp and nimble (e.g., See Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains). 

All this reminds me of a humbling and challenging notion: knowledge is dynamic.

Facts change. Theories come and go. Best practices become past practices. And radical notions end up being mainstream. The world, with all its varied and wonderful parts, keeps changing. And the good news is: your brain can handle it.

Best,

Thom

P.S. Keep up on brain research and effective brain building practices at SharpBrains.com


Peer Learning Groups for Leader Development

Everyone needs to be a leader…just not in every situation.

Each of us takes the lead at some time. We take the lead in our own lives. Many of us take the lead in our household. At work, we take the lead in the role we’re given to play.

At ONEplace, we define leadership as

  • taking responsibility and ownership of your role(s), which includes 
  • developing the skills, knowledge, connections and awareness needed to fulfill your role(s) 
  • listening and learning from others and
  • teaching and sharing with others

Our Peer Learning Program provides a disciplined, intensive approach to leader development for managers, supervisors, and directors. It’s also perfect for executive leaders of small organizations.

The Peer Learning Group design helps you become more attuned to your strengths and challenges, engage your own insights and wisdom, build a network of supportive connections, and develop coaching skills. It requires commitment, and it delivers much more.

How it works

Peer Learning Groups meet for eight monthly sessions from September through April. The facilitator guides and participates in each session. 

The basic 90’ session agenda includes a brief introduction to the day’s topic, time to explore the topic on your own, focused discussion in pairs, and a full group discussion and resource-sharing. Learning occurs as each participant pursues their own path to effective performance and job satisfaction. Together, we create a welcoming and open space to work on our own leadership issues within the supportive context of colleagues who are doing the same thing.

Within the discussions, we listen carefully and engage our curiosity, imagination, and inspiration through asking open, honest questions. The questions create space for a substantial conversation that doesn’t judge or try to fix but allows each person to find what they need within a confidential environment.

Groups start in September and space is limited. For more information, attend one of our information sessions on Thursday, August 13 or Tuesday, August 18, or contact the ONEplace Director at ThomA@kpl.gov.


Just ONEthing - August 2015

Last week, Michele McGowen and Dale Abbot of the Disability Network of Southwest Michigan presented a Management Track workshop on Creating Accessible Content. During the session, we heard not only the importance of having content accessible via print, screen, and audio, but some how-to helps as well.

Our first thought of accessible content often goes to print – large print or braille. Surprisingly, only 7% of those who are blind or low-vision know braille, so they recommended not running out and getting braille versions of your print materials until you know the need. Also, while “large print” is often defined as 18 point font, it’s good to ask the person requesting accommodation what size font they need.

In fact, asking the person requesting accommodation what would work best for them is often a good idea. For example, while some who identify as blind would like large print, others may prefer electronic versions to use with screen readers.

When working with print, Dale made several basic suggestions: use plain san serif fonts, ensure high contrast of print to background (best is black and white), use color to highlight rather than to communicate importance, and avoid busy backgrounds.

Michele and Dale offered other suggestions relative to print as well as website development, social media, slide presentations, and video captioning. They encouraged organizations to take first or next steps toward inclusion. Include statements such as, “This document is available in alternative format upon request” or “To request an accommodation, contact ___ at ___.” Just be sure you can deliver on what you promise.

Their bottom line was to move toward inclusion, do your best, and learn from your mistakes.

 

Creating Accessible Content was the first of three workshops in our Inclusion Series. Additional workshops include Immigration 101 on August 5 and Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, and Genderqueer: A Workshop for Allies on August 12.


No short cut to great

Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is remembered for leading the Bruins to 10 National Championships in 12 seasons (1964-75) including four undefeated seasons. Do you know how many years he coached the team prior to winning his first championship? Fifteen. With this vignette, Jim Collins makes a key point in Good to Great.

Becoming great is a long-term venture.

He gave other, business-related examples: Gillette, Nucor, Pitney Bowes, and others. While the press and public hailed them as upstarts and newcomers that burst on to the scene, each company’s “overnight success” had taken years to build: focused, slow, and methodical.

