Independence Day #239

Independence Day #239“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s Independence Day in these United States of America.  A celebration and remembrance of the day Americans absolved their allegiance to the British Crown. The Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument. He expressed the convictions resident in the minds and hearts of the American people.  In summarizing “self-evident truths” and setting forth a list of grievances against the King, Jefferson forcefully made the case before the world for the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. His and our bold experiment lives on. Happy July 4th!

A Lesson for Aspiring Leaders

3_Lessons_for_Aspiring_Leaders_Wired_4_LeadershipA Parable for
Aspiring Leaders . . .

The young woman nervously held the three white envelopes in her hand. As the newly appointed non-profit CEO, she was about to meet with the entire Board of Directors for the first time. Her predecessor–a longtime nonprofit executive–had warned her the Board could be contentious at times. She was nervous and a bit apprehensive, yet determined to be confident in her new-found leadership role.

He had also done something else. On his last day in the office he handed her three envelopes, neatly hand numbered 1, 2, and 3. “If you ever find yourself in a tough situation with the Board”, he said, “You’ll find all the advice you need in these three envelopes.” She had quickly tucked them into the pocket of her notebook, while thanking him for his advice. In the weeks that followed, she had pretty much forgotten about them.

Now in the midst of her first meeting with the Board, complaints about poor member service, lack of new membership growth, and outdated services were flying about the room. Without attracting attention, she gently slid the envelope numbered 1 out of her notebook, and opened it. She was taken aback by its message:

“Blame Your Predecessor.”

She felt uncomfortable with the message. Still, given the Board’s voracious complaints about the current state of affairs, the new CEO wondered if she could find a way to broach it diplomatically. It was the perfect opportunity to contrast herself and her leadership style with that of her predecessor without being harsh. So she spoke up, telling the Board that while her predecessor didn’t get everything right, the framework was strong, and she would dedicate her heart and soul to returning the organization to a pathway for success.

As the weeks went on, few things went as planned. The new CEO found herself sitting with an unhappy Board in the following months as well. Exasperated by the Board’s impatience, and their continued bickering about the state of affairs at the nonprofit, she once again returned to the two envelopes remaining lodged in her notebook pocket. Opening the envelope labeled number 2, she quickly unfolded the paper to see the words:

“Announce Your Re-Organization Plan.”

She pondered the idea for a bit. Things needed to change. She had ideas about how the organization could be more efficient. There were ways staff could be more responsive to members, donors, and supporters. Over the past many weeks, she had reviewed policies, analyzed service statistics, and scoured organization charts to uncover issues and figure out where and why things were going wrong. Maybe, she thought to herself, this is exactly what the organization will need—a reorganization.

At the next Board of Directors meeting, with a renewed sense of purpose, and a fresh re-organization plan in hand, she stepped forward to announce her plan for re-organization of the operation. Staff would be re-assigned. Redundant positions eliminated. New programs would be launched. A fresh direction was at hand.
Her plan gained the support of a slim majority of Board members. She felt so much better. Sure, she would still have to prove she could deliver, but at least she had a Board approved plan.

Determined to propel the organization, she set about the hard work of leading change. She worked closely with staff, helping them re-orient themselves to the new plan. She re-defined their roles and focused them on the tough tasks of improving member service. Prospecting and acquiring new members was now a priority. Finding new value and innovations among the varied services and products offered by the group became a key activity. While her team appeared engaged, it was clear this was a long slog, requiring both continued dedication, and sharp focus in the face of all the changes.

With the next Board of Directors meeting now just a few weeks off, the CEO’s nervousness and anxiety returned. The entire team had made progress. Member service satisfaction stats were improving. Service costs had fallen somewhat. The organization was still struggling to re-define itself. Committee leaders were voicing complaints about changed priorities, and some staff were quietly resisting changes. A few had even taken to communicating by e-mail directly with the Board Chair. In a few instances they surreptitiously met with volunteers to discuss “behind the scenes” activities of the organization, stories about the CEO’s work habits,  and sharing incomplete information intended to cast the activities of their boss in poor light.

Preparing to join the Board of Directors meeting, the CEO grabbed her portfolio and headed into the gathering. The meeting did not go well. Several of the Board members publicly shared complaints they had heard from committee chairs, and in a few instances from members as well. After much back and forth, the Board Chair revealed the extensive “behind the scenes” communications and complaints he had received from the staff. As the meeting wore on, the discussions grew more contentious with some Board members supporting the CEO and the change efforts, while assailing those who opposed them. As the CEO continued to listen to the discussions and take rapid-fire notes, the envelope marked “3” slipped from behind the pocket in her portfolio.

The room was abuzz in chatter—accusations, counter accusations, fault-finding, rich opinions and endless discussions about what to do. The CEO seeking a respite from the conversations, and inspiration in the moment, decided to open the third envelope. As she did so, the hum of the discussions–still as loud and vibrant as ever–seemed to subside as she deliberately removed the paper from the envelope. Slowly, she unfolded the paper hoping with all her strength, she might find inspiration in the midst of this dysfunctional and maddening conversation. Gradually, a smile spread across her face. Neatly typed in the center of the page was one sentence. It read:

“Make Out Three Envelopes.”


