Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pneumonia and thinking about Evergreen Leaders

In one of those strange twists of life, having a nasty case of pneumonia is giving me critical time to think about Evergreen Leaders.

What exactly is Evergreen Leaders? That question has been the essence of our conversations at the EGL September and November board meetings.

Board member Tutuk Horning, an immigrant from Indonesia, said it best at our November board meeting when she recounted an incident. Someone visiting Plow Creek asked a question about Evergreen Leaders. Someone pointed out Tutuk and said, "Ask Tutuk. She's an EGL board member."

At that point in the board meeting Tutuk said, "My English is not very good." Then she held up flower and said, "I do not know how to describe the form and function of Evergreen Leaders."

Other board members chimed in. "It's not your English, Tutuk. We don't know how to describe it either."

I listened to the conversation feeling an odd combination of gratitude and chagrin. Gratitude because Tutuk, our quietest board member, had simply and eloquently described the key issue. Like a flower, EGL needs and easily described form and function. Chagrin because after two and half years, I, who love putting concepts into words, still can't describe EGL with the simple beauty of a flower.

I take some comfort from venture capitalist Brad Feld's blog:

''One of the challenges with early stage companies is determining whether the thing you are creating is a “feature”, a “product”, or a “company”. Of ''''course everyone aspires to create “a company” and most business plans eloquently describe the $50 million company that is going to be created in ''''five years. Since that rarely occurs, early stage VCs are constantly asking “is that a feature, product, or a company?”''

Evergreen Leaders has a mission that I'm deeply passionate about: ''To give ordinary people the tools to help their groups thrive.''

We started out by creating a series of three workshops aimed at two niches--churches and nonprofits.

So far no churches have shown an interest in the workshops but non-profits have. We did the first series for a paying custmor last spring. We're taking off, I thought. Two more NPOs expressed interest and I assumed we'd be doing the series for both this fall. But then both stalled out. One of the NPOs hit a money crunch and cut staff training. The other stalled out when their board questioned the value of workshops.

While marketing EGL to another NPO CEO she told me that there is a great need for brief, three-hour, board development workshops.

That made sense to me and some of my EGL board members. Thus I began working on developing an EGL board development workshop, integrating key concepts from the EGL workshops with ideas from John Carver, the leading thinker on nonprofit boards.

Another idea that surfaced during board conversations: focus on consulting as a way to pursue the EGL mission and bring in much needed income.

No wonder all of us connected with EGL are wondering what the form and function of EGL is.

After five days in the hospital with a nasty bout of pneumonia (when my blood pressure dropped to half of normal my dear Sarah worried about my survival--I was too sick to invest much energy in worrying) I've taken off the month of December.

This is giving me time to reflect and pray about Plow Creek and Evergreen leaders matters. I think I'll use my blog to think and pray about EGL. You can follow my journey, add to my thinking through comments. and you can even pray with me.

Lord, I know you called me to launch EGL. Now help me and the board know what you have in mind for the next leg of the journey. Amen.