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leaders

The Phrase That Effective Leaders Never Say

Hint: It’s not “This is how we’ve always done it!” But it is another poor excuse for avoiding necessary change.

We all know that “This is how we’ve always done it” is an infamous kiss of death mindset for organizations. But today, there’s one sentence that might even be worse when we take into account the connected, information-accessible world in which we live. Today’s “Fast Facts” video highlights this deceptive phrase and talks about why it is so dangerous.

Nobody likes click-bait, and I 49% apologize for deploying it. That said, it is worth taking a time-out to think about this phrase, how often it is said, and what is really happening when leaders say it. 

Seth Godin said, “The best way to thrive in a world that’s changing is to change.” But for cultural organizations to truly embrace change in our new world of data and connectivity, there’s one sentence that we all need to stop saying – and the reasons why are similar to the reasons why “This is how we’ve always done it” is dangerous. Here are three reasons why this phrase (revealed in the video and at the bottom of this post) is dangerous for organizations:

 

1) This phrase is used to avoid thinking critically about audiences and strategic operations

Today, connectivity is king. When leaders say this sentence, they are usually denying trends and market data that may prove beneficial for the leader’s organization. Having access to large-scale market data can be a terrific benefit for organizations today. It helps us figure out what the market actually wants and thinks. So when a leader uses this phrase as an excuse to write off trend data, then the leader is robbing his or her organization of an opportunity to think critically about its own audiences.

Another reason why people say this phrase is to get out of doing their job. It can be used to dodge responsibility and volley accountability to other leaders or departments. However, some of the most important duties within organizations are intertwined today, and they are everybody’s job. Essentially, this phrase can simply mean, “I am lazy.”

 

2) This phrase is an indicator that a leader is not open to change

The second reason why this phrase is dangerous is because it’s usually said by someone who thinks that they are open-minded to change…they’re just not open to the idea of change being discussed. (Often, this is because the idea of change being discussed is difficult for the leader to implement – or may even suggest a poor previous strategy or act by the leader.) This phrase seems to be a sign that a leader is trying to “will away” trends and deny the direction in which the world is moving.

Consider this: In 2012, more photos were taken than any prior year of human history. It was also the year that Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I wonder how many times executives saw digital photos on the horizon and defensively stated this phrase.

 

3) This phrase tends to be said by the very leaders whose institutions need it NOT to be said

Lastly – and unsurprisingly – this phrase is dangerous because it tends to be said by leaders of the very organizations that need to learn something from trend data (or something else) most urgently.

A big reason why we tend to use this phrase is because many are still using internal perspectives rather than market perspectives, and thus thinking about their organizations from a point of view that doesn’t truly exist for our target audiences. For example, leaning on nonprofit status is a bad excuse to deny data, because we know that the market is generally sector agnostic. How well you execute your mission is more important than your tax status, and, today, businesses are highlighting public service as well.

 

So, what is the phrase?

The most dangerous phrase

There is usually a lesson – and it’s generally worth considering, regardless of the situation. In order to change, organizations need leaders who are open to change. And people who are open to change don’t say, “That doesn’t apply to me.” They ask themselves how it does apply to them and what they can learn from a finding. Here’s why:

Leaders seek lessons

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for more fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Phrase That Effective Leaders Never Say

How Social Media Transforms us From Managers into Leaders

While traditional business literature has identified an aching for leadership qualities in business and government positions, we’ve all come together to exchange ideas in the last few years- likely making traditional leadership qualities more obtainable than ever before.

Ask any MPA or MBA student about the staple literature for every organizational management course they’ve taken and you’ll likely see their eyes grow dull as they recall Abraham Zaleznik’s 1992 Harvard Business Review article, Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? They will grumble the opening words, “What is the ideal way to develop leadership?…” If you haven’t read the article, it outlines mutually exclusive and contrasting qualities of leaders and managers. And if you haven’t taken a class in which the article was highlighted, the first question seemingly every professor asks is, “Which one are you? A manager or a leader?

Here’s the answer: Thanks in part to the social revolution, we are (increasingly) both.

Here’s how managers and leaders measure up, according to Zaleznik’s famous article:

According to Abraham Zaleznik's HBR article "Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?" Managers have less than desirable qualities and leaders are rare.

