Category Archives: Leadership

Leading from Zero for Nonprofit Organizations

David Coffaro

These early days of the new decade are the perfect point to consider practicing the concept of Leading from Zero.  Perhaps a more familiar strategy is Zero Based Budgeting – the approach where each new budget cycle starts from a baseline of zero assumed recurring expenses.

No incremental expense increase over the prior period. Every dollar invested for existing or new activities stands on its own, justified in the current time period, not the past. The objective of Zero Based Budgeting is to assure manager accountability for expenses and the activities they fund to create value for the organization.

Leading from Zero is grounded in a similar principle. Every organization – nonprofit or for profit – starts its day from a base of zero. Zero customers. Zero donors. Zero employees. Zero volunteers. Zero revenue. Leaders must influence their organizations and earn relevance with customers, employees, volunteers, donors and other stakeholders daily. Organizations have no entitlement to customers, employees, volunteers, donors or revenue. They recognize that these stakeholders have free will and will only engage with an organization if its mission is relevant, its value proposition is clear and it continually delivers on both the mission and value proposition. Contracts exist, but in the long run, all agents (vendors, contractors, suppliers) are free agents.

Leading from Zero assumes:

  • Competition for the most valuable resources – human, intellectual, physical, economic, non-economic – is strong and will remain so into the foreseeable future
  • Barriers to entry in most sectors are malleable or nonexistent, therefore the potential for new competitors is high
  • Competitive advantages are temporary at best
  • Pricing and cost pressure are constant, coupled with an expectation of continually providing more to stakeholders

These assumptions place leaders in a position that requires a new paradigm for how they view their roles and further their organizations. This paradigm says that an organization must:

  • Differentiate itself as a resource development exemplar
  • Practice self-initiated disruption
  • Exhibit an obsession for continually adding greater value
  • Consistently demonstrate efficiency gains in operations

Each of these pillars represent ongoing processes, not one-time events or special projects. A Leading from Zero mindset informs the organization that effective execution of these processes earns relevance with all stakeholders daily. Failure to re-earn relevance over time opens an organization to suboptimal access to the best resources, weakness relative to competition, and poor economic performance. 

Leading from Zero actions you can take now:

2. Define Cultural Values in Advance of Partnership – In the movie, Ford stressed the importance of a team victory while Shelby was portrayed valuing rugged individualism. These two approaches represent different cultural values.

  1. Identify one resource area to focus upon for developing a differentiation strategy. If you chose the human resource arena, you might begin with developing an employee value proposition which authentically answers the question “why work at this organization”. This is particularly important in the nonprofit and social sectors, where alignment with the mission attracts talent to an organization. With the statement drafted, strategy work may include review of employee development resources, career pathing tools, position descriptions and recruiting practices to assure alignment with the spirit of the value proposition. The goal – Take a first step in the process of differentiating your organization as a resource development exemplar.
  2. Identify one opportunity for self-disruption. Look for candidates by examining processes, products and your stakeholder engagement approach for a candid assessment of elevated exposure to external competitive threats. The goal – Take a first step in the process of proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in processes, products or stakeholder engagement approach.   
  3. Identify one upgrade or enhancement you can offer customers this year. A prerequisite for this action is understanding where beneficiary needs are shifting in order to preemptively address demand. The goal – Take a first step in the process of creating greater value for your beneficiaries by assuring you will meet their future needs.

These actions are a starting point in operationalizing the Leading from Zero paradigm. The benefit to your organization is earning greater relevance from the perspective of your customers, employees and other stakeholders.    

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Stop Accepting Mediocrity

Dave McKeown

The new year is well under way by now and whether you set resolutions or you didn’t. Whether you’ve stuck to them or not, one thing is almost certainly true. By now, you’re back in the weeds at work fighting the day-to-day emergencies and solving the next crisis that pings on your phone. 

All of which is perfectly normal in our faster-than-fast world but which also affords you the chance to do things differently this year. You see, getting pulled into the weeds tends to bring with it a negative pattern of heroic leadership. 

Your team has a problem; you tell them the answer. Somebody screws up; you fix it. Someone’s not pulling their weight; you take up the slack. All in the name of speed and efficiency.

Don’t get me wrong; those acts of heroism are fodder for the ego. They make you feel wanted, needed, useful, and valuable.

But let’s be honest; being the hero for your team is exhausting. All those diving catches, the extra work, the stress, the burnout. Wouldn’t it be great if they could take some of that off your plate and do it to the same standard you would?

