Sunday, December 31, 2017
On the eve of a new year, lots of you (myself included) are thinking about the shape of your lives and careers in the year ahead. Taking my own Strategize Me advice, I like to reserve New Year's to reflect on my past accomplishments and map out a plan for the coming year.
The year just ending was overflowing with work commitments: a full plate of employee and consultant responsibilities, a new book, co-developing a new museum studies course and trying to teach it, trying to be present with colleagues and friends, struggling to be creative and interesting and interested -- well, the list goes on and on.
It's easy enough to chalk it up as a busy year. What's struck me as I attempt to catalog my 2017 accomplishments is that I get no satisfaction from being so busy. Busy-ness does not equal quality; it doesn't begin to describe depth (or even lack) of commitment. It fails the authenticity test.
I'm tired of being busy, of describing myself that way as my pat answer to anyone's query about how I am or what I've been up to. Because, of course, 'busy' is not really an answer. And we're all busy.
I want more than just putting one more brick in the wall. The challenge for strategizing me this year is to find renewal and meaning.
I hope that's your challenge, as well.
Happy New Year.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Today I'm meeting up with my career planning posse. We call ourselves the Gang of Five and we've been meeting periodically for about six years to share our career challenges and aspirations, our plans; seek and offer advice, support, and the critique as appropriate. The Gang is my personal board of directors, who collectively and individually I can call on when needed. As a result, I've advanced my thinking about my career journey, if nothing more than to make it far more intentional.
Earlier this summer, I got to talk with my friend and colleague, Greg Stevens at the American Alliance of Museums, about career planning. The result is this interview, published at Alliance Labs. Greg is a terrific proponent of career planning and development -- not surprising since he's the Director of Professional Development at AAM and the co-author of A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career. Whether you work in museums or some other type of cultural institution, check out the book -- you'll find it packed with great insights and advice.
Now back to a personal board of directors.
This group of people that you invite to help you make strategic decisions about your career needs to be a mix of people who can see the landscape from a 30,000-foot level as well as offer on-the-ground advice for navigating it. This isn't the group that gathers after work to moan about work over a few drinks. That may eliminate your grad school BFF and it almost certainly eliminates family and those whose emotional connection to you sways their perspectives about you. For more thoughts about 'strategic' network building, read Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter's "How Leaders Create and Use Networks."
A personal board of directors can be all about you and your career. In the Gang of Five, we're about each other's careers as much as we're focused on our own. We've helped each other with job searches, resume review, sorting out employee conflicts, and cheering on the various publishing projects three of us have been involved in (as well as comparing notes about publishers).
The point is you don't have to chart your career moves in a vacuum, nor should you (and I ought to know, since I spent a good part of my career doing so). I still rely on my own counsel for many career decisions, but knowing I have four colleagues I can call on who know my career aspirations well enough to ask tough questions and offer some creative and sound advice is like having that extra blanket on a cold night.
Friday, June 2, 2017
I've been following some of the running commentary in a couple of Facebook groups that cater to nonprofit leaders, both veteran and emerging. I'm glad to know there are active and supportive fora where folks can vent their frustrations and celebrate their accomplishments. We all need a safe space in which to do just that.
The venting focuses almost exclusively on workplace issues -- you can probably guess them -- lousy pay, crushing hours, troubles with subordinates, trouble with board members, ethical dilemmas, general frustration with the pervasive notion of scarcity to which many nonprofits cling. While the members of the Facebook groups represent a teeny fraction of the actual nonprofit workforce, I believe their challenges are widespread and probably growing as the number of nonprofits continues to expand.
These challenges aren't new, although increased external scrutiny and competition have made them more pressing, more in-your-face, and no longer avoidable. Taken together, the nonprofit sector lives in at least two parallel universes: the lofty, mission-driven world of doing good and the pernicious world of scarcity where board and staff leaders lack the foundational knowledge or the discussion/planning space to grow healthy, prosperous organizations.
The disconnect between these two universes is wide and growing. And we need the entire nonprofit ecosystem (individuals, institutions, professional associations, graduate programs, etc.) working together to close the gap by making nonprofit workplaces as great as the public benefit they say they provide.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
I've written about resolutions for nonprofits before (see the infographic and read more here), but this year -- especially this year -- nonprofit boards will be put to the test in the face of civic dissonance, uncertain government support for education, arts, history, and science; and the continuation of dramatically shifting demographics.
So, here's my short list:
Know your organization's mission cold and I don't mean memorize the mission statement. I mean deeply and fully understand the impact your nonprofit makes to those who benefit from the work you do. Understand how you meet the need, how you excel at doing so, and why that's important. Be able to tell the stories about your organization's impact to anyone.
Get up to speed on what real governance is all about. Set goals and success measures, exercise oversight, consider the future (a lot), strategize pathways to success, and keep at it. Good governance is intentional and sustained.
Be the partner your staff leadership needs and wants. Ask what you as a board and as individual board members can do to help staff leaders. Listen. Act together.
Understand that constraints often lead to creative solutions. It's easy (and lazy) to bemoan the lack of resources. Frankly, no institution ever has enough. So, figure out how to use constraints to your advantage.
Know that you are not alone. Almost every nonprofit in the US is considering its options in the face of the next four years. We're traveling the same road, meeting similar, if not the same, challenges along the way. Reach out. Share information and knowledge. Work together.
We're part of a big, beautiful nonprofit sector. Let's all work together.