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Developing Resolute-Humble Leaders

I recently heard of an individual who was promoted to a leadership position from within his organization. When the email hit everyone’s inbox, staff spontaneously celebrated with him. The vibrancy of the conversation communicated an esprit de corps felt by all. They knew he deserved it, and they felt good about the organization because of it.

Unfortunately, this is more the exception than the rule.

For over a decade, The Bridgespan Group has conducted research on nonprofit leadership, and they report that, despite volumes of articles and discussions about the need for organizations to develop their own staff, too many nonprofits do not grow their own leadership. The result is a “leadership development deficit” and an ever-present worry about leader succession.

Another result is that we’re losing our leaders. When ONEplace began, there was a concern about Baby Boomer retirements leaving a gap in leadership. However, researchers report that less than half of those leaders leaving their positions are doing so because of retirement. Many leave due to a lack of support for their learning and growth.

When we cut our professional development, we bleed out leaders.

Last October, I wrote about ONEplace’s move to encourage the development of Resolute-Humble Leaders (read post). As we continue down that path, it’s becoming clearer that what we’re taking on is less like a program focus and more akin to a movement.

As we move into and through spring, ONEplace will be facing the challenge of how to reverse the trend toward effectively supporting and developing leaders. I suspect that it will involve conversations with many of you.

I look forward to it.

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.



Hurry up and wait

As we approach the end of the year, two things commonly happen – we rush through last minute holiday details and we pause to reflect on the past year. It’s a holiday twist on “hurry up and wait.”

Of course, some last minute activities cannot be avoided. It seems that every event, project, and multi-faceted effort involves last minute details. We anticipate them, plan for them, and then crank ‘em out. These “hurry up” tasks simply cannot be done any earlier. 

The “wait” tasks – often weightier, developmental activities that take time and long-term commitment – cannot be so quickly cranked out. These demand top priority, our first and best energy, and regular time on our calendar.

I’m talking about the kind of activities that populate Stephen Covey’s Important-Not Urgent quadrant. They bring vision and perspective. They develop balance, discipline, and self-control. 

In summarizing these, Covey writes

What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life? Quadrant II activities have that kind of impact. Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps when we do them. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, pg. 154)

So, how would you answer Covey’s question? Or, in the spirit of the season, try this: instead of looking forward, first take a look back. What, during this past year or in previous years, have you done on a regular basis that made a tremendous positive difference in your life? Name your success, celebrate it, and learn from it. And then look ahead and see how you can build on it.

That’s taking the long view – small, consistent steps over a long period of time. It’s the key to great board development, great fundraising, great public relations, great programs…indeed, it’s the key to being great.



Conscious choice and discipline

In his book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins compares companies within the same industry, during the same time period, facing the same challenges. The great companies excelled and maintained their excellence over 15 years. The comparison companies faltered. He sums up the difference in a phrase:

Conscious choice and discipline.

Since I first learned this phrase, I’ve stumbled upon it on many occasions and in a variety of settings. I don’t hear the phrase spoken or see it written; rather, the phrase pops into mind as I observe what’s before me. Be it a child with schoolwork, challenged parents, determined youth, engaged employee, recent retiree, etc., excellence stems from sincere commitment and unwavering discipline.

Not that any one person exercises this winning combination in all aspects of life. Instead, I observe that almost everyone exercises sincere commitment and unwavering discipline in some aspect of life. That is, most of us have access to this experience, its impact, its benefits. And that is an experience we can draw upon.

So, where do you invest sincere commitment and unwavering discipline? 

It may be as simple as how you organize the clothes in your closet or care for a single, potted plant. Whatever it is, examine how this experience serves you, how it makes you feel, how it makes you whole.

Let the “small wins” teach and motivate you to take on the next thing. You know can do it. Indeed, you’ve already done it.



Just ONEthing - Nov 2015

How would you like to work less, feel better, and be more productive? Over this past month, several presentations and discussions pointed to an almost magical idea that would do all three:

Devote time to self-care.

The standard excuse of “I’m too busy” is characterized by one presenter as another way of saying, “I’m too lazy.” Busy becomes lazy, when we take on too many things outside our core priorities, don’t draw healthy boundaries, and do-it-yourself rather than delegate. We put ourselves and our organizations at risk by burning up and burning out to better our organizations and services.

Beth Kanter (The Networked Nonprofit) is working on a new book focusing on “impact without burnout.” Faced with dire warnings from her doctor, she changed her habits and not only feels better but is much more productive than when she worked longer hours.

A driven workaholic, Kanter framed self-care as “part of her work” to make spending time on self-care more palatable. As a result, she feels better, “works” fewer hours, is more productive, and produces higher quality work.