In contrast, the comparison companies (that faced the same circumstances but failed to transition to a great company) looked to the next big thing to save the day: the next merger, the next new product, or the next major initiative. As a result, most bounced from one thing to the next, never committing long enough to sink deep roots into their market.

There simply is no short cut to great:

Focused, slow, and methodical – sinking deep roots that will hold the organization in place through high winds and fierce storms; Deep roots that will allow the organization to branch out and sustain new initiatives that are anchored to the core purpose; Deep roots that spread into the underpinnings of the community, contributing to a diverse ecosystem of success.

So, where is your organization headed? You may or may not have a clear, guiding mission or vision. You may or may not have a useful strategic plan. Regardless of what tools you use, you need to know where you’re headed so that each small step builds on the last and prepares for the next.

The tortoise wins the race every time.

Best,

Thom


Do the generous thing

My work grants me the privilege of working with many boards. It’s been great to work with boards involved in food security, the arts, housing, health, the environment, community welfare, and more. One thing continually impresses me about boards of directors:

they are extremely generous people.

Board members give – hugely – of their time, talent, and treasure. Their passion and commitment fill the room with a palpable spirit. When I ask, “What do you love about your organization?” each person beams as they given genuine expression to that spirit. It’s a pleasure to behold.

The same may be said for our area’s executive directors (EDs) as well. With the weight of the organization on their shoulders, EDs give richly of themselves at every turn. To hear one speak openly of their concern and commitment stirs the heart, and to gain insight into the myriad of things they do behind the scenes inspires the soul.

So, it’s painful to see how disconnects between Boards and EDs can rattle an organization.

Everyone plays a part. According to BridgeSpan, BoardSource, and other references, Boards carry the responsibility to “support and evaluate the executive director,” and EDs carry the responsibility to “develop, maintain, and support” the board. When communication fails, that mutual support often shatters into shards of shaky accusations and puzzled disbelief.

All parties end up hurt and disillusioned. It’s very sad.

If you’re feeling even an inkling of this disconnect, then have a meeting and name it. Take the lead and set intentional steps to improve communication. Don’t wait for someone else to act. As seen above, if you’re an ED or a board member, it’s your responsibility.

Not sure how to start? Feeling stuck? Please contact ONEplace before it goes any further. Each day that a problem isn’t addressed adds another degree of difficulty to implementing a solution.

Take the lead. Make the call. It’s the generous thing to do.

Best,

Thom


One nation...indivisible

Emerging from this July Fourth weekend, one phrase sticks with me.

“One nation...indivisible”

We say it in the Pledge of Allegiance as both an aspiration and recognition that, once the debate is done, the votes are tallied, and the commitments are made, we act as one. On the world stage, there is only one USA voice.

This understanding is scalable, too.

It’s true for states, cities, neighborhoods, organizations, boards, senior management teams, departments, and even individuals. Each may puzzle out its myriad of daily routines, acute concerns and seasonal celebrations. Internal debates may rage on, but the entity acts as one.

Leaders know this. 

Leaders occupy seats both in the balcony and on the stage, observing the forest and navigating amongst the trees. They know this about their organizations: presenting unified services to the public while dismantling silos in-house. They know this about their boards and leadership teams: encouraging stakeholders with a focused message while mining productive conflict and encouraging debate inside the conference room. 

They also know this about themselves.

Leaders in any position recognize that we bring all of who we are to every situation. We may separate and compartmentalize our activities, behaviors, concerns, et al to analyze and understand them. Yet, on the ground, where life is lived, we must acknowledge and manage the swirling, indivisible mix of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; choose our path; and move forward. We may understand things in categories, but we function as one.

One nation (one city, one organization, one board, one person), indivisible: it’s how we want it, and it’s how it is.

Best,

Thom


In the moment

In last week’s NEWSletter article I mentioned being on retreat with several of our nonprofit colleagues. We gathered Wednesday evening and worked together through Friday noon, pilot testing a service we’re considering for ONEplace. While I’m still pulling together all that I learned, I can tell you this:

It was a moment for me.