In most cases, they probably want to, but over time you’ve built a sense of learned helplessness within them. Every time you step in to save the day, to refuse to delegate (“’cause you’ll just end up doing it anyway”), to have a difficult conversation with another team member on their behalf, you build a negative mindset for them. 

Specifically, you teach them to believe that you’re there to relieve them of anything that seems too difficult. Over time that mindset solidifies, and the barrier for what they consider to be ‘difficult’ lowers.

Eventually, they develop an automatic behavioral response; an issue comes in, they ask you what they should do, and either you tell them, or worse still you do it for them.

The more you lead through heroism, the deeper their learned helplessness, the more you need to take on until something cracks or breaks. 

You’re caught in a cycle of mediocrity.

When you’re stuck here, it’s hard to break out of the tactical nature of your role and to spend time on what you should be thinking about; the long term direction of your team and the development of your people.

My hope for this year is that more leaders move away from this negative pattern toward a cycle of excellence. Here are three things you can do to make that happen.

1. Adopt a new mantra

The first thing to do is to make the conscious choice to move away from heroic leadership towards excellence. Like all good behavior change, it starts with a new mantra. 

For 2020, I hope you’ll adopt this one:

“My focus is to help those on my team achieve our shared goals and, in doing so, become the best version of themselves.”

There’s no room for heroic leadership in this mindset. Instead, it forces you to consider how your team can grow and develop as they solve their own challenges and overcome their own obstacles.

2. Take the time to push your team for solutions

“What do you think?” is one of the most powerful leadership questions you can ask when someone brings you a challenge. It puts the onus back on the question bringer to think through the answer or solution themselves rather than relying on you.

You’ll likely have some thoughts or perspectives on the issue, and at some point you may need to share those. The longer you can wait for your team members to come to their own conclusions, the better. They’ll end up learning more, feeling better about the decision, and empowered to move to implementation.

3. Back your people to succeed

Finally, you have to act as if your people will succeed. Too many leaders out there put backstops in place to prevent failure like bumpers on a bowling lane. Doing so reduces empowerment and provides limited opportunities for your people to learn.

So treat them as if they have the skillset, experience, and knowledge to put into place what you just agreed and provide support, advice, and guidance along the way to help them do so. Resist the urge to be a ‘helicopter leader,’ constantly hovering over them, ensuring they never fail.

Do these three things and you’ll find your team taking more ownership over their problems and challenges, and you’ll have the headspace to think more creatively and strategically.

Dave McKeown is a coach at ECofOC and the author of The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People in a World That Refuses to Slow Down due out on January 28th. To learn more about Dave and the book go to selfevolvedleader.com

Author: Dave McKeown, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Ford vs. Ferrari Leadership Lessons

David Coffaro

The hit movie, Ford vs. Ferrari, tells the story of a partnership between famed American performance car designer Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company. This joint venture came about to develop a Ford-branded race car for competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and beat Ferrari’s entrants – the race’s perennially winners. The story takes place in the mid-1960s when Ford sought to broaden their appeal and engage Baby Boomers, then in their late teens, with products like the new Mustang.

The plot weaves its way through the failed 1963 acquisition attempt of Ferrari by Ford, which fueled a racing rivalry between the two auto manufacturers. Ford Motor Company is portrayed as a traditional company hampered by bureaucracy; Carroll Shelby as an entrepreneurial, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants innovator. Though the partnership had plenty of ups and downs, the collaboration led to creation of the Ford GT40, which delivered four Le Mans victories from 1966 – 1969.

Notwithstanding dramatic representations of conflict and egos in the storyline, the movie offers some valuable leadership lessons. Here are my top three:

1. Establish Clear Shared Goals Up-front when beginning a new project. Ford wanted to update their brand image to capture market share with Baby Boomers coming of age in the mid-1960s. Boomers wanted cool, sporty cars and Ford executives knew they had to address demand or lose share to competitors. Ford reasoned victories on the racetrack would translate to an uptick in brand perception. Beating Ferrari in races was important, but taking the checkered flag was part of a bigger goal – attracting new customers. Carroll Shelby wanted to build high-performance race cars that won races. He was innovative and pragmatic, seeking the best design and components to win races. The subtle difference between these two goals – winning car buyers vs. winning races – was the source of great frustration in the partnership.

