Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Creating Meaning

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

As human beings, we crave belonging and seek to find a meaningful existence. Very often, that feeling of meaning comes from helping others. One of the many reasons that people start nonprofits is to give meaning – to life, to a memory, to a person, to a cause.  Having a nonprofit creates a structure and a platform from which one can elevate a message and aim for a solution or a cure or an answer.

There are nonprofits staffed with some of the most eager and idealistic people the world has to offer. Nonprofit work is not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. In the best situations it causes people to look at the world differently, to find solutions beyond the obvious and to work harder on behalf of those whom the organization represents. Nonprofits, in their very purest form, can create meaning.

However, nonprofits are plagued with the same challenges as any other organization in the global marketplace. Every day there are new nonprofits competing for the same donor dollars. Generally, nonprofits’ intents are purse Most of the motivation is selfless. So what causes one to create lasting meaning while another is left behind?

Last week, I attended a seminar by marketing guru Seth Godin. He spoke on his new book, Linchpin, and the new economic marketplace. His focus was on individuals, but some of what he said (and what is in his book) resonated for me in regards to creating meaning as a person and as a nonprofit organization. In his book, he writes of the new “American Dream”:

Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas.

He writes that the new dream is about “vision and engagement.” As nonprofits we have an already have a vision, or we wouldn’t exist. Most nonprofit organizations seek to engage the world to come together to create art (solutions). We celebrate the remarkable. We generously give money and time and information to those whose lives we seek to improve.  We make judgment calls – determining how we can attain the most good for the greatest number of people with the limited resources we have.  By virtue of working to serve some sector of the population, we aspire to connect people and ideas.

Organizationally, we might (at least on paper) have it right. Yet how many of us who work for nonprofits are engaged in the same path of creating meaning? How many of us have a vision? How many of us seek the things Mr. Godin suggests? Do our employees exude the same passion that our brand does? Do we seek to create real, tangible meaning in our day-to-day work behind the scenes?

Or do we settle for average?

I thought a lot about it as I read Linchpin. A nonprofit organization doesn’t set out to be average. Average doesn’t change people or save the world or find cures or save the whales. However, while the organization’s vision may not be average, it will only truly fulfill its vision if the people behind the scenes are extraordinary.

Mr. Godin has this to say about that very thing:

“The only way to win is to race to the top … An organization of indispensable people doing important work is remarkable, [successful] and indispensable in and of itself. What the [organization] really wants is an artist, someone who changes everything, someone who makes dreams come true. What the [organization] really wants is someone who can see the reality of today and describe a better tomorrow.”

What the organization really needs is people who are as committed to creating meaning as much as the organization. Together, with a solid vision and a group of employees creating real, tangible meaning each day – we have the opportunity to truly change the way things get done. To have more resources, more bandwidth and more ability to impact our neighbors, our communities and our world.

How do you create meaning at your organization?

The Leadership Test

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I recently read a new book titled The Leadership Test, by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. A book on leadership may, on its face, not sound very interesting. After all, as Dr. Clark cites in his book, there are literally thousands of books written on the topic of leadership. In fact so many that, “assume[ing] the average width of a book spine is one inch, the stack of books on leadership would be over 30,000 feet high.”  That vivid illustration begs an interesting question however… “Why?” Why so many books and so much thought given to one single subject? And what could a book that, by my measure, is only about a quarter of an inch thick, add to an already crowded space?

Leadership in the non-profit space is, as in the for-profit world, a valuable commodity. The reason we talk so much about it is because we value it so highly, and all too frequently, suffer from its absence. As the author puts it, “Everyone is trying to figure it out. Everybody is looking for the secret.” He then offers a definition that was of particular interest to me as one who relies on people willing to act and, at times, make sacrifices. “Leadership is the process of influencing volunteers to accomplish good things.” If you are not necessarily focused on charity work and the word “volunteer” just reduced your interest in this, stay with me for a moment.

Whether we lead a corporation, small business, charity, classroom or family, we depend upon, in the best scenario, volunteers. Even if you pay employees, there are only three reasons they follow you: they are manipulated, you have effectively persuaded them, or they are coerced. If you view the actions of those who look to you for leadership on this continuum, you can draw a very important lesson on leadership. If your employees, teammates or children, are effectively persuaded, they are now…volunteers. And a volunteer will go to extraordinary lengths to serve the vision of the leader. I find this profoundly simple concept to be of great value.

One more point before I risk spoiling the book: if this manner of leadership is so effective, then why is it so hard to come by? The answer offered, and again in a magnificently simple way… “Leadership puts pressure on the relationship between stewardship and self interest.”  In my chosen field of philanthropic work, I am privileged to work with some of the best hearts…and minds. Self-interest, while it may exist, rarely plays a distracting role in charitable work. But it can, and when it does the process changes. It becomes even more apparent at times outside the charity realm where self-interest has, in the opinion of some, nearly wrecked our economy.

I find this a timely “read” and recommend it as among the very first things you read for 2010 (or the last thing you read in 2009!). It just may cause you to think less of your interests, more of those of others, and in the bargain, you will get more of what you wanted anyway!

-Rick B. Larsen