As we entered our time together on Wednesday, I marveled at what I saw. Here I was in a familiar environment. I had been on retreat at this venue several times. And, here I was with people I knew. I had worked with almost everyone there. However, these had been two different worlds for me, and now they were coming together. More than that…

It was a fulfillment of a two-year plan, a two-year vision.

Various strands of activity over the past two years were slowly woven together to arrive at this moment – and the impact hit me square in the chest. Yet, it was different.

I’ve worked on long-term projects before. In a previous job, I led a four-year effort that culminated in five regional conferences at sites all across the country. I recall the moment when we closed the fifth conference and headed for the airport. It was a sense of completion, achievement, and success. 

While holding a sense of fulfillment, this recent moment pointed more to the future than the past. It was like finally cresting the hill to see the green valley below. Yes, we made it up the hill, and now the fun work begins.

So, I offer my thanks to those who participated in the retreat and to those supervisors and colleagues who supported their participation. It was a moment to treasure.

And, we’ve only just begun.

Best,

Thom


The power of coffee

“I’m having coffee with….”

How often do you say that? Monthly? Every other week? Weekly? More?

Having coffee, tea, lunch, a drink, etc. with a nonprofit colleague means you’re making connections, and these connections energize your work and your organization.

Even if the conversation is purely social, you’re deepening your relationship. This makes it more likely that you’ll pick up the phone and call this person when you need to sound out an idea or concern. You’ll also be on each other’s radars when a future conversation touches on an issue or opportunity of mutual interest.

The idea of “building your network” sometimes gets a slimy reputation when it’s seen as serving one’s own interests and careers. Don’t throw out the proverbial toddler with the mud puddle! Developing relationships across the nonprofit sector, and especially your particular corner of the sector, is critical to your organization’s impact and your cause’s success.

The ROI on relationship building is huge and…better yet…it compounds. Don’t believe me? Not sure where to start? Ask me to coffee and I’ll explain it…ask nicely and I’ll buy.

Best,

Thom


Courage to Lead

When this email arrives in your inbox, I’ll be on retreat with a several others. Called Courage to Lead, this retreat creates space for each person to relax, rest, and listen to the quiet voice of their own wisdom.

I cherish these times.

For the past two years, I’ve been on retreat at least once every quarter. It’s an opportunity to declutter, recharge, and reconnect with what’s important. It helps me align my deeply held values with my actions and activities…to merge soul and role.

It’s also something I can carry with me. The retreat works on the principles of the Circle of Trust as developed by the Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle. These principles (e.g., extend hospitality, listen deeply, ask open honest questions, maintain confidentiality) can be carried and practiced outside the retreat center – in the home, in the workplace…anywhere. And yet...

their power is greatest on retreat – in a community of solitudes.

You know this. You’ve experienced the synergy of several people working together. Each has his/her own unique task or challenge, but the energy of everyone doing their work creates a spirit that motivates and sustains. It’s awesome and invigorating.

This week’s retreat is a pilot for ONEplace. We’ll evaluate the experience and plan how to move forward from here. I anticipate other Courage & Renewal experiences to come through ONEplace in the near future. 

Stay tuned.


Just ONEthing - July 2015

Last week, Tamela Spicer (The Intentional Catalyst) presented a Management Track workshop on Event Management. During the session, we dissected the finer points of holding a fundraising event. Here are a few points to consider.

First, it’s all in the planning. My experience with nonprofits (and everyone else) is that we commonly don’t think through the details before taking on a new project. Tamela supported that opinion and advocated detailed planning (don’t forget the post-event follow-ups in the plan) and document everything as you work the plan. It helps track this event and plan for the next one.

A second key to success is making sure your volunteers have a great experience…a Wow! experience. This is respect and good hospitality for the volunteers, and it’s a great investment in building your reputation. Give them a great answer to the inevitable question, “How’d it go?” If this is done well, then recruiting volunteers for the next event will be that much easier.

One more highlight: make sure your event shows your core purpose. It can be popular and fun, but if people don’t know what they’re supporting then you’ve done little to connect with that donor.

And a final word: don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. If you meet all your goals, you may have planned too easy.