In your work, you may have collaborated on a project with another department in your organization. Their goal was to get the project done with the lowest price tag possible; yours was to deliver the best possible product to your customers. If you didn’t know you had different goals up-front, divergence may have fed dysfunction. Establishing clear, shared goals as a first step in collaboration increases the likelihood of a successful partnership.

2. Define Cultural Values in Advance of Partnership – In the movie, Ford stressed the importance of a team victory while Shelby was portrayed valuing rugged individualism. These two approaches represent different cultural values.

Some organizations design incentives and rewards that encourage competition among colleagues while others tout sentiment like “there is no ‘I’ in team” to inspire working together. By defining your organization’s cultural values around inclusiveness, team vs. individual, winning at any cost vs. mindful success metrics clarifies what you stand for and what is expected. Consistently living clearly defined cultural values attracts like-minded talent to the organization, which reinforces and strengthens the culture.   

3. Don’t Underestimate your Competition – Ferrari executives are portrayed not taking Ford seriously as a competitor at Le Mans. At one point, Enzo Ferrari refers to Ford as an ugly company that builds ugly cars in an ugly factory. Ferrari underestimated Ford’s resolve to be a bona fide competitor.

How many times have you seen this happen? Out of nowhere, a new entrant comes into a business and conventional wisdom said “They’ll never succeed; they don’t know the business like we do”. Category killers, market disruptors or simply new approaches, unencumbered by legacy thinking, transform an industry. The moral to the story, assume the threat is real until you can prove otherwise!

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Book Review: “The Self-Evolved Leader” by Dave McKeown – Greenleaf Press (2019)

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

I am honored to write a review of this book by my ECofOC coaching colleague Dave McKeown. This is a book on leadership development communicated in a down to earth and no-nonsense manner.

Dave walks one through the steps and sequence of his process. He clearly makes the distinction between  managing and leading. His mantra is a good leader focuses on what is important versus urgency.

Dave makes the case that participating and enabling organization chaos drama is a no win outcome for everybody. The book is laid on in a format that makes one do home work and apply his concepts. He reinforces the notion that leadership is a hard skill. He quotes: “Soft skills make soft leaders!”

He reframes skills into thinking about developing and evolving disciplines. His coaching vignettes are right on the money. Engage this read and you will not be disappointed.

I find the style and approach of Dave to be a hybrid of Simon Sinek and Gary Vaynerchuk. It does not get any better than that!!

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Do You Have A Balanced Board?

Dave Blankenhorn

Do you have one or two members that dominate the meetings and the conversations?

If that is the case it is the job of the Chair or E.D. to bring it back in line and to prevent an imbalance in the first place. A good Chair knows that that no one member can possibly know everything and should emphasize that the Board can only thrive with input from every member.

Even with the best guidance and intentions some Board members may still drown out other opinions. While these members can add to the discussion, they often tend to eliminate other points of view. If this is allowed to continue the Board may lose its balance and engagement.

To deal with these types of members the Chair should not allow them to dominate the meeting by thanking them for their contributions and asking others to offer their opinions on the topic at hand. If this approach doesn’t work perhaps a quiet private meeting is in order to let them know they tend to stifle other member discussions which is not healthy in the long run. If the member does not change his/her behavior you might consider their resignation.

On the flip side of the issue the Chair or E.D. should also meet with quiet or disengaged members. You need to let them know their opinions are valued and needed by the organization.

Another helpful tip for a balanced Board would to have annual discussions on how your meetings are going. What the pros and cons are and what needs to be improved? Talk about the items on the agenda, the time taken on each item and whether all members are involved. This may tie in with the annual director evaluations.

Following these best practices should be very helpful for the organization in achieving its mission.

 

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Do You Have An Effective Board of Directors?

Dave Blankenhorn

Do you have an effective Board of Directors? Are they providing the kind of direction that is important to fulfill the organization’s mission or do they meet without any meaningful outcome?

One way to find out is to have the Board do an annual self-assessment of themselves or one another. A good self-assessment can lead to improved performance for the Directors and the organization but only if you are intentional about the questions you ask and constructive about the follow up.

To do director self-assessments you can either hire a consultant to help perform them, handle them internally or pursue a blended strategy. Handling them in house maybe the least expensive option but an experienced consultant may save you time, bring impartial outside perspective and help you gather and present results to boost group performance.

If the decision is made to go it alone the Chairman and a few key board members should meet to identify the assessment goals and design the process including questionnaires and interviews. Goals should include producing a report with a SWOT analysis, spotlighting the successes or failures of commitments made by the Board and the overall effectiveness of the Board leadership. The report should also include whether they need to add new board members with specific skill sets, identify training needs, and an evaluation of the meetings and materials. Any other specific issues should also be addressed.

