Changing Seats on a Bus
My partner Jessie and I were chatting with one of our advisors. Let’s call him Walt. Walt is an attorney, retired from being in house counsel at a fortune 500 company that has a quite notable corporate giving program and corporate foundation. Over the life of his career he was heavily involved in both. Walt also volunteered his time on several nonprofit boards of various sizes.
We were doing our market research, getting clear on the needs of the nonprofit sector and how best Arboreta Group could meet their needs based on our services and experience. And I don’t mean the needs we think they should have, but the needs they think they have….in other words we want our products and services to be useful and grounded in reality.
So we asked Walt directly, “In your various roles as a board member and corporate foundation program officer, what are the three top things that nonprofits need?”
Walt responded clearly and forcefully “Money, process, and leadership.”
I expected money and process, but leadership? I asked him to explain.
“Everybody needs money.” I’m thinking, “We got that, we’re grant writers and have fund development experience.”
Walt continued. “Process, nonprofits need efficient internal systems: fiscal, program, etc.” “Okay I thought, we got that. We love figuring out for ourselves and for others how to make things run better. We love processing the processes!”
Lastly he explained the leadership need, “Over and over again I saw organizations unwilling to put staff on the ‘right seat on the bus’ out of blindness or loyalty.”
That stopped me cold. I remembered how hard it is to remove responsibilities from someone, to transfer them to another area, to restructure a job description, to create a coaching plan, and if all else fails…..let them go.
More importantly, to become so fixated on that single person that I began to lose sight of the impact on the organization. The stress that the person who is in the wrong seat puts upon others who are in their right seats and the resentment that grows from that can poison the entire culture.
As leaders, as human leaders, we want to avoid that short-term pain of changing seats; re-organizing, re-assigning duties, and/or letting go. But if we don’t we are signing up for the long-term pain of less effective and efficient organizations. And in that, everyone suffers; the providers and by extension the people and the causes they serve.
Walt was right. Leadership is critical. Leadership that is rooted in the present moment. Money can get you a bright shiny bus. Process can show you how to drive the bus. But if you don’t have a driver that knows where she’s going, you might find yourself (and everybody else) in a ditch or broken down along the road.
Here at Arboreta Group, we’ve been on the bus. We’ve driven the bus, sat in various seats and even have been broken down along the road. We can help you see more about the seats on the bus and the skill sets of the people who sit in them and help your organization travel to a better place. This is one of the roles were consulting has true power. And Arboreta Group can help.