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Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion

compassion and empathy are more than feel-good skills, they make you a better leader.

Susan Cramm has an excellent post on the Harvard Business Review blog how to lead with more compassion. The 5 ways are:

  1. Assume the best in others;
  2. Understand what makes them tick;
  3. Serve their needs;
  4. Accept responsibility;
  5. Assume the best intentions.

I’ve said before that  empathy is the core of organizing (and fundraising, and media relations, and volunteer management, and marketing, etc.). These five practices are strong ways to build your empathy and compassion and become a better community organizer.

http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/cramm/2010/01/break-free-from-ugly-little-bo.htmlAssume the best in others

Choosing Leaders is like Choosing What to Eat: Fruit or a Twinkie?

Good leaders are as important for a healthy organization as good food is for a healthy body. Would you trust the Twinkie King to be a leader for your group?

Good leaders are as important for a healthy organization as good food is for a healthy body. Would you trust the Twinkie King to be a leader for your group?

I’ve been writing about the need to be careful in choosing who to develop as a leader.

Grassroots leaders are what nourish your organization. Just like you need to eat food that will keep you healthy, you need to recruit and develop leaders that will keep your organization healthy.

This can be tough. It’s often easier to eat a Twinkie than to eat a carrot. Choose the leaders that will nourish your organization. You’ll be healthier for it.

Not a leader doesn’t mean not valuable

I recently blogged on the topic that not everyone is cut out to be a leader.

Just to be clear, just because someone isn’t a leader does not mean they are not valuable.

That volunteer who comes in every week for data entry, she may not be a leader, but she sure is valuable.

That reliable phone banker who will come in and call through a list of names for an action alert? He may not be a leader, but he sure is valuable.

In fact, some of your leaders may be train wrecks when it comes to data entry. You might not want to let them come close to your computers.

Building a movement or an organization takes a variety of skills and people. Value them all.

know your limits, push your limits, don’t exceed your limits

In both organizing and weightlifting, you want to push your limits. But if you try to vastly overshoot your limits, you do more harm than good.

In both organizing and weightlifting, you want to push your limits. But if you try to vastly overshoot your limits, you do more harm than good.

When I was in high school, I did a bit of weight lifting. (Being more bookish than physical, though, I actually spent more time reading weight lifting magazines than I actually spent working out).

Here’s how weight lifting makes you stronger. You lift weight that is just at the limits of your ability so that you have to struggle to lift it ten times.

Your body says, “this is hard, I had better get stronger so I can handle I’m being asked to do.”

It’s a dance where you are operating just at your limits, slowly building up strength and pushing your limits.

There is a temptation to try to do too much too fast, to lift more weight than you are ready for. It usually ends in injury.

Trying to do something far beyond your capabilities doesn’t make you stronger, it makes you weaker.

The same is true in organizing.  You want to challenge yourself and your organization. You increase your strength and influence. And you do this by taking on larger and larger challenges.

In Tools for Radical Democracy, when Minieri and Getsos talk about choosing actions, they say an action should be “within your capacity. You only choose actions that your organization can run effectively.”

Know your limits. Expand your limits. Respect your limits. It takes a long time to recover from a strained tricep. It also takes a long time to recover from a “mass rally” that only fourteen people show up for.

Know when to let go of something

Sometimes events, issues, or groups loose their support. Sometimes they die. Its not always a bad thing.

Sometimes events, issues, or groups loose their support. Sometimes they die. It's not always a bad thing.

Today I met with Laura Russello of Michigan Peaceworks, and she told me about how they are discontinuing one of their regular fundraisers.

The fundraiser has been a lot of fun, but they’ve seen that it’s been lagging a bit in the last few years. So their shutting it down to try something new.

This happesn. People change. The public mood changes. And sometimes events, projects, or issues that were very relevant before no longer seem relevant.

What should you do when this happens:

  1. Admit the truth. I’ve seen groups go into denial when their beloved event or cause stops resonating with the public. You can’t change reality unless you face reality.
  2. Identify your options: Honestly look at your alternatives. You could keep working on a particular issue. For example, even if nuclear weapons aren’t in the news, that you could choose to keep working for their abolition. You could also choose a new topic or event. Or, maybe it’s time for your group to close. What are the different ways you could deal with the new reality.
  3. Evaluate tradeoffs: Remember, everything you do means that you’re spending time and money doing that rather than doing something else, so think carefully about the impacts of your choices. Yes, maybe your current fundraiser turns a profit, what other fundraising opportunities are you missing to pull that event off? Economists call these “opportunity costs,” and you have to evaluate these costs against the benefits of other choices or the status quo.
  4. Make a decision and act: After you’ve thought about it, do something. We’ve all been in those settings where people keep talking about an issue and never acting on it. Don’t let that happen to you. Make a decision and follow through with it.

Laura showed courage in stopping a popular event before it completely whithered into something downright embarrassing. And I’m sure she’ll replace it with something fresh, fun, and that will raise lots of money.

Will you show that kind of courage?

Want leaders? You need a strong pipeline

Recruiting leaders is like a funnel. You need a lot of contacts to go in the top to get a few leaders to come out the bottom.