Bottom line: If you’re healthy and rested, the quantity and quality of your work will improve.

Time to raise some money

Fall events, Giving Tuesday, and year-end fundraising loom large on our fall calendars. The clock is ticking! As we look to the appeal letters, email blasts, and invitations, the question always is: how do we make our message stand out?

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in helping our audience connect with our organization. We get concerned with being unique or innovative and we miss the fundamentals. 

As you prepare your communications, here is a checklist to promote connection:

Be donor-centered. People connect with people who are interested in them and share a common cause. If you only talk about your organization, it’s a sure turn-off.

Clarify your target audience. Sure, you want anyone and everyone to donate, but if all are invited then no one is welcomed. Identify the group(s) that value you most, understand their challenges and goals, and target the appeal to them. Have two or three versions if necessary to target different groups.

Evoke emotion. At the heart of connection is emotion. The images, stories, and language you use should evoke the emotion that’s right for the situation. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Take a stand. How does your organization’s compelling mission make a difference right now? Put your position out there and demonstrate that you’re not just another good thing to have around but a leading player in positive change.

Engage your audience. How are you connecting directly with your target audience(s) beyond the emails and appeals? Finding ways to listen to and speak with your audience – especially key influencers – geometrically increase the effectiveness of the ask.

Finally, be patient. I know that you need money now. You’ll also need money three years from now and five years from now. Building a loyal donor base takes time, so do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the long-term development of your donor base while caring for short-term needs.



Inspire yourself - inspire others

Do you remember the last great talk you heard? What was the key message? What are you doing differently because of it? When was the last time the inspiring speaker was you?

After all the listening, discussing, researching, mulling, testing, debating, and refining, we eventually set forth an innovative insight, a compelling vision, or a strategic direction that must be shared. That’s why leaders speak.

To champion a cause or idea, to cast a vision, or to inspire action, leaders speak. They speak in staff meetings and board meetings, in small conversations and informal settings, to volunteer auxiliaries and service clubs. Leaders are often called upon to speak. But, here’s the rub: 

If you’re not inspired by your message, you will not inspire others.

How do you know if you’re inspired? First, you’re absorbed in your topic. “When you’re passionate about your topic – obsessively so – the energy and enthusiasm you display will rub off on your listeners,” (Talk Like TED).

You also know your topic – inside and out. You’ve worked through the complexities and arrived at the simplicity beyond the complexity. You can state your core message clearly and succinctly (e.g., it fits in a Tweet) while understanding its depth and nuance. You know your stuff, so you easily tailor your message to a variety of audiences using stories and examples relevant to their specific situations.

Finally, you’re continually learning and refining – never tiring of the message. If you’re inspired by your message, then every time you speak on the topic or engage a discussion, you’re stoked by what you’ve learned and you strengthen your resolve.

Leaders speak. Great leaders speak well, and they motivate themselves and others into action.

Of course, as in most areas of leadership, it takes work – continual improvement. As Darwin Smith, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark said, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

ONEplace Leader Development

 “In the end, we realize that leadership develop is ultimately self-development.”

This quote from the Leadership Challenge (now in its 5th edition) names what’s at the core of our leader development efforts. Each of us brings all of who we are to every situation. While some aspects may be on the front burner and others more near the back, every pot is on the stove. If a back burner pot boils over, it impacts the entire stove top.

While skill development and content knowledge play a critical role in leadership, self-development occupies at least 50% of the pie chart. Skills and knowledge must be continually developed. Yet, self-development provides the fortitude, resilience and chutzpah to put the skills and knowledge into use. 

By identifying our strengths, acknowledging our deficits, engaging our passions, and facing our fears, we find the courage to take a position, admit our mistakes, and initiate the tough conversation. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable because we’ve developed the interior stability and wisdom to take it.

At ONEplace we’ve been providing skill development and knowledge building workshops and series. This fall, we’re taking the next big step and implementing programs that directly address self-development. 

Peer Learning Groups 

Groups meet monthly for 90 minutes over an eight-month period (Sept – April). At each session, you focus, without distraction, on what matters to you: your values and vision, your challenges and fears. You’ll gain greater access to your own wisdom. You’ll connect with others who listen to and encourage each other, and honor each other’s differences. (more)


This self-guided program recognizes that we bring all of who we are to every situation. LIFEwork draws together easy-to-understand concepts and intuitive practices so you can focus your energy on the single challenge of developing new, healthier habits. Support is offered (not required) through social media connections and quarterly day-long retreats. (more)

Like the famed tortoise, progress is achieved in small, slow steps over a long period of time. It requires commitment because it’s more a lifestyle than a program. ONEplace is here to encourage and equip you on this path.


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.



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

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.