And here’s how social media and current trends are melding us into leaders:

1) Leaders change what’s possible- and thanks to new technologies, we all have an opportunity to do this.  Zaleznik draws a strict differentiation between a manager and a leader’s attitude toward goals.  For managers, goals arise out of necessities, not desires. Leaders, however, “change how people think about what’s desirable and possible.” Social technologies are increasingly altering the way we communicate, and– in many cases– the ways to use social technologies have not yet been perfected. This provides an incredible avenue for potential leadership, especially for tech-savvy and still-unproven members of Generation Y. Things are changing. Social networks are now hitting more than 50% of the online audience- and there’s a rush to get your online strategy figured out by 2014, when social technologies are projected to capture 165 million users. There’s a need to be filled. Go leaders (everyone), go!

2) Leaders take a personal, active outlook- like you are taking right now as you read this post.  Did you know that there are well over 133,000,000 blogs on the web and more than 346,000,000 people read blog globally? That’s a lot of people putting their thoughts into the world- and most of them are not blogging for money.  Like leaders, these bloggers are taking a personal, active outlook on their industry or interests. The 346 million blog readers are also taking a personal, active outlook as they subscribe to sites and form their own opinions about what they read. Crowdsourcing (that’s a Wikipedia link; I figured it was only appropriate) is growing increasingly common and it is dependent upon people exerting time, energy, and willpower to a problem or cause. Utilizing all of these active leaders on the web has even been championed as a way for organizations to make better decisions.

3) Leaders develop fresh approaches, and we are now armed with more information than ever before. Another quality of leaders– in which managers are again lacking, according to Zaleznik– is that leaders have the rare ability to come at obstacles with fresh perspectives and an ability to increase options. Yes, we are undergoing a social media revolution, but this is occurring in the midst of (or perhaps as a subset of) the much-larger information revolution. Especially in the last 20 years, finding fresh methods to increase options to tackle business problems has become significantly easier. Just hop online and conduct a Google search to discover academic articles and blog posts about techniques being used in any industry. Moreover, not only are lessons regarding your industry of focus shared, but lessons can be easily gathered from other industries allowing folks to gather more information and create these fresh perspectives.  Utilizing this technology comes at little cost and, on a similar note, some of the greatest businesses in history were born out of recessions or times of resourcefulness.

4) Leaders make transparency a value. Consumers love social media because doing it well requires brand transparency (and the web is full of tips for marketers about how to do this); whether it’s an organizational brand or a personal brand. Truth be told,  Zaleznik doesn’t use the word “transparency” to describe leaders. He uses “passionate” and “personal.” He describes managers, on the other hand, as being apathetic, coercive, detached, and frequently using ambiguous words and gestures to avoid blame. When using social media, those characteristics just won’t fly. What does fly is honesty, sincere relationships, and adding value- qualities that align more with leaders in 2010 than with Zaleznik’s managerial qualities. In order to successfully utilize social media, you must have at least some of Zaleznik’s leadership qualities or you’re organization will only have one Facebook fan (Good thing your mom just figured out how to “like” organizations on Facebook).

5) Leaders do not tie their identity to an organization. Leaders and managers possess a very different sense of self,  Zaleznik argues. Leaders feel that they are separate from the organizations that employ them while managers feel their organization is tied to individual identity or purpose.  Right now, we are experiencing a trend toward organizational separateness. In fact, for members of Generation Y, the line between work and life is so thin that the idea of previous generations feeling intrinsically tied to an organization could be considered extreme to them (well, to us).  This is also a generation of multi-taskers with their own ongoing side-gigs that allow them the ability to intertwine work and life by doing the things they love. But Generation Y most certainly isn’t the only generation with side projects and developing their own leadership identities! In fact, Peter Drucker’s (awesome) Harvard Business Review article, Managing Oneself, is not generally considered an HBR leadership favorite for nothing. Social media helps us bridge the gap between work and life and our professional and personal ventures.

