Saturday, September 30, 2006

55 and glad to be alive

7:15 a.m.

I awoke this morning, 55, and glad to be alive. In keeping with a tradition started the day I turned 53, I am going to blog my birthday.

I woke at 4:00 a.m. and had my quiet time. I'm working my way through Judges 9, an account of Abimilech's short bloody career. Abimilech, son of Gideon and a concubine, persuades his mother's kinfolk to anoint him king and give him 70 pieces of silver. He uses the silver to hire hoodlums and together they kill his 70 brothers, except for the youngest, Jotham, who hides.

After the massacre Jotham stands up on a hill and tells a remarkable parable to the the folks who made Abimilech king. After questioning whether they were acting in good faith he ran away and hid from his brother again. Abimilech was not leading in good faith. He was gathering raw power for himself. I love stories of the youngest who often have to alternate between hiding and speaking the obvious. The king has no clothes.

As for me, my goal is to live in good faith today. Now that means making waffles for a few of the Reba interns. Later this morning and afternoon I'll be teaching them the 7 Paths and applying them to life in an intentional Christian community.

6:19 p.m.

I finished the 7 Paths workshop at 2:45. First time through this version of the workshop and I had to do it quickly which meant I used more of a lecture style than I like. I hope it will be benificial to the interns. I think each path is right on. Now I need to teach them better.

After I put all the workshop materals away I took a nap and woke groggy. To cheer myself up, I looked at Anne Sigler's Blue Mountain card. Now I'm going to make myself a Mexican dinner and have friends over for the marvelous chocolate cake Sarah made. She's working tonight at the Community Hospital of Ottawa mental health unit. She called on her break and wished me happy birthday. I love her calls on her break.

9:29 p.m.

I invited Erin Kindy, Bill and Kate Newhouse and their two daughters, Isa and Elaina, and Lori Behrens and her two daughters, Kora and Mary, over for chocolate cake and ice cream. (Kevin Behrens missed the party because he's on the way to Michigan to go with his brother to the last regular season game of the the Detroit Tigers tomorrow.) What fun to talk, laugh, and enjoy ice cream and chocolate cake. I loved having the children at the party. The party ended with everyone giving me a hug.

My daughter Heidi and her husband Woju called from St. Louis. I also talked to Hannah and her husband Donny from Jacksonville, FL. I love giving and receiving love through phone calls.

My son Jon has forgotten my birthday. He'll feel bad when he remembers and I'll love him no matter how many times he forgets my birthday. I'll try calling him one more time before I go to sleep.

While talking to Heidi on the phone after the party I went to get the mail. Ah, the beauty of a cool, moonlit, starlit night.

Fifty-five years ago I was born for this world of stars, chocolate cake and hugs.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

In search of treasure 2

In my post two days ago I was searching for the words to describe the Evergreen Leaders' treasure. My heart sang when I came up with: Call us when you want your nonprofit to thrive while transforming lives.

But then slowly my enthusiasm waned. Something was missing. Then I remembered my friend Bob Betzelberger's question to me a couple of years ago: What's the pain that EGL will relieve? When Bob asked that question I didn't know what to say. An eternal optimist, I find it difficult to focus on pain yet I know that when someone knocks on a nonprofit's door it's usually with a combination of desperation and hope.

So went back, read the jottings in my journal that led to Call us when you want your nonprofit to thrive while transforming lives. I had forgotten I had written: "I want nonprofits to care as much for their organization as their cause."

How do you portray the pain that nonprofits get into when they have miserable organizational problems while trying to do good? I kept trying out version after version of an EGL treasure statements. Here's the latest:

When you’re tired of your nonprofit hobbling, call us. We help nonprofits thrive while transforming lives.

Let's see if that takes root and grows.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In search of treasure 1

You wouldn't think a guy who started out marketing consulting services to health clubs would be a source of wisdom for a nonprofit CEO.

But I've been learning from Michael Port and his Book Yourself Solid.

When clients knocks on your nonprofit door they are looking for a treasure. Your task as a nonprofit leader is to understand your clients so well that you can put into a few simple words a treasure statement so powerful that it resonates with the soul of your organization and the souls of the people who in desperation and hope knock on your door.