Peer reviews are sometimes part of an assessment and that means anonymous questionnaires. Digital questionnaires can be delivered online and streamline the process.  When completed and compiled the report should then be presented to the Board as a group with specific goals.

 

Author: Dave Blankenhorn, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

2020 Vision: 3 Conversations to Have About the Future Today

David Coffaro
David Coffaro

Strategy Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve 2020. It’s getting close to midnight and under your breath, you say to yourself “I can’t believe the year went by so fast!”

You have a few quiet moments by yourself before gathering with family and friends to join the countdown to 2021, and you reflect back on highlights of the year that’s quickly coming to a close. You mentally run through some of your personal highlights: family, vacation, social gatherings, exciting events. Then like most leaders, you roll through scenes from your work life that stand out.

As you think back over 2020, what are the top two or three highlights that come to mind? What were the greatest contributions your team made to the success of your organization? Which activities that your team intentionally engaged in had the greatest impact toward fulfilling the company’s vision?

Right now, thinking about the completion of a year that hasn’t yet begun may seem far off in the future. This is the time of year when leaders are fine-tuning their financial plans and budgets for 2020 and generally focused on the question “How will we make our numbers next year?” The numbers question is important; we have to deliver expected financial results.

But numbers in isolation are simply a reflection of what’s already happened. They quantify results of the activities we’ve already completed and how effectively we executed upon them. They are not a picture of what we want to make happen. That’s where the vision thing comes into the conversation.

2020 Vision

As you think about the impact your organization will make in 2020 beyond the financial results you plan to create, consider revisiting the vision. Even if your organization’s vision has been more cosmetic than actionable, this is the perfect time for your team to delve into three strategic questions that can shape accomplishments in the upcoming year. These are three conversations about tomorrow for today:

Conversation No. 1

How well do our actions align with our company’s vision? This conversation requires a candid self-assessment of the vision to make sure it’s real and the team owns it. If there’s any doubt about true buy-in to the vision, an early strategic priority leading into 2020 is to invest leadership team time into redefining where you’re going. Vision sets an organization’s course and informs activities. 

What do we do (mission), why do we do it (purpose), and how do we fulfill our mission (strategy) are essential questions an organization must answer in order to define its place in the world. Taken together, the answers define an organization’s vision.

Conversation No. 2

What are the most important two or three strategic priorities we want to deliver beyond the expected financial results in 2020? With your vision as the guide, this conversation informs specific areas of impact your team will focus upon beginning now. Vision is irrelevant unless it informs priorities and those priorities define actions.

This conversation takes a deductive “if, then” approach: “if our No. 1 priority is acquiring and developing new talent, then we will _________”.  This conversation also leads to rich self-assessment of previously stated strategic priorities. If a team said their No. 1 priority last year was acquiring and developing talent, yet no specific actions were taken, it wasn’t really a priority.

Conversation No. 3

What are the areas in our organization we should be looking at for self-disruption? During the late 1990s tech boom, the concept of disruption grabbed the attention of the business world. New entrants in a market gave birth to novel ways of serving customers, gained share and changed industries. While disruption has become a core strategy, today the question is “where are there opportunities to self-disrupt?” 

This conversation invites your team to temporarily step outside their roles, look at the organization from a third-party observer perspective and ask the question “if we were starting this business from scratch today, how would we do it?” It requires temporarily letting go of legacy constraints and look at your operation the way a potential disruptor would see things, then challenge your organization to initiate self-disruption.

One of the greatest responsibilities we hold as leaders is driving continual evolution of the organization toward a well-defined future state. Today is the right day to begin these conversations about the 2020 vision your team wants to create. Today you can write scenes of the story you’ll look back to with great fulfillment on New Year’s Eve 2020.

Author: David Coffaro, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Book Review: “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

This book review is on “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown and published by Penguin-Random House (2018). Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors on leadership. She is a social worker and researcher at the University of Houston.

Her TED Talks on Vulnerability is amazing. Her recent work “Dare to Lead” is one of my top favorite leadership books of 2018. She explains why true leadership is about vulnerability and connection-not power and strength.