The Three Envelopes parable as been told in various forms for decades. While its origin is unknown it may offer a thoughtful lesson for new and aspiring leaders.

Culture Made Me Do It

Culture Made Me Do It“Has culture
become a legitimate
basis for avoiding

The concept of corporate culture burst on to management’s radar in 1982 with publication of Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy’s groundbreaking book, Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. The notion that financial results were not completely tied to financial planning, HR policies, or cost controls, but rather the values, rites, and rituals of the organization were a novel and somewhat controversial concept. Edgar Schein and other management theorists began to explore culture as an organizational success variable and culture fast became a tenet of organization development practitioners–yours truly included.

Which made the argument by defense attorneys that two Vanderbilt University students charged in the gang rape of another student “were changed by a culture of binge drinking and sex at Vanderbilt”  just a bit more than legal novelty. According to a report by Associated Press, defense attorneys questioning a neuropsychologist about the attackers state of mind asked “Is there anything in Vanderbilt’s culture that might influence the way they act or the way they think or the way they make decisions?” The neuropsychologist responded saying, “Yes, at that age peer pressure is critical… you tend to take on the behavior of people around you.”  The jury hearing the case disregarded the “culture made me do it” defense and found both students guilty.

While the abuse of drugs, and alcohol on college campuses is likely the worst kept secret ever, the notion that somehow the culture of college life is now responsible for sexual assaults and other forms of violence seems wildly out-of-place. What has become of personal responsibility, integrity, and respect among peers? What has become of looking out for one another? Is this particular form of misogyny, recklessness, and failure to accept responsibility being created on college campuses or has the “participation trophy generation” come to its natural end? How much of this culture is now being exported into the working world?

Leaders face never-ending challenges when it comes to holding people and teams accountable for their actions, inactivity, successes and shortcomings. The notion that somehow “culture” now becomes a legitimate basis for avoiding responsibility for personal behavior is almost too much to contemplate.

So what is the leader’s role in fostering positive work place culture? As a leader here are the five areas I’ve focused on with good results:

1. Healthy Doses of Sunlight. It’s starts with be as open as possible about what’s going on throughout the enterprise followed by assuring a healthy dose of respect among all team members. The sharing of goals, strategic plans, and financial results can fuel a focus on achievement. The mantra “we’re all in this together” is well, more than just a mantra. It’s a fact. There is little that will do more damage to an organization than allowing an environment where secrecy, negativity, put-down humor, gossip, or sexist attitudes can flourish. Some workplaces are still infected with mindless leftovers from another era and your job is to eradicate them or remove the people responsible for them as quickly as possible.

2. Recognizing Good Works. We all work for a reason. For some, it’s a desire to make a difference for our families. For others work is a means to fulfill their wish to change the world. And there are lots of other reasons in between. Whatever a team member’s reasons, recognizing their work contributions in a public, meaningful way is vitally important to the health of the team and the organization. Praise is a powerful motivational tool. Engaged team members are 50% more likely to exceed expectations and organizations will out-perform competitors with less engaged workforces. A contributing team member, with a positive attitude, willing to do whatever needs doing, matters way more than we often realize. Make sure you recognize it.

3. Strengthen Communications Transparency. Someone asked me the other day how you be sure you are communicating enough to your team? My response was simple. “Are you sick of saying it?” No?  Then keep repeating your message. Find new ways to share your goals. Post scorecards in the break room. Use different communication channels. Try walking around a bit to talk with other team members both inside and outside your immediate hierarchy. Keep in mind, that if you’re doing your job well there are no communication surprises for your team. Hopefully you’ve engaged them in crafting the messages you are sharing along the way. Rinse. Repeat.

4. Find and Foster Learning Opportunities. According to Forbes Magazine, companies spend over $130 billion worldwide for training. It’s well-known that high performing companies spend more with leadership development training capturing 35% of their training spend. In the accounting profession growing firms spend 4-6% of revenues on continuing professional education versus 1-2% for the typical firm. Leaders need to assess the potential of their teams and make certain they are receiving training for both hard and soft skills. Few things derail progress faster than having a team without the essential skills that foster productivity, help them excel at managing projects, or use their time effectively. Helping your team “sharpen the saw” is vital to their growth and essential to your organization and leadership capacity.

5. Keep The Organization’s Immune System In Good Order. Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter says culture offers “protection that prevents “wrong thinking” and “wrong people” from entering the organization in the first place.” If that’s so, keeping your organization’s culture healthy is critical to your leadership success. Being selective in your hiring, attentive to team member’s needs, using social events, public recognition ceremonies, and celebrations to foster a sense of unity–all serve your organization’s immune system. Whatever you can do to support a positive, engaging, and stimulating environment will go a long ways to keeping your cultural immune system in good working order. One caution–be certain your organization’s immune system isn’t so strong, it kills off new ideas and or changes before they bloom. Vigilance is required to keep up a healthy balance. And that is precisely what effective leaders do.