Evergreen Leaders is a three-year-old nonprofit start-up and we provide consulting and leadership training to other nonprofits. For three years now the board and I keep revisiting the question of what's Evergreen Leaders about.

I don't regret the journey because every worthwhile treasure is discovered after a long journey.

The last few days I've been doing Port's writing excercises on what we do, who we do it for, and why we do it. I've been fascinated by the question: Why do we provide consulting and leadership training to other nonprofits?

After writing numerous answers I landed on the following:

Call us when you want your nonprofit to thrive while transforming lives.

I need to live with that statement to test it out but right now it's singing to my soul:

Call us when you want your nonprofit to thrive while transforming lives.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Breakfast with Dave

Dave directs YSB, a nonprofit organization that helps children and families succeed. With a staff of nearly 80 working in several counties, it’s a challenge for Dave to be in touch with the stories of lives being transformed by the staff of the organization.

Recently I’ve been consulting with YSB as they develop an annual fundraising program. Part of my work has been to help them discover the treasure--the stories of lives being transformed--the organization has to offer donors. Dave realized he needed to meet with the staff and uncover the stories.

His solution was sheer humble hierarchy genius. He decided to do Breakfast with Dave. He is scheduling times to go to each office, meeting with staff in 25-minute intervals. He brings with him all the ingredients to make omelets and his omelet maker. He asks each staff person what they like in their omelets and that’s what they get.

While the omelet is cooking he asks, “What case are you most proud of?” Then he listens.

Evergreen Leaders humble hierarchy path is based on the principle that “humble hierarchy leaders have little personal ambition, have an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and create space for all to thrive.”

When Dave was first promoted to executive director of YSB he negotiated a salary lower than the normal executive director salary because he said if he was making that much money he’d be embarrassed to come to work.

The first Breakfast with Dave was announced by memo and e-mail but when the day came he discovered no one had signed up. He promptly called staff in that branch office and invited them to breakfast individually. Dave may have been humble about his salary but he has an “unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves”. He knows he needs to hear the stories of lives transformed as part of creating an annual giving program to support their work in helping children and families succeed.

YSB staff often work with children and families in crisis. It’s easy for staff to feel like they go from crisis to crisis. Yet when Dave asks, “What case are you most proud of?” he is giving them an opportunity to recall when they and the organization are at their best in transforming for children and families.

One of the first staff member that he had breakfast with told him about a fourteen-year-old girl they had helped find a foster home. When she was older she entered a beauty pageant and as part of the pageant she described her wonderful experience in the YSB foster home.

Dave had his first story of transformation.

Smart and friendly spinach

If you've been listening to the USA news lately you know that there's been an E. coli outbreak that's been traced back to spinach from a three-county area in California.

USA farmers are alway trying to develop smart systems for growing and marketing their crops. California spinach growers developed a smart system, banding together to cooperatively process and market their spinach. It was a smart system because it reduced costs and increased demand for spinach.

But organizations thrive not only have smart systems but smart and friendly systems. The spinach marketing system did not prove to be friendly because it spread E. coli, sickening 166 people in 25 states. The E. coli bacteria have been traced back to nine possible farms but because the spinach from all the farms are combined, it has improved impossible this far to pinpoint the exact source.

"There is going to be a need to examine the system -- what's working, what's not working. At this point I wouldn't want to rule anything in or anything out," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer for the FDA's Food Safety and Applied Nutrition branch.

The dominant system in the USA involves trucking fruits and vegetables all over the country. That's how tainted spinach from three counties in California made people sick in 25 states.

But trucking food from vast warehouses is not the only system.

I live on a farm that, for the most part, uses a smarter, friendlier system. Grow it and then market it locally through farmers markets.

Farmers markets are a smart and friendly system for getting your spinach. Most farmers markets require sellers to grow the produce what they sell. That means that while you may pay a little more at a farmers market, that friendly man or woman you're buying from is the farmer who grew the spinach. And it wasn't combined with produce from dozens of other farms and trucked half way across the country.

I'm not a farmer but I've enjoyed eating Plow Creek produce for many years. Today for lunch I had seedless watermelon. I know Neil and Jim who grew the melon.

