Is It Ever OK to Micromanage Staff?

micromanage

A coaching client asked me this question last week:

I think I might be micromanaging my development director but I’m not sure. AND I’m not sure that is a bad thing. What does it look like? And is there ever a time when micromanaging is not my fault but rather a need to manage someone more closely?”

What a great question!

It’s so easy trap to fall into the “micromanage” trap, but especially as a nonprofit manager. At most nonprofits, everything feels critical. Sometimes, mistakes can even mean lives.

I think back to my first job out of college, distributing supplies to patients around the country who were on home dialysis. My job literally could mean life and death. This certainly wasn’t working customer service at Macy’s.

My boss made the seriousness of my job clear from day one and instilled in me the values of getting it right. But he also told me I would make mistakes and outlined the Plan B for sending the wrong materials or what to do if there was a trucking delay.

While I knew that lots of mistakes would mean brief employment, I was also given permission to make them along with a plan to contend with those I made.

It was a great job in that way.

So does that mean if you don’t give a staff member a ton of space to fail, you’re a micromanager? Well, not necessarily.

And if you are concerned you are a micromanager, I have some antidotes to suggest below…Continue Reading

A New Resource for Nonprofit Leaders

Nonprofits are messy. You may have heard me say that before.

And if you’re a leader at a nonprofit, you know that it takes a village. It’s impossible to do it all on your own… even if you ARE kind of on your own. And so many nonprofit leaders I hear from do often feel alone, overwhelmed, and awfully frustrated in their jobs.

But I truly believe that if you stepped up and took a leadership position at a nonprofit, you’re a superhero. And like any superhero, you need your Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson. Your Justice League or Avengers… A group of fellow superheroes and supporters in your corner.

And that’s why I’m SO excited today to announce that I’ve opened the doors of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab to new members!

I created the Lab to help nonprofit leaders like you – both on the board and the staff – with the ongoing education, support, and community you need to thrive.

And if you could see my email inbox, you’d see how badly the sector needs this.

Just a quick heads up that if you think you might join the Lab, this registration period will close at midnight on Wednesday, October 18. This is so I can focus on the members instead of on marketing the Lab (which is very time consuming). So think about it, but don’t wait too long and miss the deadline.

WHAT IS THE NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP LAB?

Rather than write a long blog post explaining what this is all about, I whipped up this fun animation. It’s just a few minutes long.

 

I hope to see you in the Lab!

I invite you to learn more and see if the Lab is right for you at https://nonprofitleadershiplab.com.

Do You Need a Coach, a Mentor, or Both?

mentor

The life of a nonprofit leader can be quite lonely. I hear that all the time.

New board chairs are offered precious little in the way of direction and guidance. Executive Directors might use the word “lonely” as much as they use the word “overwhelmed.”

When I first arrived at GLAAD, I knew that I needed some real support if I was going to successfully transition from the for-profit sector. This new nonprofit world I had entered was strange!

What I really needed was a navigator, a guide, someone to help me learn the ropes and provide some wisdom about what it meant to be a leader in a movement.

But you can’t always get what you want… or need. (Do you have a certain song stuck in your head now too?)

Hire a coach? Ha! There wasn’t enough money for new letterhead.

But I got very lucky. The choice just happened. A colleague E.D. with a long nonprofit history extended herself because she saw my success as important to the movement.

She offered support. Generous.

I took her up on it. Turned out to be one of the smartest moves I made.

Thanks to her, I learned the ropes and avoided falling on my face a few times. I was reminded that I was a leader. She was a sage navigator for me and not once did I label her my mentor. Not until someone asked me years later if I had one.

Fascinating.

Today I’d like to explore the distinction between a coach and a mentor and offer some advice on how to find a mentor.

It’s free and it’s way easier than you think.Continue Reading

Nobody Warned Me About the ED 20!

I knew what she meant the moment she hit “post.”

executive director stress

If you’re unfamiliar with the “freshman 15,” it’s all about that first year of college…. Too much pizza and beer. A lot of stress. And 15 pounds gained.

So this is the “Executive Director 20”.

Nothing in the Thriving Nonprofit Facebook group (my free Facebook group for nonprofit staff and board leaders which you can join here) has ever struck a chord quite like this. 371 likes and counting.

Plus, more than 80 folks weighed in with comments (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) I have a feeling they’ll resonate with you.

  • “Per year?”
  • “Those long nights are comforted with food. Nobody told me.”
  • “Or the one meal per 14 hour day which may be at 9 pm and will be fast food, because it’s easy and you’re starving. The rest is sugar and caffeine.”
  • “Grrreaattt. another job perk!”
  • “It’s all the drinking”
  • “Make it 40 for me!”
  • “Totally real. I think it’s from being chained to the desk for 40+ hours per week, stress, and being to tired to cook good food when I get home. Chipotle has been very accommodating since this job started.”
  • “Don’t forget the ED blood pressure meds & antidepressant lol or is that just me?”
  • “For me, first time ED following the founder… ED 35, migraines, bronchitis, six months chronic back pain, some other stuff I can’t remember. Trying to get some sort of handle on managing the stress and pressure, and loneliness.”
  • “The comments on this thread are crazy. I really thought it was just me.”