Recruiting leaders is like a funnel. You need a lot of contacts to go in the top to get a few leaders to come out the bottom.

The grassroots organizing model is about raising up community leaders to take action for the cause.

How do you get those leaders?

It takes both recruiting them and then building them through training, support and experience.

And you have to recruit a lot of supporters to get a few leaders.

Tools for Radical Democracy has a sobering analysis. They say you need:

  • “Four Hundred contacts for whom you have a name, address, and phone number
  • One hundred who express an interest
  • Thirty who attend a meeting or an action
  • Ten who come back again and continue in some form with the organization
  • Between one and five who engage in a leadership-development activity…
  • One or two who continue to develop as leaders.

I don’t know about you, but this tells me I need to get out their there recruiting, following up, and training!

What does Genesis teach us making room for new things?

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Genesis 1:9-13)

Notice how God had to move the water out of the way to make room for land?

Sometimes to create new things the existing ones need to move out of the way.

I’ve seen this in committees. Sometimes a group gets so established in its ideas, its activities, and its ideas that there is no room for new people, new thoughts, or new ways of doing things.

And sometimes then the only way to allow the new ideas is to flourish is apart from the established structures, and that means that the existing structures need to get out of the way.

This can sound harsh, but note that the Genesis story doesn’t say that the new land was good and the old sea was bad. God calls both good. So to say an established thing needs to make room for something new is not to judge one or the other.

For me, this is freeing. It means I can stop trying to plant a new tree on top of the sea. Instead, I can recognize the need for new land and to start making room for a new start.

Finding allies in unsuspected places: the Mackinac Conference

The Mackinac Policy Conference has a reputation of being a playground of the conservative business elite.

That’s not what I saw.

I went up for the Fusion young professionals track for the Conference, which is a sort of “kids table” to bring young leaders to the table and involve them in the discussion.

The conference attendees raised five issues as the top concerns for the state, including like transit, education, and green energy.

As a progressive, I can get behind these issues, and I’m excited to see the business community supporting them as well.

I admit, it’s not what I expected to see. I expected a litany of anti-tax, anti-environment, anti-labor hard-line conservative rhetoric. Instead I saw a lot of common ground and a desire to address problems that we can only address by bringing together the business, government, and nonprofit sectors.

So here’s my message to progressives: Stop running away from the conversation. We need to take our place at the table so we can build alliances and start solving some of these problems.

(And if that’s not enough of a motivation for you, here’s one more: it was an open bar every evening.)

Leadership Without Heirarchy: The Network Model

spider web by Wayne's World 7 on Flickr.comCommunity builders Valdes Krebs and June Holley write, ‘Without active leaders who take responsibility for building a network, spontaneous connections between groups emerge very slowly, or not at all. We call this active leader a network weaver.’

In Alison Fine’s Social Citizens Discussion Paper, she describes how millenials (the under-30 crowd) see leadership as less top-down and more side-by-side.

How can this be?

Because the emerging model of leadership isn’t based on the power of a hierarchical command-and-control mechanism but more on a dynamic network of connected individuals.

Will it work? I don’t know. It’s a good fit for ICPJ, because we are so volunteer-based that command-and-control doesn’t work anyway.

But here’s the thing. Even without control, there is a place for leaders.

Leaders build connections.

Leaders inspire followers–willing, volunteer followers, that is.

Leaders weave the network of community.

Yes, if we’re all together in a web, we still need spinners (or spiders) to help create it.

Leaders make mistakes. Now what?

Soon a good friend of mine, Joel Devonshire, is leaving Ann Arbor, and leaving his place as chair of ICPJ’s Latin America Task Force.

For a going away gift, I’m giving him Leonard Doohan’s Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity. And, because I am cheap want to conserve paper, I’m reading it before I give it to him (and I’m hoping he doesn’t read this blog so the secret doesn’t get out).

Doohan quotes Keith Grint to say:

it seems taht the errors of leaders are commonplace, but what distinguishes a successful from a failed leaders is whether the subordinates can and will save the organization from the mistakes of it’s leaders.

I’ve seen many organizations flounder under poor leadership. What breaks my heart is that too often others in the organization are unwilling to intervene. The board, the volunteers, the other staff are afraid to speak the truth to the Executive Director, or to hold the Director accountable to respond to these concerns.

(Oh, how I wish I could give examples here to clarify this point.)

This raises three leadership questions:

  1. How can organizations build the internal strength to confront leadership mistakes? One of my fears is that I will overstay my usefulness at ICPJ and that nobody will do anything about it. If I go off the deep end or get out of touch with our members and our mission, I want our Board and Program Committees to be strong enough to deal with that reality.
  2. How can leaders maintain the humility to accept that they make mistakes and to learn from them? I know I make mistakes. I also know that sometimes I bristle when they are pointed out to me.

Sorry, I can’t offer any simple answers here. Others have written at length about the value of good evaluation, strong boards, and personal development. All of these are hard work; not easy fixes. But given that we all make mistakes, this hard work is necessary