Leaders are traditionally thought to be rare and hard to come by. But it has never been easier to be a leader than it is right now. Times are changing and perhaps we’ll even find ourselves in the opposite position in 2042 than we were in in 1992: aching for more analytic managers than awe-inspiring leaders. Or the entire idea of a manager will become irrelevant as organizations become more organic and self-governing… or leaders will evolve to be people who can walk the line between do-er and thinker… or something else will happen as our business practices evolve. Either way, the clear-cut line between the contrasting characteristics of managers and leaders is blurring. Not only are we called upon to demonstrate both skill sets on a day-to-day basis, but we simply must be both managers and leaders in order to compete with our similarly talented peers.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Trends 3 Comments

The Nonprofit Manifesto for Generation Y Leaders

USC Price MPA

Attributes of Generation Y will shape the nonprofit sector as oldest members of the generation turn 30 and take up more powerful positions in organizations. Just for fun, I’ve combined some of my generation’s stereotypical characteristics to create a little manifesto for generation Y nonprofit leaders. I present (trumpets, please):

1. Thou shalt question perceived sector constraints and manage according to what is best for my organization

I will manage my organization with an eye for each unique situation, and I will not back down when perceived sector constraints stand in the way of progress in achieving a social mission. I will channel the entrepreneurial spirit of my generation and nontraditional leadership skills in order to come up with creative solutions. I will consider accepting high administrative costs if it will bring me better leaders and that is what I need. I will produce products and sell them to support a mission. I will employ business best practices suitable for my situation. Above all, I will ask, “Why not?”

 

2. Thou shalt manage with professionalism but understand the importance of soft skills

I will lead with compassion, kindness, professionalism and a strong sense of morality. I will not let my feelings jeopardize what is best for the organization or let things slide for employees just because it is a nonprofit organization. I understand the growing importance of soft skills. I will combine hard and soft skills to cultivate a culture of both compassion and professionalism.

 

3. We shall remain the sector of interpersonal relationships under my watch

I will share my organization’s mission and the captivating stories of the communities I serve. I am civic-minded and social, and will create and develop personal relationships with individuals who share the desire to improve these communities. I will be driven, passionate, imaginative, hopeful, and ambitious within reason.  My demonstration of this sincerity will contribute to the fire of the sector as a whole.

 

4. Thou shalt realize that I do not own social change

My generation understands that what matters is getting the job done in achieving a social mission. My organization and even the nonprofit sector itself does not own social change. When I do contribute to change, I understand that often credit belongs not only to myself, but to employees, donors, volunteers, corporations, and often entire communities. Often, the private and public sector are just as capable of serving social missions as the nonprofit sector, and can effectively evoke positive change. For me and my generation, making a difference is important, regardless of sector.

 

5. I am not better than anyone else because I am motivated by public service.

I derive utility by helping others. I understand that some individuals do not share the same primary motivation, and I respect this. Many individuals working in the private sector do, indeed, want to help others, and they will become some of my organization’s most valuable donors and terrific friends.

 

6. Thou shalt always be brainstorming

I will be constantly thinking of ways to make my organization more efficient and brainstorming innovative ideas. I understand that brainstorming may produce many unwise ideas that I shall not act upon, but great possibilities arise from brainstorming as well. I will read blogs, utilize the internet, and engage my networks in coming up with creative solutions to problems facing my nonprofit organization. I will utilize my spirit of collaboration to work with others to come up with new ideas.

 

7. Thou shalt expect employees to take time to rest

The nonprofit sector is strongly associated with burnout, but I will change this because I understand the importance of work-life balance. Giving employees adequate rest, reward, and relaxation will make them happier and clear their minds so that they may produce higher quality ideas. Allocating time for my personal life makes me a better, happier leader and I understand and expect that employees need this time as well. I will be sensitive to burnout.

 

8. Thou shalt bring an understanding of social media to the table

I am part of the first generation raised with computers, and I understand the importance of generally keeping up with technological advances. Social media and online marketing skills are of growing importance in nonprofit organizations in this day and age. Staff and board members can generally look to me for guidance in understanding social media.

 

9. Thou shalt seek mentors in every organization

I believe that older employees have valuable wisdom to share, and I will actively seek their guidance. Especially in nonprofit organizations, I count on older employees to pass along the culture and unspoken ideals upon which the organization was founded. I respect this culture, and I will handle it with care– even if it must be transformed for the good of the organization. I believe that there is much to be learned from older employees and I am appreciative of their mentorship.

