Crazy: A Review of April

May 16, 2013 by

April was…crazy. Personally, professionally, in all ways absolutely crazy. It seems like every month this year has been crazy, which makes it doubly hard to focus on maintaining peace in mind. Nevertheless I’ll continue working on it.

April’s review

Here are a few key things that happened this month:

  • I went out eating, dancing and drinking with a couple of my best girlfriends on a weekend when Dan was out of town. We ended up closing down a bar at 2:30am which hasn’t happened in a long time. Even though I was really tired the next day it was so much fun! I really love to dance and often forget how important it is to me.My_neighborhood_in_bloom.
  • Dan’s birthday was this month so I took him out for a Caps game and a night on the town. Again, we had so much fun. Hockey is absolutely my favorite sport to watch in person and it was a great game. As always, spending dedicated time with my hubs was the best part of this trip.
  • I presented at a conference on supervisory skills (and then wrote a blog post about it). I haven’t presented to this audience before, so it was a great opportunity to get to know some new people and continue building my business.
  • We hosted our housewarming party – finally! It was great to see so many old friends and meet/play with their little ones. There are more and more kids among my group of friends so our parties have changed quite a bit since the old days 🙂
  • I attended and participated in several meetings for my usual transportation groups and commissions as well as the short-term parking group I’m on.

All in all, it was an exhausting month, especially because work was very busy as well. The biggest personal milestone that happened this month was the housewarming party and finally “opening” the house up for visitors. Several people hadn’t seen our place yet, so it was great to show off the new kitchen and all the work that went into making the house ours.Farragut_Square__dreaming_in_the_sun_while__zachsmith_101_and_I_grab_lunch_at_the_food_trucks.

The biggest business milestone I accomplished was to get my new website design and header launched (after far more hours of work than I originally intended to put into it). Getting that launched was sometimes an exhausting and frustrating process, so you can bet I won’t be doing it again soon! But it did allow me a chance to more clearly highlight the coaching work I can do with people (you maybe?) and the great content already on the blog.

The most valuable lesson I learned this month is that I need to take advantage of mental downtime whenever and where ever I can. There were, quite literally, almost no hours of any day in April when I wasn’t working, traveling somewhere, reading in preparation for something, cleaning, cooking or any number of other things. So when I had a chance to walk slowly home a couple of times through the beautiful spring foliage in my neighborhood or just stare out the window during my bus ride instead of doing work, it was a real balm to my mind and soul.

Next month

For the rest of May, I’m going to focus on taking time to relax whenever I can. I’m also going to work on trying to parcel out my time carefully so that I can try to preserve some of it for relaxation while still getting my work done.

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5 more supervision skills

Apr 23, 2013 by

In all the time I’ve been writing this blog, the most popular post I’ve ever written (by a huge margin), was “7 Skills for Supervision Success.” That is very telling to me. It tells me I should write most posts about it because people still need and want them. The role of supervisor remains one of the most important, but under-respected and under-trained in organizations everywhere.

And its not just nonprofits; I recently spoke at the National Association of Government Communicators 2013 Communications School and the folks in my session echoed what so many of you have said to me in the past about your struggles with supervising. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I do want to try to provide more support to those of you who have been thrust into supervision without the training and guidance you need or want.

To that end, here are 5 more supervision skills to add to your playbook:5

  1. Allow room for innovation – When a big project or piece of a project comes up and you decide to delegate it to someone you supervise, it can be tempting to give them all sorts of instructions on what to do and how to do it. And occasionally, that’s warranted – like when it’s a financial report or some other thing that has clearly defined rules and polices surrounding it. But, in general, you probably need to back off. Even if you think you know exactly the best and most efficient way to do it, you still have to provide room for the person you supervise to innovate and try something new. They may just figure out a new and better way to do something.
  2. Provide room to learn – How does someone learn to perform a new task or build a skill? Some of us get a bit of training and are then thrust out into the field to put training into practice immediately. Some of us are shown exactly how to do something and told it replicate it exactly. Some of us are asked to do something and then are just expected to figure out with no outside assistance. As a good supervisor, your job is to ensure that those you supervise don’t suffer through any of these ‘methods’, but instead learn through a combination of the best parts of each. You should provide training, actual hands on experience and modeling for those you supervise so that they can learn the way you’ve done it and figure out their own ways of making it work.
  3. Allow room for failure – This one may be the toughest on this list because it requires you to purposely step back and allow someone you probably like and trust to go down. (And it assumes that you can see it coming, not that it snuck up on both of you.) I’m not suggesting that you allow a major, deadline-driven project to tank just so someone you supervise can grow. What I am suggesting is that allowing room for innovation includes the potential for failure and that it’s important for that to happen in order for you both to learn. If you constantly swoop in to ‘fix’ something before it’s run it’s course, the person you supervise will never learn how to fix it him or herself and may feel resentful because you’re always butting in. In other words: butt out.
  4. Encourage positivity – I’m not someone who enjoys cheesy, fake expressions of interest or forced celebrations, but I do know that sometimes you have to grit your teeth and smile – even if you don’t want to. What’s more, if you start smiling, others will too; then they’ll get used to it and might actually start internalizing the positive emotions a smile brings. By creating a little positivity and encouraging others to spread it, you’ll find that your team is generally more happy anyway which will make even dull tasks a little more fun.
  5. Celebrate! – In my 7 Skills post, I mentioned giving credit (and taking responsibility) to others on your team. Celebration is little bit broader and usually involves a few more people too. Nonprofit, mission-focused people are often so focused on the next thing to do that they forget to celebrate victories that have happened, no matter how small. But during the celebration please don’t bring out your speech about how this is only the first step in a longer slog to ultimate victory; you’ll only depress people by making them think of all the work ahead. Instead, just bask in the victory and let them do the same.