While some of these comments illustrate the sense of humor that I really appreciate in nonprofit leaders, others border on heartbreaking. Folks are working their asses off (hope I’m not offending anyone but that feels like the real deal phrase) and working themselves into the ground.

I get it. I know I work too hard too. Just the other day I wrote the words “self care” and for some reason my iPhone autocorrected to “self scare”.

Clearly, many of you are stressed out beyond all reason. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.

But what can we do about it?

This topic is a big part of my upcoming free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, which starts on October 4. After all, you can’t thrive if you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, or if you feel completely alone. If you’re feeling those things, I invite you to please reserve a spot so I can help you.

I also want to say a few things about this here in the blog that I hope will help.

Continue Reading

Small Nonprofits Are Anything But Small

small nonprofits

There is something wonderfully unique about small nonprofits. Sometimes they are one-person shops – not a lot of bureaucracy. There is often a camaraderie – together as a community you are fighting for clients, for their needs, for what is right and just.

Here’s what I have learned. The only thing small about a small nonprofit is its size.

But with that size also comes some unique challenges. Maybe you recognize some of these in yourself or your organization?

  • Your mission is bigger than your bank account
  • You believe you can’t ever take a vacation because if you missed even just a few days all the work would literally stop
  • You have an overwhelming feeling that everything rests on your shoulders but still think it’s easier to try to do everything yourself then ask somebody for help. Who would you even ask?
  • You feel frustrated about your inability to get the word out given your limited resources and time
  • Your board isn’t stepping up or is made up of the wrong mix of people. Or they mean well but they just don’t know what to do next.

Just this week, I got an email from an Executive Director of a small nonprofit – the board voted to close down the organization because of its inability and skepticism about raising money.

Board and staff leaders of small nonprofits throw their hearts and souls into the work, feel totally responsible, wildly overwhelmed, and far too often like the “man behind the curtain” – the imposter behind the Great and Powerful Oz.

And there’s another thing that makes it especially tough for a small nonprofit. Not a dime for outside help. No coaching, no consulting, no supportive community. Little opportunity to learn from others, to secure a mentor and feel more competent, in control and less alone.

It’s time to do something about this. Here’s what I have in mind…

Continue Reading

How to Know When You Are Overdoing It

overdoing it

One of my early forays into therapy was in 1997 when I became the Executive Director of GLAAD. I remember my first day in my new therapist’s office and of course she asked, “Why are you here?” My answer came quickly. “I like to solve problems for people – I’m a helper – but I’ve gone overboard. Now I feel like I have to take care of all the gay people everywhere.” 

I bet many of you feel this way. Not necessarily about gay people. But about all the cats who haven’t been adopted, or the community center you know would benefit so many, or the marginalized groups you lobby for, or the communities of faith you support with your work.

It’s a lot of pressure. And as I have been known to say, a profound privilege.

I wish I had the antidote for the tremendous pressure and overwhelming responsibility.

I don’t. And I’m really sorry I don’t.

I know I have written posts and recorded podcasts about how to manage it but ok, I’ll say it. I am highly imperfect.

I pulled a fortune from a fortune cookie a few years back. I keep it with me. It kinda said it all. “The best advice to follow is the advice you give to others.”

My team will tell you I’m frequently overdoing it. I feel like so many people are counting on me. I remember thinking about all the gays and it would stress me out. Now staff and board leaders of 1.5 million nonprofits? OY. And that’s just here in the U.S.

It takes its toll. I work at the expense of my hobbies, my health, my relationships.

Crazy, right? People I don’t know take priority over my loved ones.

And so my wife and I (just the two of us) spent the last two weeks at a health boot camp. It wasn’t fun. And I am abundantly aware that only Type A workaholics select ‘vacations’ of this sort. Well, and also folks whose health is at risk. My wife and I check both boxes.

We reset our health. We ate without salt, sugar and oil. We were up at 6:30 am daily. An hour of cardio, an hour of strength training, an hour of yoga and then lectures about what happens to your body with age, with stress.

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned. Few folks will have the privilege of spending two weeks as we did but I can share the lessons. Some of them are personal – most of these unflattering. Some more global – educational and hopefully helpful.

And while I write about these lessons from my own perspective (female of a certain age) they apply to all of us.Continue Reading

3 Tools Every Remote Staff or Board Member Needs

remote

Shh… I’m going to let you in on a little secret about Joan’s business while she’s not paying attention… Let’s keep this between you and me.

