Saturday, April 07, 2007

Teach your children well

Teach your children well
7 Paths
#102, February 15, 2007

Occasionally I wonder how 7 Paths e-letter readers apply what they learn in their work. I caught a glimpse recently in a conversation with Heather Munn.

Last summer Heather taught about 40 AIDS orphans in a summer program in a one-room schoolhouse in Jos, Nigeria.

When she finished teaching in the summer school she began to teach literacy classes which opened her eyes to an issue she had been reading about in Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development.

Education is valued very highly in Nigeria and yet there is a shortage of teachers. She realized that there is a treasure in Nigeria that is not being used--literate mothers who have less than a high-school education but could teach their children to read.

Because these mothers are poor they assume they cannot teach their children to read. As Heather described in one her e-mails last fall, “They know they are not "Educated People". And only Educated People can teach. They believe they are incompetent and helpless in the area of education. They believe that only teachers teach, and teachers are trained in a teacher-training school; they, unqualified, untrained, cannot hope to teach.”

Heather created a program, Teach Your Child, to address this issue. She set up a class to teach four mothers how to teach their children to read.

Recently Heather, back from Nigeria, stayed with Sarah and I over a long weekend. She had been reading the 7 Paths e-letters and realized that she needed to use the smart and friendly systems path to create Teach Your Child. She created “track sheets” that described each step in teaching your child to read and allowed mothers to track their child's progress. For instance, track sheet three instructs the mother how to use the Simple Words Page. At the end of the instructions the mother is asked: . “Can he read all the words easily and correctly?” and the mother circles: “No, Still learning, or Yes.”

Shortly before returning to the states Heather did a seminar for fifteen people, teaching them how to run Teach Your Child classes.

Heather isn't done with creating smart and friendly systems for Teach Your Child. She plans on using the open source model, posting Teach Your Child on the web so that anyone with access to the web can download the materials and Teach Your Child materials and even add to the materials.

If you'd like to know more about Teach Your Child, you can e-mail Heather at

Wisdom for the week: Use smart and friendly systems to produce your treasure.

Fare thee well, Rich

No need for another book on leadership

No need for another book on leadership, 7 Paths #101, February 1, 2007

“This world does not need another leadership book,” I thought in the fall of 2005 after an hour of browsing through the management and leadership sections of a major bookstore chain.

Two years earlier I had helped found a nonprofit, Evergreen Leaders, whose mission is to help nonprofits thrive. I was on a continual search for resources we could use in our consulting, coaching, workshops, e-letter, and blog. During those two years I browsed the leadership and management sections of bookstores every chance I got. I had found plenty of good books.

But after two years of reading, teaching and writing about leadership I was getting tired of the model of leader as hero.

Organizations thrive on a lot more than leaders. As Marshall Goldsmith, corporate America's preeminent executive coach, said in a Fast Company column, “Long-term success is created by the 40,000 people doing the work -- not just the one person who has the privilege of being at the top.”

“If you read the literature,” Marshall also observed in the same column, ‘you'll see that much of it exaggerates -- if not glamorizes -- the leader's contribution.”

“What this world needs,” I thought that day in the bookstore, “is a book on the 7 habits of highly effective organizations.” Not a very original title, but a seed was planted.

In June 2006 Stephanie Grimes, the president of Evergreen Leaders, and I went to a two day workshop of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey studied success literature and through his research he identified 7 habits of effective people and also the principles, paradigms, behaviors and results linked with each habit.

As I was writing in my journal on other issues the morning after the first Covey workshop I kept interrupting my journaling to jot down I ideas for the paths of thriving organizations. In the months since I’ve used my 25 years of experience in nonprofit and church leadership as well as years reading leadership and management books to revise and polish the 7 paths. I also added notes on the principles, paradigms, behaviors and results linked with each path.

The world may not need another leadership but I do think it could use a book on the 7 Paths of Thriving Organizations. I’ve begun work on the introduction and the first two chapters. When they’re completed I’ll outline the remaining chapters and then second hire an agent to market the book. I’ll keep you, the readers of this e-letter, informed.

While for-profit businesses and families benefit from using 7 Paths, my passion is helping nonprofits thrive. Every day people in deep need turn to nonprofits for hope. My deepest hope is that countless nonprofits will use the 7 Paths of Thriving Organizations to meet deep human needs and to be great workplaces.

