We are a Christian mission that ministers

Dear Nicole,

We are a Christian mission that ministers to at risk youth and offers them shelter, clothing and medical care. As a Christian mission, we believe people deserve second and third chances in life and are non judgmental in our approach. We have a senior manager who gossips all the time and complains about other managers to the staff. This causes friction between the staff and management. I have spoken to him about it before, but it is not getting better. I feel that giving him a warning that his job is in jeopardy goes against our values of forgiveness and non-judgment. What should I do?

Compassionately Accountable

My Quick Read: Sounds like deep down you know what you need to do, but lack the confidence and support to do it. Being compassionate and being accountable seems to be a contradiction of sorts for many “heart-centered” leaders. However it doesn’t have to be if you put some parameters around how the staff express those values when dealing with one another.

Dear Compassionately Accountable,

I hear your pain and commend you for wanting to model your mission’s values and not just talk about them.

In the spirit of giving second chances, let’s take the ultimatum off the table for now. That will help you relax a bit and not feel that you are going against the grain. Have another talk with the person, but instead of expressing your concerns about his behavior right away, start the conversation off by asking for his advice on a situation that you have. Describe the situation in general terms so it isn’t immediately obvious that you are referring to him and then ask him how he would address the situation with the employee given the organization’s values.

After he provides his suggestions, thank him and let him know that you specifically asked for his advice because the situation involves him and you wanted his objective take on how he would handle it. (Why is this tactic effective? This is a strategy used in coaching to help a client who is “stuck” step out of the situation and look at it from a different perspective. When you ask for his advice, you are asking him to “detach” from his behavior for a moment and to look at it from different lenses.)

Chances are there will be awkward silence as realization is dawning for him. That’s normal. Don’t back down at that point. Tell him that you want to discuss what each of you is willing to do differently to change the situation. Before ending the discussion, ensure that you are both clear on the following:

  • What YOU will do differently: (e.g. I will hold you accountable to changes you agreed to make even if it is tough to do so, I will help our management team define what our values look like in action with one another)
  • What HE will do differently: (e.g. I won’t gossip, I will look for productive way to channel my frustrations)
  • How YOU will respond if the behavior doesn’t change: (e.g. corrective action, exit strategy, etc)

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

non profit management consulting

I’m in a really bad predicament.

Dear Nicole,

I’m in a really bad predicament. I was hired as the ED for my organization almost a year ago. Right away I had concerns about the program director. He doesn’t act like a director. He is not an analytical thinker and his work quality is not good – reports with many mistakes. My concern is that he is well liked in the organization and as the new ED, I don’t want to appear hasty in making this decision. Is there any way to fix this without firing him?

Haste Makes Waste

My Quick Read: You are second guessing yourself. Chances are your courage to address this situation will not grow as time passes by. To boost your assurance that the world won’t come to an end after you let him go, start preparing yourself for the aftermath now. The employees who really care about the organization will understand the decision and stand by it. Either way is fine as being a leader is not a popularity contest. Being respected is more sustainable than being liked.

Dear Haste Makes Waste,

In your case, that phrase expired about six months ago. Six months was more than enough time for you to get a read on this situation.

I will assume that you have done your due diligence (i.e. followed your policy and procedures for proper documentation and progressive corrective action or been advised by HR/Legal Counsel). If not, I’m available for consultation.

How you handle the aftermath is what distinguishes you as a great leader:

  • Realize that letting an incompetent employee go doesn’t hurt employee morale nearly as much as keeping them around. Everyone bears the pain of that choice.
  • Be transparent about the decision (without violating the person’s right to privacy) and don’t apologize for doing what is in the best interest of the organization. One person’s interest is not bigger than organization’s.
  • Pull together the immediate team members right after the termination to do some damage control. Use that as an opportunity to respond to their concerns about the continuity of work and to share how they are impacted. It is fine to give them the space to share how they are feeling, but don’t feel the need to justify the decision or to change how they are feeling.
  • Demonstrate empathy for him. Understand what is like to be in his shoes and ask yourself, “regardless of how we got here, how would I want to be treated?”
  • If you don’t have a formal reference policy, ensure that all reference calls go to you or HR.
  • The process of letting someone go can feel very personal, but don’t make it personal. Remember, you were acting in the best interest of your organization, but don’t go on a mission to keep the person from ever working in this town again. Being truthful about the person’s track record is not a license to bad mouth the person.