Now that's a smart and friendly system.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

You don't need a title to be a leader

The humble hierarchy path in Evergreen Leaders' 7 Paths is based on the principle that "humble hierarchy leaders have little personal ambition, have unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and creates space for all to thrive."

Mark Sanborn's new book, You don't need a title to be a leader, has a great story about humble hierarchy at work. You can check the story out Mark's Leadership Lessons.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Would you recommend us?

The September 2006 Inc. issues has an article (currently available in the magazine and online after the October issue comes out) that declares you can "perfect your service by asking the only question that matters."

And that question? "Would you recommend us?" Actually they recommend a follow-up question as well. Ask those who say they would not recommend your service: If you would not recommend us, whey not?"

The article is based on the work of Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question.

Now that sounds like a smart and friendly system for improving customer satisfaction.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Power to the people, part II

When Plow Creek Fellowship was founded in 1971 as a communal church the USA was riding the waves of the countercultural revolution of the 60’s. Plow Creek rode one of the waves of the counterculture--the Jesus movement.

Sarah and I arrived at Plow Creek in 1977 and three years later Sarah was one of five pregnant women at Plow Creek. In fact, almost 20% of the adults in the community were pregnant that year.

Every organization is part of an ecosystem and the ecosystem profoundly affects the organization. For instance, every organization is part of the physical environment. While an extreme example, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast of Mississippi and Lousians in 2005, it showed how every organization in in its path had a complex relationship with the physical environment.

Social, political, legal, economic, and religious systems are all part of the ecosystems that organizations operate in.

The principle that Evergreen Leader’s ecosystem path is founded on states that organizations that build healthy, shifting relationships with their physical, social, political, legal, economic, and religious systems thrive.

In its early years Plow Creek Fellowship had dynamic relationship with its environment. The founders were all a generation older than the youth who arrived in the 1970’s. When I lip-synced to Larry Norman’s “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” at a Plow Creek talent show complete with strobe lights set up be my friend Kent Rathgen, it was a signal that Plow Creek’s environment had shifted.

The teenage children of founders were shocked and delighted. This was definitely not the music of their parents. But their parents were willing to build healthy, shifting relationships with the 20-somethings who arrived at Plow Creek having been deeply influenced by the counterculture.

What, you may well be wondering, has this to do with tension in the community in 2006 that signaled a need for change in the decision-making structure?

A 1995 decision by Plow Creek Fellowship led to a significant change in the social ecosystem that PCF operates in today.

From 1971 to 1995 the only way to be a member at Plow Creek was to be communal, to be part of the common treasury and communal decision-making. In 1995 the group decided to make it possible for people to join Plow Creek Mennonite Church without joining the communal group, Plow Creek Fellowship.

Starting in 1997 younger families began to join the church without joining the fellowship. By 2005 half were members of the church without being members of the fellowship and half were members of both. Most of the new church members lived on the farm, renting from the fellowship.

As you can see the ecosystem the fellowship operates in has shifted significantly.

The demographics of the fellowship have also shifted. By 2005 the youngest member was in her late 40’s and the oldest in her early 80’s.

In the early 2000s the fellowship began talking about attracting the next generation. In 2005 the fellowship affirmed a plan to launch a three-month to one-year internship in communal living. In a break from past tradition the group affirmed interns participating in members meeting through out the internship. Previously people interested in joining PCF attended members meeting only in the final stage of becoming members--we called these folks sharing neighbors--and they they simply observed the decision-making. Only member actually affirmed decisions as part of the members meeting.

In the summer of 2006 interns began attending meetings for the first time. At the same time several of the younger families who were part of the church expresses an interest in becoming sharing neighbors.

The ecosystem had shifted. Now we had folks who had lived on the farm for one to five years wanting to explore becoming part of the community.

When the ecosystem of an organization shifts sufficiently it creates anxiety within the organization, making it difficult for the organization to build healthy, shifting relationships with a changing environment.

Difficult but not impossible.

An organization with a strong sense of its own treasure can shift within its ecosystem without feeling that the treasure of the organization is going to given away in the change.

Next time I’ll explore how Evergreen Leaders treasure path made it possible for me to propose a change in our decision-making pattern that addressed both the shift in the fellowship’s ecosystem and the need for a change to create a smart and friendly decision-making system.