We have to blog as part of our classwork. As you can imagine, I'm super peeved about it. (yay!) We even have a class blog, which you can see here:Today was my week to lead the blog discussion, so I'm putting my post up here as well. For posterity and such.
Seven Zones for Leadership – Acting Authentically in Stability and Chaos
As I read through the excerpts from “The Challenges of Leadership,” I followed the advice of the author. “This book will be most helpful to you if you keep your own organization in mind as you read and reflect.” That is precisely what I did, and with this post I plan to share a part of that process with you.
I enjoyed the last class discussion greatly and think the diversity of perspectives in the class make each discussion lively and thorough. I look forward to reading about how you related this reading to your organization and in what ways you found it helpful (or not helpful.)
A bit of background information: the organization I'm “internalizing” this process with is Altered Esthetics, a nonprofit community art gallery in Northeast Minneapolis. Our mission is to sustain artists' role as a voice of society and we do so through group exhibits, artists discussions, and more. We work with a lot of emerging artists as well as quite a few established artists, both locally and internationally. We're just under 5 years old and have been working actively towards a sustainable, community-centered structure.
As many startup organizations we began with a more hierarchical structure, with much radiating from the founder/director. As we've grown, we've pushed toward a more heterarchical/flat structure. This is for several reasons, sustainability but a heterarchical structure also encourages active engagement with the community. We're in the process of this transfer, so applying these organizational and leadership tools is both interesting and useful – often times it helps point out the ways we are doing well while also helping to clue us in to things we can do better.
Since the author tied the zones along with the segments of the action wheel, I will do the same here. I'll review what the wheel segment and correlating zone is, then apply my own questions and experience to the puzzle.
Existence The history that limits and launches what we do Zone 1: Serving the Past
A few years ago, as we looked at our current structure and thought about how we would grow, we asked ourselves: what are the things we have done well in the past? What worked in the past for our organization and the people we serve, and what didn't? In what ways have we seen other organizations in the community succeed and/or fail? What methods and ethics do we want to continue, and what do we want to change? The organization itself was born out of a need in the arts community. We wanted to make sure that as we grew, we kept our function and mission at the center of our processes and actions.
Resources The things that we use in what we do Zone 2: Building Core Competencies
We asked ourselves, what are the resources we currently have as an organization? What are our needs, and how will we separate wants from needs?
The structure we are growing into was born both out of the current strengths, while allowing room to grow to fill our areas of weakness. It was not established overnight, but was created after months of examination and deliberation of what we do not need to do, what we should do, what we have to do, what we do well and what we can do better.
Structure The form and process that support and sustain what we do Zone 3: Systems Thinking Zone 3a: Designing Sustainable Systems Zone 3b: Affirming Shared Identity
Finding a sustainable structure for a nonprofit arts organization was tricky territory. How does one create a structure that promotes sustainability, considers accountability, yet encourages creativity within both the members as well as the people the organization serves? Accessibility and engagement were key clues for this transition. Accessibility to the community and the members of the board, and engagement across all platforms. Finding a structure that allowed board members and participants to be unique participants of a shared collective was also tricky. To make this process successful, we all had to think with more “we” and less “I.” Fortunately, our shows and our mission is much about collaboration, and fortunately many of us had already learned firsthand that often the best results come out of a collaborative, labor intensive process.
Power The commitment and passion that energize what we do Zone 4: Creating Ownership
I've been a part of several nonprofits that have had “sitting” board members. Not very engaged, not very helpful, for lack of a better term, they served as seat warmers. We wondered: how could we engage board members in a way that was helpful to the organization? We did this by creating specific roles for board members beyond the traditional roles of Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer. The first edition of this was NOT a final draft, nor is it a final draft. As we transition, we are working with current board members, finding strengths and weaknesses, and filling positions not just based on the needs of the organization but also based on the skills and strengths of the board members themselves.