 

10. Thou shalt understand that the world is always changing and that sector practices must evolve according to those changes

I understand that working in the nonprofit sector is not easy.  There will be ups and downs in every organization and throughout the sector. Some predict that we will face a severe 2016 leadership deficit. Others predict that increasing CEO salaries will bring better leaders to the sector. Whatever the future brings, I will summon my talents to tackle problems facing not only my organization, but the sector as a whole.

Do you agree, disagree, have points to add, or just want to give your seal of approval? Please share in the comment section!

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing 8 Comments

How to Lead with Empathy: Read Fiction

It’s no surprise that great change-makers and business leaders (like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Nelson Mandela), when asked about their favorite book, say something like “The Great Gatsby” rather than “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” Perhaps this is because fiction influences people in its own right; it makes readers better leaders.

Looking to hone your leadership skills? Here are five reasons why you should pick up a work of fiction:

 

Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' is a favorite book of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

1. Fiction helps you understand other people’s emotions.

A study by the Journal of Research in Personality uncovered that readers of narrative fiction score highly on tests of empathy and social acumen. Not only that, but they score more highly on tests involving social reasoning . This kind of skill allows great leaders to connect with others on an emotional level, and it provides them with the emotional basis to tell compelling stories that engage others.

 

2. Fiction increases social ability.

Reading fiction puts you in somebody else’s head, and studies show that this is good practice for us in our ability to relate— not just to people on a one-on-one level– but to groups and in differing social situations. Fiction provides information on how and why people react to combinations of social forces, and by putting ourselves in the mind of the main character, we are challenging our own perspectives. This skill comes in handy for every leader, but you can imagine that a politician without high levels of emotional intelligence and with a less-than-perfect ability to maneuver socially might not retain favorable polls for very long.

 

3. Fiction enriches brain functioning.

Of all of our organs, the brain is the only one that will continue to grow and function if we nourish it properly. Reading fiction provides your brain with new scenarios that buff up our brains. And fiction gets us more involved than you might think: our brains are responsible for constructing the voices, appearances, gestures, and even smells of characters and scenes in novels. When we watch a play or see a film, many of these interpretations are resolved for us– so here’s a brain-enriching tip: read the book before you see the movie.

 

'War and Peace' became Nelson Mandela's favorite book when he read it during his years in prison in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela first read his favorite book, 'War and Peace,' while in prison in South Africa.

4. Fiction makes you more creative.

According to research conducted at Emory University, the brain’s reward pathways respond more strongly to unexpected stimuli rather than expected stimuli. Fiction, more so than other genres of literature, provides the most unexpected stimuli. Readers’ brains light up as they face new scenarios. Being exposed to these kinds of creative forces teaches our minds to think and act creatively in return. Want to perfect your creative problem-solving skills? Studies say that detective fiction will help.

 

5. Fiction makes you smarter. Fiction makes you smarter in two ways. First, reading has been shown to increase vocabulary and vocabulary is arguably the best single predictor of occupational success. Second, fiction exposes you to different time periods and cultures. It’s impossible to read The Great Gatsby without getting a sense of the prosperity of the roaring twenties in America. The Grapes of Wrath takes readers back to the Great Depression. Not only do readers get a professionally beneficial dose of vocabulary by reading fiction, but they also get an engaging history lesson and taste of other cultures.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 1 Comment

The Nonprofit Leadership Deficit Won’t be as Bad as We Think

The Bridgespan Group released a study in 2006 revealing that we’ll need a staggering 640,000 new nonprofit senior managers by 2016 (that’s 2.4 times the number currently employed) to fill the leadership gap left when baby-boomers retire. We talk about this all the time. Thomas Tierney has famously driven the subject home: we’ll have to recruit the equivalent of “more than 50% of every MBA graduating class, at every university across the country, every year for the next 10 years.” And, according to the study, we’ll need 78,000 new senior managers in 2016 alone. That’s a lot of people!