Brown describes the four skills needed to become a courageous leader. These skill sets are 100% teachable, observable and measurable.The first and most important skill is Rumbling with Vulnerability. Brown had assumed that the biggest barrier to courageous leadership would be fear, but her research indicated that fear is not a barrier. In fact, leaders she interviewed admitted to being fearful much of the time. The real barrier is how people armor themselves to deal with the fear. It is critical to understand that we all self-protect when we feel scared, defensive, or vulnerable.

A great tool to use when Rumbling with Vulnerability is curiosity. “When I find myself in a tough situation or I’m about to receive some hard feedback, instead of getting my armor up, I stay open and ask questions, so I can get specific information,” Brown explains. In the book she identifies 16 different ways we armor ourselves and offers ways to move that armor out of the way to become a daring, courageous leader.

The second skill is Living into Your Values. Leaders constantly must do tough things, give hard feedback, put bold ideas into motion while being unsure of the outcome, and take many risks. Courageous leaders are able to do this consistently because they operate with a clear set of values and behaviors that line up with those values. “It is important to have values as a leader, but it is critical to operationalize them. Otherwise they are just vague concepts, not guiding principles,” Brown explains.

The third skill, Braving Trust, can be tricky because many leaders don’t know how to talk about trust. Direct reports have to trust their leaders in order to have honest conversations and both parties have to be in an unarmored position. It’s no secret that the highest performing teams are built on a foundation of trust. And building trust is a skill that can be taught and learned.

The fourth skill is Learning to Rise and deals with the ability to re-set after an error or mistake. The ability to be resilient helps leaders learn from mistakes quickly, share those learnings, and continue to move forward in a positive way. And, yes, it is a skill that every leader can learn.

“Courage is a skill set we can teach, measure, and observe, but we are choosing not to because it is an investment of energy and time and it takes muscle building. But why are we choosing not to do it? If we need braver leaders, but we’re not investing in skilling them up, what is getting in the way?” asked Brown.

“Dare to Lead” is the ultimate playbook that offers practical skill-building tools for creating brave leaders in your organization. You will not be disappointed.  (Chad Gordon-BleacherLeaderChat)

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Leadership Is About Coaching – Here’s How To Do It Well

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

Michael Bungay Stanier is a Canadian coach. He is the author of “ The Coaching Habit.” He is one of my favorite people on coaching.

The following piece of his is terrific.” If you’re a leader or a manager, you probably wear a lot of hats. You’re a project manager, delegator, spokesperson, and most importantly, a coach.

But the problem is that no one ever tells you how to be an effective coach, or even what that means. Are you supposed to act like a sports coach? A therapist? Perform some bizarre (and arcane) HR ritual?

The answer is none of the above. In fact, it’s about making one tiny change to your behavior, one that will bring about significant impact. Being a coach is about being more curious, and being slow to give advice and take action.

But the truth is, most of us are advice-giving maniacs. We do not listen as much as we should. Being curious involves asking questions. The best question is What else?? It is based on the understanding that the first answer someone gives is never their only answer.

Coaching is an essential leadership behavior. Curiosity is the driving force in being more coach-like. Questions fuel curiosity. Remember as a leader and a manager, your job is not to have all of the answers-but to guide your employees to come up with the right ones.”

Author:  Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org

Good Leaders are Confident…But OOPS! Overconfident?

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

Good leaders are confident. Their confidence inspires trust and a sense of fulfillment for the mission. But there can be a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent article about this conundrum.[1] I will address the four questions, which are very explanatory, then add the characteristics that show up in leaders who are arrogant (overconfident?).

Four questions to ask yourself: The author of the article, Sydney Finkelstein, notes four questions that allow a leader to do a self-evaluation. They are:

            • How much time do I really spend listening?

            • Do I originate most of the ideas?

            • Do I often feel like I am the smartest person in the room?

            • Do I think of myself as indispensable to my business’s success?

The article includes some findings from a random survey of workers across the US, done online, that distinguishes characteristics of ‘bad’ managers called “The Impact of Arrogance”. Many relate to being overconfident. They are:

            • Doesn’t show concern for my career and personal development.

            • Isn’t open or interested in feedback.

            • Wants to prove himself/herself right.

            • Isn’t self-aware.

            • Betrays trust.

            • Plays favorites.

            • Doesn’t listen.

Believing in yourself makes for better outcomes. But as the author says, “in management as with everything else, you really can have too much of a good thing”.

Author:  Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org



[1]Confident or Overconfident? Four questions to Ask Yourself” by Dr. Sydney  Finkelstein (Dartmouth College), the Wall Street Journal {C-Suite Strategies), February 25, 2019.