At Standford today…

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I’m attending the Stanford Non-profit Management Institute along with about 300 other people who are increasing their capacity to lead. Ah-ha moments included:

1. How to Make Better, Bolder Decisions by Chip Heath

You may have read one of the other great books by Heath & Heath and already guessed that this presentation was very thought provoking and clearly communicated. We got a sneak preview of their new book, being released in March, focusing on increasing the odds of making good decisions by following the framework presented. My most helpful take away (I have 10 pages of notes so there are many!) is that you can’t trust your “gut” feeling to guide your decision-making if you want a better than 40% chance of making the right choice! Ouch! This book will go on my “every leader should read this list” along with Switch and Made to Stick.

2. Thinking About Talent

Sal Giambanco filled my head with clarifying thoughts about successfully staffing positions. I think his thinking applies to paid and unpaid positions and has a lot to offer those of us that manage volunteers. I especially appreciated his philosophy on expecting everyone in the organization to be a change-maker, not just a few out-front leaders or agitators. He said, “The most effective learning we can do is peer to peer – teaching and learning from each other.” He offered some specific strategies for having pipelines for growing leaders, for helping people develop their capacity (or their career,) for recruiting staff or volunteers and for firing fast if you make a mistake. (Harder with a volunteer to be sure!) He said, “The number 1 thing that brings down an organization is rewarding mediocrity.”

3. New Skills for the New Social Economy

This was an eye-opener about changes in philanthropy that includes charitable giving, impact investing and even political giving. Two things struck me hard about this presentation:

a. Religious organizations, up until the last 5 years, received 50% of all charitable giving. Today this is about 32%. His comment on this is “When people realized that their churches weren’t doing anything with them money, they started giving less to the church and sharing the rest with organizations that are effective at making changes in the world.” Ouch – the truth stings in this one to me when I think about how little of our congregation’s budgets / staff time / building space and mission is focused beyond themselves.

b. Only a few of us in the room were from faith-based non-profits. It hit me hard that essentially everyone else in the room are our “competitors” if you will for charitable giving! The church (even if we don’t act like it) is in competition with every other organization that someone might choose to donate money. I think about the money my husband and I give away every year and realize that this hits pretty close to home.

4. Becoming Networked Nonprofits: What Nonprofit Leaders Need to Know to Succeed in the Age of Connectedness

Beth Kanter was energizing as she unpacked not only the role of social media in organizations today but as important, the mindset that takes seriously what it means to be a networker. To work with a network mindset means embracing an emerging leadership style that is characterized by greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making, and collective action. it means operating with an awareness of the networks you are embedded in and listening to and cultivating these networks to achieve the impact you care about. It means exercising leadership through active participation.

It’s no surprise that my head went immediately to the multiple controls that we have in place in congregational life. I remember Bandy & Easum’s writing on “permission-giving leadership” that makes what Beth is talking about feel like baby food. Still, most of our congregations struggle with sharing power and decision-making to anyone not on the Church Council or staff (or one or the other, depending…)

I am sure that this is one of the areas that leaders in the church will have to have long, hard conversations. How do we lower the walls around the mine-field of decision-making? I’m pretty sure this is a deal breaker as we look to the future.

Enough for today – my head is spinning with ideas and questions. I am energized by this deep thinking about how we do what we do. This is a good place to start as we take up our synod’s strategic plan to grow leaders. What does this mean for us? (A nice Lutheran question!)

Peggy Hahn

Peggy Hahn

Assistant to the Bishop

TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

12941 I-45 North Freeway, Suite #210

Houston, TX 77060-1243

832-594-5016 cell

281/873-5665 ext. 101

281/875-4716 fax