Though we rightfully take this study very seriously in the nonprofit world, the deficit will not be this bad. The study is only three years old, but it is already outdated because it assumes that the nonprofit sector will function in the exact same way in 2016 as it did in 2006. Though there will most likely be a gap when baby-boomers retire and it is in our best interest to mentor and train emerging leaders, here’s what we need to remember about the deficit prediction:

 

1. Nonprofits will always evolve to maximize their allocation of resources (or, the world keeps moving):

  • Public, private, and nonprofit sectors will need to defy the most basic rules of economics in order to hit the high numbers on this leadership deficit. For instance, according to the study, we’ll need an extra 2,000 more leaders than we do right now just because there will be more nonprofits- and nonprofit organizations have larger senior leadership teams than for-profit companies. Organizations will evolve based on their needs; that’s economics. They will learn how to appropriately allocate their resources. If there’s a leadership deficit, nonprofits will think long and hard about their existing capabilities before spending excessive hard-earned resources trying to attract an unnecessary and endangered nonprofit leader.
  • The study predicts a relatively steady increase in numbers of nonprofit organizations throughout the decade following the publication (2006-2016), but the recession took a toll on nonprofits in 2009 and 30% resorted to layoffs- which means that there are fewer nonprofit employees now than there were at the start of 2009. Tierney admitted in his 2006 article that things could happen to lessen the number of nonprofit organizations, but the fact remains that something has already changed the projected numbers.
  • 9,000 nonprofit leaders are predicted to transition out of the sector in the next decade, but the study does not take into account senior managers that might be transitioning into the sector. It’s not a no-entry zone; people will want to be coming in. At some points the nonprofit sector may be more or less popular, but let’s assume that over the decade 9,000 leaders (the same amount that transitioned out) will transition into the sector. Though those transitioning out should certainly be added to the number of leaders we’ll need in general, there’s no certain deficit here. It’s the way the world turns.


2. We are entering an era of social responsibility and a desire to make a difference (or, enter: Generation Y)

  • Will there be a smaller supply of people to fill the roles left vacant by several thousand baby-boomer retirees?  Yes. A shorter supply of leaders, though? Probably not. Generation Y is itching to make a difference, and they have the (nontraditional) skills to do it. With the onset of a new generation and a different kind of leader, it seems natural that trends assumed by the article will change– and even if they don’t, we’re looking at a generation who prefers to work for the social good. Tierney dedicates a portion of his article to the projected difficulties of recruitment during the deficit, saying that organizations will need to spend more to compete with for-profit businesses to recruit the best and brightest. In today’s world, though, many of the best and brightest are already dedicating themselves to social change.


3. If the need won’t go away, then neither will the support (or, as long as there is cancer, we will be fighting it.)

  • Entrepreneur magazine says “find a need and fill it” is the first basic step in building a successful company. It’s not a new idea. As long there’s a need– such as a need to fight cancer (1.4 million people die every year in North America) or a need to strengthen our education system (70% of eighth graders cannot read at grade level)– then there’s an opportunity to raise or make money to fill that need. Tierney describes the ultimate consequence of the deficit, “While the sector stumbles, the deepest suffering will be visited upon the millions of people who rely, directly and indirectly, on the services that nonprofits provide and the social value they create.” This is only true if our society is wholly unable to respond to the deficit in every sector. And even if this is so, some nonprofit missions simply will not be ignored in society. Nobody wants to stop fighting cancer.

Though there may be fewer leaders, they will evoke change if they are good ones. Weak nonprofits that are unable to find effective leaders will consolidate to strengthen heartier nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits will increasingly team up with businesses to get their word out– and if everyone knows that nonprofits are failing, then intersectoral partnerships will benefit both collaborators: there’s money for the nonprofit’s cause, and even greater corporate social responsibility attributed to businesses that strengthen them.

This is not to say that there won’t be a deficit at all. 18,000 leaders will be retiring out of leadership roles before 2016– but we must approach the problem with more than an eye to what nonprofits must do to cultivate new leaders. We must consider that this deficit will affect the way that the civic sector operates as a whole. If even the conservative findings of the Bridgespan Group’s study are true, then nonprofits will suffer. They will find ways, however, to evolve to operate most efficiently and they will shut their doors if they cannot survive due to mediocre leadership, which may decrease mission competition and ultimately strengthen society’s ability for social change.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 1 Comment