What are you doing that’s different in your organization culture that is positively impacting engagement? Share it here.

Six Ways to Attract Engaged Members in 2015

Wired4Leadership BlogWill “Castle and Moat” Strategies Help You Win
Engaged Members?

Active, engaged members remain the number one challenge for associations and professional societies. Why do so many nonprofits end up leaving them stranded? There are great strategies for assuring success in recruiting, retaining and engaging members if you’ll commit the time and resources to making it happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Are your members, customers, and stakeholders like wayward sports fans? Does membership ebb and flow with the perceived “wins and losses” created by your team? You get a legislative win and members flock to your door. Former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” So solve a crisis for your profession, cure a disease, or defend against an egregious regulation, and you’re golden, right? Oddly enough, the answer probably is not so much. How could that be. Does success beget apathy or disengagement?

Is it fickleness when members drop membership, decline to donate, join or become a subscriber, or customer? Possibly, but probably not as much as you might think. There are radical shifts afoot in your marketplace and organizations that want to thrive will need to find their own unique ways to influence them.

If you’re leading a membership organization, members will almost universally tell you they seek networking, peer support, and learning opportunities. While those needs are real, the ability to fulfill them has now expanded far beyond the framework of your organization.  In today’s marketplace, there is an abundant and growing collection of both informal and formal networks, on-line education from top schools, and support platforms available to everyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A smart phone delivers immediate conversations and idea sharing with friends and strangers across a global frontier. When your members want to know something about their industry or profession, they are far more likely to access Bing, Google, or Yahoo as they are to go to your organization’s website. Where are you in this new frontier? If you’re not in the top ten results for any of these search engines, you’re invisible.

If this notion has you yearning for the good old days of “Castle and Moat” strategies, I understand. In the membership model of yore, associations owned the Castle. If someone outside the Castle wanted knowledge or information, they had to become a “member” of the kingdom. When they did so, we lowered the bridge over the Moat and allowed them entrance to our “kingdom of knowledge”. And it was good.  We were all doing well by doing good.

Funny thing, the “Castle and Moat” strategy is back. It’s back as a model of investing deployed by Warren Buffet and as a business strategy by Google. But it’s different. Nowadays, most of us willingly pay for access. Not for information alone, rather we subscribe to virtual tools, services, and access delivered from the “cloud” when we want it, how we want, and on whatever device is nearby. Subscription business models are the new iteration of “Castle and Moat” for associations, professional societies, and businesses.

Continue reading Six Ways to Attract Engaged Members in 2015

Showing The Love for Wired 4 Leadership 2014

Showing_The_Love_for_Wired_4_LeadershipLeaders have a lot to learn, me included. While you may be tempted to dismiss this notion as trite or cliché, it is and remains the central tenet of effective leadership. The rate of technical progress is increasing exponentially, we are discovering more effective ways to use our brains and bodies to learn, and leaders at all levels face challenging environments–global and otherwise–that for lack of a better description are always “on”.  You can’t stop learning.

At Wired 4 Leadership we recognize the demand you face in  re-thinking your business models and the need for strategies that optimize all available resources gave you plenty to think about in 2014. With our sincere thanks to those of you who shared your responses and reviews, here are your favorite posts from Wired 4 Leadership in 2014:

3-D Leadership in a Changing World – There’s a new normal afoot that I’ve taken to calling 3D leadership. You don’t need those cheap plastic glasses to see or experience it. You will however want to think hard about your worldview with an entirely new lens.

5 Reasons Complexity Is Your Friend – Business leaders. Community leaders. Association leaders.  Education leaders. Political leaders. Thought leaders. As a rule, they are smart, driven, and extraordinarily capable women and men.  Many of them are increasingly confounded by the complexity they face each day.  Who could blame them?

Leaders: Get Your Head In The Game – “Get your head in the game” is the clarion cry of coaches demanding athletes regain focus and bring their talents to bear on the success of the team. That’s incredibly true for successful and effective leaders as well.

New CEO? Five Ideas To Help You Thrive – Congratulations! You’re the new CEO. Ruh-roh! Now what? Every leader faces the inherent challenge of making their mark. None more so than a newly appointed CEO.

Why Leaders Should Practice Forgetting – When it comes to common knowledge, leaders have a lot to learn about forgetting.  Why?  Because forgetting is essential to finding new, innovative solutions to long running problems and challenges.

The Meaning of Change for Leaders – Leaders need to revel in change. There’s no other way to say it. Without a bona fide commitment at the top to alter an organization’s way of doing business, change will fail. Not at first and maybe not for some time. But it will fail.

As we at Wired 4 Leadership look ahead to 2015, there will surely be enormous challenges and amazing opportunities for leaders as new media, business services, products, and technologies surface to support the extraordinary efforts of our teams, customers, clients, and members.

We close out 2014 by wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season, a very Happy New Year and a most prosperous 2015. You deserve it.