I’ll start with what you probably already know – Joan is a busy woman. Really busy.

It’s kind of amazing how much she gets done.

In addition to writing this blog, she has an uber-popular podcast. A gig on a weekly network television show. A best selling book. An engaged (and free) Facebook group called “Thriving Nonprofit.”

She consults nonprofits and coaches a few lucky individuals. She’s a keynote speaker at major nonprofit events.

Plus, she recently launched the Nonprofit Leadership Lab where nearly a thousand leaders – staff and board – are getting much needed and ongoing mentorship, training, and support. Joan creates much of the content for the Lab and is a constant presence in the Lab’s community.

[As an aside, we’re opening the doors to the Lab again soon. If you’re interested in learning more about it or joining the waiting list, click here.]

So yeah, she’s busy.

She’s able to do all of this because she has the right people on her bus.

But here’s something you might not know. For the most part, her company is “virtual.” What does that mean?

My daughter tells me to never use Wikipedia as a source (that’s what they taught her in school) but she doesn’t read the stuff I write, so…

Wikipedia says a virtual organization is “an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication.”

In the nearly five years since Joan first hired my company to help her launch her business and build her brand, we probably haven’t been in the same room more than ten times. In fact, we worked together for more than six months – quite successfully – before we ever met in person. And that only happened because Joan invited me to guest lecture for her class at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oh yeah… did I mention that on top of everything else, Joan is also an adjunct professor at an Ivy League university? Busy.

It has become increasingly common for any organization to have remote staff and run virtually.

And when it comes to nonprofits, it’s in the DNA. After all, even if you don’t have remote employees (and you probably do) board members don’t typically work at nonprofit HQ.

Several folks in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab recently asked if we could recommend the best tools to help facilitate communications and project management when people aren’t in the same physical space.

And so today I’m going to share with you the three most important tools we use at Joan Garry Consulting, all of which are quite affordable.

Each of these tools can have a big and positive impact at your nonprofit.Continue Reading

How to Fire Someone

how to fire someone

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Hire slow, fire fast”?

And yet, for many of us, firing somebody is really hard. And so we put it off.

I’ve heard every line in the book.

Oh he’s been here forever – we’d lose so much institutional knowledge.”

“He is excellent at his job – he’s just arrogant and uncivil to his colleagues.”

“I’m not sure I’ve really been clear – maybe I need to do a better job.”

“It just feels so cruel to fire someone and it would hurt staff morale too much.”

Or the one I hear most often.

“Our organization is like a family – I just can’t.”

Well nonprofit leader, YES YOU CAN.

It’s not a family. No one is a sacred cow. A person is not doing an ‘excellent’ job if he treats people in your organization so poorly it impacts their job satisfaction.

I know it’s tough, but today it is time to put on your big boy and big girl pants and just do it. It’s necessary for the health of your organization.

It is time to take a good hard look at the folks on your bus. You have folks (board and staff) who are rockstars. You would weep if they asked to get off the bus. There are also folks you’re just not sure about.

Here’s how to deal with the folks who really just need to get off at the next stop.Continue Reading

Lessons on Creating a Legacy

creating legacy

Far too often, Matthew O’Reilly would sit in the back of an ambulance, rushing a patient to the hospital but knowing full well that the patient wasn’t going to make it. And the patient knew it too.

Often, the patient – a complete and total stranger – would look Matthew in the eye and ask the simple question: Will you remember me?

I saw Matthew’s moving TED talk live in 2014 and his words have stayed with me. They were heartbreaking.

Many nonprofits are started by families who have lost loved ones, often as a result of a tragedy, a health issue, a violent crime, a terror attack. Far too often, these loved ones were taken far too soon.

And so today I want to introduce you to two folks, Kari Pepper-McKeone and Todd Crawford. Both started nonprofits following a personal tragedy. You really need to hear their stories.

They have lessons to teach those who stand in similar shoes. And that’s a whole lot of us at some point in our lives.

Kari’s and Todd’s stories can help us make sense of those times in all of our lives when we ask ourselves these questions. How can I make sure that some good comes from this tragedy? How do I make sense of this? How do I create some kind of legacy?

Or the question that so many have asked Matthew O’Reilly.

Will you remember me?

Continue Reading

Creative Interview Questions to Find Your Next Great Hire

creative interview questions

This weekend I was out to dinner with my family. My daughter (of age) ordered a Bloody Mary, but after one sip she was done.

“I can’t drink this,” she told the waitress, Kim. “It has way too much horseradish.”

Kim’s response –which was not impressive – led me to my first big “AHA” moment of the weekend. It was about hiring staff and a key question to ask in an interview.

This one question can let you know if you’re talking to your next great staffer.

So today I’m going to share with you a question you should ask – one you probably haven’t ever thought to ask before – and why typical interview questions just don’t cut it.Continue Reading