(A chart of the board structure can be found here: http://www.alteredesthetics.org/wiki/tikiwiki-2.2/show_image.php?id=4&thumb=1)
Mission The aim and priority that give direction to what we do Zone 5: Focusing on the Future Zone 5a: Setting Direction Zone 5b: Anticipating Change
How does one reconcile a myriad of opinions, skills, weaknesses, and desires? Our organization solved this by making sure everything was driven by our mission. “Altered Esthetics works to sustain the historical role of artists as a voice of society through our exhibits, events, services, workshops and programs.” You might call it a “mission filter.” Though initially this filter might seem easier for nonprofits, I think for-profit businesses can have a solid, engaging mission as well. For example – eBay's mission is “to provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.” For eBay, accessibility and openness is key. Target's mission is “to drive sales profitably while delivering a Target brand shopping experience.” My point is this: missions don't have to be entirely altruistic to be a good filter as an organizational goal.
Often times during our board meetings you'll hear the question pop up “Well, how would that reflect our mission?” or “What does that say about Ae? (Altered Esthetics)” We've avoided several bad choices simply by reminding ourselves why we are around in the first place, and what our long-term mission is.
Setting direction was a huge component of transition. We didn't just “switch” into a new board structure. Change involved and involves long-term implementation. Along with new structure came timeline, goals, and tools of measure. This also wasn't a one-stop, permanent change.
Meaning The justification and significance that tell us why or for what we do what we do Zone 6: Creating Meaning in Chaos
If you take a look at the board structure we created, you'll notice that there are lots of dotted lines or fuzzy boundaries between our board, the community we serve, the community we are in, our interns and our volunteers. While having roles is a good “guideline,” being in touch with the people connected to our organization has only helped us as we've grown. In other words – we've gotten more out of inviting artists, volunteers, and community members to be a part of our conversation than we have by shutting them out. By listening to our constituency we've also been able to make some important changes.
Fulfillment The completed action that embraces existence, resources, structure, power, mission, and meaning. Zone 7: Serving the Promise of Authenticity. Zone 7a: Making Wise Choices Zone 7b: Probing Deeper
Well. As far as being “complete,” I can't say that we're quite there yet. I like to think as an organization we'll always be susceptible and willing to change.
I think as long as we're operating though our mission we can practice authenticity. As we grow fortunately there are other organization we can look to – such as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – for help making wise choices. (Tools such as the “Principles and Practices of Nonprofit Excellence” have been tremendously helpful.)
I think as long as we continue to ask the question “how can we do what we do better” both of our selves and our constituencies we can constantly probe deeper and grow as an organization.
About the reading
Though I tend to be wary of “maps” and “steps to success,” I must admit throughout our planning we did include many of these components, at least in some capacity. The one thing I found somewhat lacking in this reading – and perhaps this comes later in the text – was any discussion of “soft skills” that would accompany this type of transition. For an example, as we grew as an organization, not everybody was on board with change. People communicated at different paces and with different comfort zones. We gained board members as past members trickled out. Maintaining communication and connectivity throughout this process was and is key. I think those gray areas of these types of transition are unique from organization to organization.
About the author
While doing a little bit of research about the author, I came across the following memorial. While I wasn't 100% sure that this is the same author, after some additional library hunts, I'm fairly certain. Perhaps Dr. Crosby can confirm this. In any case, I wanted to share this with you, so you have a little background on who wrote this text and what he's done as a leader, helping other people lead.
“It is with deep regret that we inform you that Bob Terry, Ph.D., founder of Mobius Leadership International, died peacefully in his sleep on September 20, 2002, due to complications of ALS (Lous Gehrigs disease).
Bob Terry, Ph.D. Former president of Mobius Leadership International, was a leadership architect, executive mentor, author, public speaker and seminar conductor, and peer advisor to leadership educators in the Twin Cities. As Director of the Reflective Leadership Center at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota and scholar in leadership studies, plus having led a for profit organization, he was positioned uniquely as a leadership educator. Bob was known for his depth of content, delightful sense of humor, passion for the subject matter and total engagement with his audiences, clients and customers.”
What role do you play in your own organization?
How could you apply/have you applied the “zones” to your own organization?
What are some of the “soft skills” that you think go along with being a good leader?
What areas, if any, do you think the “action wheel” or “zone” left out?
Helpful Links: Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence: http://mncn.org/info_principles.htm