Wisdom for the week: When organizational life is tangled, complex and frustrating, you need a path or seven.

Fare thee well, Rich

The delicate balance of power and tall grass prairie

The delicate balance of power and tall grass prairie, 7 Paths #100, January 18, 2007

Leading a nonprofit organization is a delicate balance of personalities and performance, values and vulnerability, commitment and creativity, power and humility.

One day in late December 2006 when I was thinking about how being a humble leader can help an organization thrive, I rolled into a gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center located in a beautiful old building in downtown Chicago.

One piece in the gallery in particular, a video playing on a small screen, drew my attention. In the video a young artist, Victoria McOmie, dressed in a stocking cap and coat, walked across brown, wintry-looking grass and approached an abandoned chicken coop on the Ragdale Foundation grounds.

The Ragdale Foundation, a nonprofit organization, provides inexpensive residencies for artists and writers in an old mansion north of Chicago. At any one time there are 12 artists and writers living and working there. The exhibit, to celebrate Ragdale’s 30th anniversary, featured pieces done by artists while in residence at Ragdale.

McOmie had collected pieces of wood and plants and created an installation by arranging them in the coop in a pattern based on balance. The camera follows her inside and pans the collection of material balanced in the coop. Then the camera focuses on her as she crouches next to a long, stem of prairie tall grass balanced on an unseen object. Gently she blows on the head of the tall grass--you can see her breath--and the tall grass gently moves away from her, then back again; she blows again and the tall grass moves away, then back. I sat mesmerized; never once did she blow too hard and disrupt the delicate balance of the long stem.

McOmie’s installation seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for leading a nonprofit. McComia created a work of art out of an abandoned chicken coop, dried weeds, fallen branches, and broken bits of wood. Nonprofits often work with people who have been abandoned, neglected, and are on the margins of society.

Yet nonprofit leaders, like McOmie, have the ability to see potential in otherwise overlooked people. And they create organizations that thrive on a delicate balance between clientele, staff, board, donors, funders, and regulators, and the community

And when it’s done well it’s a thing of beauty.

Wisdom for the week: Humble hierarchy leaders create space and balance in which the unlikeliest of folks thrive.

Fare thee well, Rich

2007 in your memoir

2007 in your memoir, 7 Paths #99, January 4, 2007

As we begin 2007 I think about Doris Haddock, otherwise known as Granny D, who on January 1, 1999, at the age of 89, starting in Pasadena, California, began a walk across America in support of campaign finance reform.

On February 29, 2001 and 3200 miles later she walked into Washington, DC. Actually she skied the last 100 miles along the towpath of the C & O Canal in Maryland. In Washington, DC she was joined by 2200 reformers including several congressmen as she walked to the Capitol to press her case for campaign finance reform.

A year later the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also known as the McCain-Feingold Bill, was passed into law.

A couple years ago my daughter Hannah gave me a copy of the memoir that Doris wrote after her walk, Granny D: Walking across America in my 90th Year. I read it and was deeply moved.

The seed for a Doris’ journey was planted one evening in her hometown of Dublin, NH, when she was complaining to Bonnie, the leader of a study group that Doris belongs to, about how the rich were taking over and “you can’t get elected unless you have a million dollars.”

“Well, Doris, what are you going to do about?” Bonnie asked.

“Me? For heavens sake, what can I do?”

“Well, what can you do?”

She organized her friends over the next two years they collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for campaign finance reform and they sent them to the New Hampshire senators. One responded with a form letter calling unlimited campaign contributions a form of free speech and the other senator never even bothered to respond.

She felt like a woman scorned.

Rather than giving up she decided to walk across America in support of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. She walked and talked to all the reporters curious about a 90-year old woman walking across America.

At one point in her corporate career she was the second highest paid woman in New Hampshire. Yet, when she wrote her memoir after her walk, she never mentioned her career until near the end and then it was to say that she guessed that her career was not important compared to her public service on behalf of campaign finance reform.

In 2007, do something to make this a better world, something you will be proud to include in your memoir when you are in your 90s.

Wisdom for the week: Humble hierarchy leaders believe that powerlessness can be overcome by persistence.

Fare thee well, Rich

Note: In my last issue of the 7 Paths I invited folks to offer their own suggestions on how to spot dangerous leaders. Two responded. You can check out their thoughtful comments here.