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.

Make the ask feel special

invitation by tracyhunger on flickr.comIn You Don’t Have to Do It Alone, the authors share the following story:

Julie [one of the co-authors] once received an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen of England. Yes, that Queen of England. Julie had to sign a receipt when the invitation was delivered. The envelope was stamped front and back with “Lord Chamberlain Buckingham Palace.” It was addressed in beautifully handwritten calligraphic script. The message on the card itself was embossed in gold. It began with the words, “The Lord Chamberlain is commanded to invite . . . ”

Talk about a special invitation. Julie still has it. The Queen, and the Lord Chamberlain, could be sure she would attend.

How different is that from the mass email “could anybody help with . . .”

This over-the-top invitation makes a point that you and I can learn from, even if we don’t have a Lord Chamberlain to command.

Your best chance of getting somebody to say “yes” is to make sure that the ask feels special to them.

There are many ways to do that: a personal phone call, a specially-printed invitation, a phone call from a big-wig. Even just personalizing your email so they know you wrote to them and not to fifty people at once.

You may not have gold-embossed stationary, but you can still make someone feel special.

And when you make someone feel special, they are more likely to say “yes.”


bonus observation: Did you notice the specific, compelling details in the description of the invitation? Wasn’t that more impressive than a bland “Julie received an invitation from the Queen of England”? When writing, these kinds of concrete details help paint a vivid picture in your reader’s mind. It’s worth recording them.

Who should you invite to collaborate?

One of the things that I like about You Don’t Have to Do it Alone is that it invites us to be thoughtful about the things we often decide on auto-pilot.

For example, who we invite to participate in a project?

Often the answer is “whoever we can get.”

You don’t have to however challenges us to:

  • include more people
  • consider what types of people you need to include
  • consider when in the project you need what types of collaboration.

In terms of the considering the types of people to involve, the authors identify six categories of people to include:

  • people who care;
  • people with authority and responsibility;
  • people with information and expertise;
  • people who will be personally affected;
  • people with diverse points of view;
  • people who are considered troublemakers

I have a board member who is an expert at this. She has an excellent grasp on the fact that difficult decisions need to include a variety of people: people with different perspectives, people who know the topic, people who can get it done.

She also knows that you can sometimes prevent a lot of opposition from troublemakes by getting their involvement as the start. That way they aren’t opposing you at the finish.

And as a bonus, you often get a better, more informed decision by including them.

What kind of help do you need?

"I want to get lost" by Xabier.M on flicr.comLast month I took a personal mini-retreat and learned came to an important realization.

I don’t know how to ask for help. I tend to insist on doing everything myself.

So, true to form, I’ve started to read about how I can do better on this. Yes, that’s right. I’m not asking for help to learn to ask for help. I’m doing it myself when it comes to getting over my obsession with doing it myself.

And I’ve found the perfect book for me, or at least the perfect book title: You don’t have to do it alone.

The authors talk about how to create effective involvement in projects, and the first step the identify is to ask, “What kind of involvement do you need?

They identify 4 types:

  1. Know-how involvement: Somebody knows how to do something you don’t know how to do, or they know how to do it better, and you need their know-how.
  2. Arms and legs involvement: Think of a barn-raising, or a park cleanup. You need help to carry out a task that is just too big for you. Or maybe it’s not the best use of your time to do it all yourself.
  3. Care and commitment involvement: The other common phrase here is “buy-in.” This kind of involvement is to ensure that people are on-board and committed to a chosen decision, project, or endeavor.
  4. Teaching and learning involvement: this is the king of involvement where people learn and grow and develop in their ability to complete a task or shoulder a responsibility. This kind of involvement is a big reason why I think it’s important for ICPJ to have interns.

Those are the 4 involvement types listed in the book. To them I would add a fifth: Leadership involvement. Sometimes there’s a project that just won’t happen unless someone else takes the reigns and says, “I’ll make sure this moves forward.”

At ICPJ, as a volunteer-based organization, many of our projects depend on volunteer leadership involvement.

I find this taxonomy useful because it helps me thinks more clearly about what kind of involvement do I need in various projects. In fundraising, it’s a bit of all of them. With structure changes and strategic planning, it’s less about arms and legs and more about care and commitment. Knowing that helps me fine-tune how I approach getting involvement in each of my projects.

And yes, so far I still figure that out on my own.