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

non profit management consulting

I’m so proud of the people working in my organization.

Dear Nicole,

I’m so proud of the people working in my organization. They are all hard workers and care deeply about our mission – helping families with children who have terminal illnesses. It is hard not to fall in love with all of the families. It makes us want to work even harder for them. Here’s my question, key members of my staff often miss important deadlines, but I’m afraid to say anything because they work so hard. What should I do?

Want to Work Smart

My Quick Read: You can’t change behavior without changing the thinking that created the behavior. As the ED, YOU lead the way and model it for others. Is being compassionate and being accountable mutually exclusive? Of course not, but it sounds like you are unknowingly reinforcing that message in your words and actions (or lack of action). At the end of the day, an organization is only sustainable if it is both.

Hello Want to Work Smart,

You are singing the heartsong of many an organization. When the guitar strings get plucked, it is easy to forget that you are, just that, an organization.

If this is a widespread issue, accountability is not being modeled and reinforced at the top. You can’t do it alone; your leadership team has to be front and center with you. It is refreshing when a chief executive acknowledges that point.

Have a working discussion with your senior team about it. Notice I wrote “working discussion”. For the discussion:

  • Show how resolving this issue serves your organizational values (i.e. being accountable means _______________(positive result for organization) which in turn (positive result for people you serve).
  • Create a safe space to discuss the issue by establishing rules of engagement. (e.g. we will assume that we are working with the same level of dedication, we will start with a clean slate, we won’t defend the behavior that no longer serves us)
  • Divide the group into two teams. Ask one team to come up with a list of “What Being Accountable Looks Like At Our Organization” (e.g. showing up to meetings on time.) The other team makes a list of “What Not Being Accountable Looks Like At Our Organization” (e.g. missing funder deadlines). No more than 10 items per list.
  • Decide as a group: As an organization, for us to say we’re accountable, which 5 behaviors on “being accountable” list are non-negotiable and which 5 behaviors on the “not being accountable” list we won’t tolerate.
  • Build a consensus with the group for adoption: Is everyone comfortable with what is/isn’t on this list? Any concerns? Go around the room and have people respond individually to the questions so you can see where everyone stands.

Let me know how the discussion goes.

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson

non profit management consulting

The CFO on my team has a quirk that drives me nuts.

Dear Nicole,

The CFO on my team has a quirk that drives me nuts. He is good at what he does, but often shows up to meetings late and opts not to attend important meetings. The other direct reports are starting to resent having to be on time and at meetings. Help!

- Mr. Planter

My Quick Read: Your CFO is not getting real value out of the meetings – getting information and getting value from the information is not the same thing. Wise executives proactively manage their time and other people’s time too. It sounds like she/he is trying to do that; however, it looks like she/he is not communicating upfront about how she/he is doing it, and that’s creating the rub.

Hello Mr. Planter,

The good news is this is a communication issue. The bad news is they are all communication issues.

So here’s an easy guide to use for creating dialogue around it:

  • Have a conversation with the CFO to get clear on what is going on.
    • Guide for conversation
      • Open with observation - "I noticed that you opted out of the last meeting..."
      • Ask probing questions to understand her/his perspective – “What’s going on?”, “what’s the upside/downside of not attending?”
      • Manage expectations about what will change going forward –
          • lay out your expectations about how you want to see this handled so it isn’t perceived negatively by others on the team - “showing up late to meetings isn’t being respectful of other people’s time”
          • Bring it up at the next meeting with the rest of the team to help them reframe their concern. “As CEO, I recognize that in our culture proactively managing your time (e.g. “opting out” of meetings) is not seen as a positive thing, but I would like to change that …”

        In closing, release the need to come up with a solution that works for everyone all by yourself. The more involved they are in coming up with a working solution, the more invested they will be in making it work.

        Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson