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MPA

“You Have to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”- One-Line Lessons on Leadership

I will be graduating from the University of Southern California next Friday with my Master of Public Administration (MPA). I am pleased to report that, even with real-world experience prior to entering graduate school, my skill-set has been sharpened and the items in my professional toolbox are polished. I am thrilled to re-enter the workforce and meld my formal and informal experiences in areas of management, evaluation, economics, communications, strategy, and leadership.

Though I’ve done it before, I generally try not to write about my own personal thoughts and experiences. This is because, as my former Program Evaluation professor says, “a sample size of one does not a significant finding make.” Here– and in life– I am going for significant. That said, I think the lessons I’ve learned in graduate school are indeed significant, and I am delighted to share some bite-sized morsels.

…I’m the type of person who takes physical notes in class. I’m also the type of person who holds on tightly to professors’ well-articulated verbal gemstones about leadership, and I tape them shamelessly above my desk at home. Yes, much like eleven-year-olds reserve space on their walls for Justin Bieber posters, I reserve space for phrases like, “The best way to create change is to take away the barriers to change.” It’s nerdy, but I’m a graduate student (for 10 more days…)

Here are my very favorite one-liner lessons from graduate school. A vast majority are attributed to Dr. Robert Myrtle, my professor of Strategic Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, but there are other key, formative professors’ words here, too, such as Dr. Peter Robertson and Dr. Donald Morgan). I’ve added descriptions were context is need to strengthen the relevance of the quote.

  •  “People who learn quickly have a competitive advantage”  This was a running theme throughout the program. It is an especially key lesson for nonprofits because they’ve developed a reputation for being slow-moving. What this quote does is place an emphasis on the people. The organization can only change if employees can adjust.
  • “Businesses survive on information, not harmony.” This quote packs a personal message to step out of our comfort zone. Bringing up new ideas, challenging sector boundaries, and asking questions helps organizations and businesses stretch their thinking and gain information. It is through collection of that information that organizations can grow to their potential.
  • “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable” You have to take risks to be a good leader. The idea here is that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing or reaching. If you aren’t growing and you are running operations in an organization, than the organization isn’t growing either.
  • “People who emerge as leaders are people who can manage change.” one professor reminded us that “nobody is going to change unless they see the need for change.” A good leader, he explained, is someone who sees the need, communicates it effectively, creates buy-in, and manages the change.
  • “Master the little things in relationships, because the unaddressed details– like who will do the dishes– will sink you.” This wasn’t just marriage advice dispensed by a professor. It was strategic management advice (and life advice, too). The idea of a partnership or collaboration sounds dandy in many situations. Unfortunately, our professor explained, many higher-ups leave the details dangling without clear direction as to who takes care of issues and how the partnership should be effectively handled by the organizations. Mastering the details is critical.
  • Treat people like they are valued, and they will be valuable.” This was said in regard to managing and leading teams, though I think it stands on its own.
  • “You must find the option that all parties hate equally.” This is about compromising and coming up with new solutions to meet stakeholder’s needs. Finding solutions that all stakeholders love is not very realistic in the public and nonprofit sectors. Also, if the quote was “you must find the option that both parties like equally,” then you’d never remember it. This quote also plays off of our program emphasis on Getting to Yes, a great book on compromise and creative solutions.
  • “Coopetition is when competitors collaborate” There are over 7,000 nonprofits in Los Angeles alone and many of these organizations have similar missions. Coopetition is a word that comes up a lot in classes in regard to strategically managing resources, but also putting a priority on maintaining a competitive advantage. Nonprofits must be able to both work together to accomplish a mission, and also to stand alone.
  • “Thou shalt not B.S. myself.” Organizational strengths only count as strengths if they are seen in the eyes of customers, donors, competitors, and constituents.  I like this quote, though, because it seems to be true of individual strengths as well.
  • “Social capital builds intellectual capital” In the information age, it takes people and connectivity to generate ideas and intelligence. Social relationships lead to new-age innovation.
  • “You need your followers more than they need you.” Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t have followers and supporters. Achieving great things takes buy-in and participation.
  • “You get power by giving it away.” Don’t keep opportunity for yourself. Having power often means having opportunities and power to give to others.
  • “We all succeed or none of us succeeds…” This is not a quote from class, but a quote from A Dream For One World by Segev Perets, which we read in a class.  Though it would be an outrageous stretch to say that MPA’s run entirely on public service motivation, the desire to effectively carry out a meaningful mission that empowers constituents was a prevalent and key motivator for my classmates. It was the tie that binded us and a thing that we all seemed to understand.
I’m grateful to have learned an incredible amount of information in graduate school these last two years. These quotes don’t even begin to scratch the surface, but they are quick tidbits that I’ll carry with me into my next professional endeavour.
Posted on by colleendilen in Leadership, Management, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Words of Wisdom 6 Comments

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 colleendilen in Uncategorized 2 Comments

5 Reasons Why I Chose to Pursue an MPA over an MBA

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

USC's 2009-2010 Officers of the Graduate Policy and Administration Committee with Associate Dean, Carol Rush

 

MPAs and MBAs have a lot in common: they are both professional degrees that provide management training by way of economics, policy, statistics, and finance. What made me pick an MPA (Master of Public Administration) over an MBA (Master of Business Administration), you might ask? The MBA is surely a beaten path with many, well known benefits…but considering my interest and passion for museums and nonprofits, an MBA just wasn’t for me. I liked the idea of a professional degree, but an MBA overlooked the defining features in my field of interest. Here’s why I decided to pursue an MPA over an MBA:

 

1) Museums and nonprofits have harder-to-measure outcomes

A defining characteristic of the nonprofit and public sectors is unmeasurable outcomes because the point of most nonprofits is to fulfill a social mission (nonprofit organizations cannot distribute profits). A powerful business is one that can make the most money (measurable). A powerful nonprofit is one that helps more people, most effectively (not-so-measurable). This does not mean that impact assessments are not critical in the nonprofit world and that they are strongest when they include quantitative data. However, to get an MBA would mean overlooking an opportunity to really think about solving problems of nonprofit outcome measurement and would mean focusing heavily on a monetary bottom-line, which is just not a characteristic of the sector. The MPA focuses on social missions while also emphasizing the skills required to obtain funding for an organization, which is much more relevant to my continuing work with nonprofit organizations.

 

2) It’s a problem-solving degree- ideal for an evolving sector

If MBA programs study the market, then MPAs try to solve market failures– and there’s an obvious difference between studying and solving. In the former, it’s been figured out, you’re just learning how to do it. In the latter, there’s a large-scale problem to be solved. MBAs are hired to make an individual company more profitable and there are books on this (lots of them!) with clear rules (“buy low, sell high,” “always be closing”). In contrast, MPAs are hired to take action to lead their organizations in making the world a better place… and our literature is not nearly as abundant and the tone is less certain. Our academic journals are filled with what’s happening right now or what’s happened in the past. This is ideal for the nonprofit sector because need and the way people communicate and connect (securing funding, donors, etc) is always evolving.  There is certainly no better degree in this case, it’s just based on your goals and interests. Considering my interests, an MPA was the way to go.

 

3) My utility function includes public service

This is not to say that my utility function– and those of my MPA peers– doesn’t include income at all (or that the utility function of MBA grads never includes public service), but it is to say that public service drives my behavior more than money, and most likely drives the behavior of my classmates as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that nonprofit CEOs don’t make as much money as for-profit CEOs. On top of that, nonprofits are often understaffed and leaders may suffer from serious burnout. So why would us MPAs put ourselves through that? Because we want to make a difference. For some of us (and I’ll blame my background at The University of Chicago for the sincerity of this statement), we want to solve big problems and aren’t afraid of hard things. Some people might hate to look back and say, “I wish I made more money.” I respect that– and to each, his own. But for me, the most heartbreaking thing that I can imagine saying is, “I wish I made a difference for someone,” or “I wish I spent my life doing something I deeply cared about.” The MPA degree helps me build the skills to accomplish the things that I care about.

 

4) MPAs want to change the world… but we’re not impractical about it

I spend every day with folks who are determined to change the world. Are we starry-eyed and optimistic? Maybe. Too impractical to be effective? Definitely not. These professionals come from top tier institutions, much like the professionals that enter top MBA programs. Moreover, as an MPA, our speakers, mentors, and professors are professionals in policy and the nonprofit sector– rather than bankers and for-profit professionals. If I were to have pursued an MBA, our speakers and mentors would be those who best understand investment banking recruiting and achieving measurable outcomes– which would be much less relevant to me and my interests. Instead, I am surrounded by future foundation CEOs, grant writers, program producers, and nonprofit directors. A frequent happy hour topic for us: how not warm-and-fuzzy it is to work tirelessly for a mission.

 

5) The future: society’s priorities are placing higher importance on social good.

Signs are pointing toward the need for corporate environments to take on social missions– or at least some corporate social responsibility. Does this mean we might see some MPAs in corporate environments changing up the system in the near future? Perhaps. Consider this: Generation Y, the incoming professional leaders, are said to run on public service motivation. Unlike Generation X, these folks would much rather work for the government than a corporate giant. They want to give back to communities. Moreover, customers are more likely to consume goods that align themselves with some sort of social mission– and communication, transparency, and connection (nonprofit focuses) are beginning to lead corporate environments. In sum, the days of caring primarily about income and individual companies may be coming to a close. In fact, that’s what The Economist predicted for 2010 when they discussed the oncoming decline of the MBA.

When young nonprofit and museum professionals spout their desire to get an MBA because that’s what they think they “should” do, I cringe. There are many incredible reasons to get an MBA and great reasons to get an MPA as well; but I think it’s the responsibility of professional-degree-advocates to know why they are choosing one degree over the other.

Posted on by colleendilen in Education, Generation Y, Graduate school, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future, Words of Wisdom 43 Comments