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Everyone Must Step Up: A (Short) Manifesto on Nonprofit Leadership

Feb 5, 2013 by

Two articles and a recent staff retreat have got me thinking about the changing nature of leadership and mentorship in nonprofits.

Jack Marshall’s article over at Digiday titled “What Millennials Want: Mentorship” was actually written from the perspective of the for-profit sector, but it was incredibly relevant to us nonprofiteers as well. Jack discusses agencies that “talk a big game about appealing to young staffers, [but tend] to fall down on the most basic of requirements: training them and helping them along in their careers.” He offers two core reasons for this 1) that traditional sit-down-in-a-room-and-get-trained models of staff development are either not useful or barely even used anymore (because of companies cutting corners, etc.) and 2) that most managers are stretched so thin that they don’t have time to spend with junior employees providing guidance and feedback.step up

While business may have only started seeing this trend in the last few years, nonprofits have been seeing it for decades. In the interest of saving donors’ money, serving more people and getting a high ‘efficiency’ score on all those nonprofit rating lists (most of which are bullshit IMHO – but we’ll save that for another post), nonprofits have consistently cut – or in some cases never even offered – training to their staff. And as a ‘middle manager’ myself, I can testify to being stretched too thin to spend as much time as I want with those I supervise.

At my organization’s recent mid-year staff retreat, we had some extensive discussions about professional development, staff evaluations and knowledge-sharing. And if I may be frank, we were able to come to very few clear conclusions. Why? Not because we didn’t try or because people aren’t interested, but because each individual within the organization has different needs and desires in terms of his or her professional development. I’d go a step further and suggest that the many of the younger staff members have an all together different view from the senior management of what professional and leadership development should look like.

Enter Trish Tchume, the National Director of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Her fantastic article on HuffPo titled “A Field Guide for Recognizing Millennial Leadership” was exactly what I was looking for in terms of a way to focus on solutions to the challenges presented above. In her post, Trish identifies transformational millennial leaders that are breaking down traditional notions of what a nonprofit leader looks like (both physically and reputationally). And they are doing it by doing what millennials do best: networking with others, crowd-sourcing solutions, ignoring ‘turf’ or toes that can be stepped on and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone, no matter whether or not they are ‘known’ in the sector.

We all must take part in being the change we want to see. Here what we can do make it happen:

  • Nonprofit organizations and senior leaders:
    • First, acknowledge the truth: the more you ignore and fail to develop your staff, the more they will put on their walking shoes and leave your organization behind. Not only does this significantly erode your nonprofit’s ability to execute its mission, but the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkley suggests that staff turnover often costs 150 percent of that person’s salary (translation: if that person makes $60K, you’re paying $90K to replace him or her). If the nonprofit efficiency ratings took those costs into account, they might actually be more helpful.
    • Second: institute training programs, even if its mostly staff training each other or attending very cheap local events. Even a couple each quarter can make a difference in terms of your staff’s productivity, knowledge and happiness.
    • Third: make staff development and mentorship part of your organizational culture – make sure both your managers and employees know that taking time for mentoring conversations is acceptable and even encouraged; mentor staff yourself; share your network with your employees and be open to suggestions for improvement from EVERYONE in the organization from interns to senior staff.
  • Managers
    • Push back when your time is assigned 100% to projects/programs and none to all to the other important work, including staff development. No one can realistically spend 100% of their day just on programmatic work (even eating lunch takes away from it), so make sure you don’t just accept when organizational leadership tries to do that.
    • Even when things are incredibly busy, do whatever you need to in order to prioritize staff development. Take time out for lunch with junior staff. Save time in meetings for non-programmatic topics. Go get coffee or a drink after work with your staff. Sit next to them on the airplane during travel and take some time to talk about their goals instead of just burying your head in your laptop. The list goes on.
  • Junior staff/millennials
    • Push for those training opportunities and then take them when they come. They may not be exactly what you need or want, but every one is an opportunity for growth or at least networking with your peers.
    • Ask for feedback constantly – Not just on the report you drafted or the email template you just built, but on your performance as a whole. Be proactive in telling your managers about your longer-term goals and aspirations. Ask lots of questions and ask for connections to others who can help. (After a while, you’ll train your managers to offer this without even soliciting it, so start now!)
    • Remember that things are changing and while you may be on the leading edge, everyone else is not. While you’re working on getting mentorship, training and feedback at the workplace, don’t forget about your personal/alumni/social networks. Volunteer or serve on a board with your peers (YNPN local chapters are a great option) and offer them constructive suggestions and feedback about their work – and ask for the same on yours.

Of course, these ideas just scratch the surface on what can and should be done to move the state of nonprofit leadership forward. What else do you want to see to bring the sector and its employees truly into the 21st century of leadership?

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Moving on up!

Mar 19, 2012 by

I’m really excited to share that I was recently approached about becoming a guest blogger at Opportunity Knocks, a national online job site, HR resource and career development destination focused exclusively on the nonprofit community. I’ve shared, used and borrowed from their resources for years so I was very happy to say yes! I’ll be posting there periodically and wanted to share my very first submission which went live on their website (and then was sent out in an email newsletter – even better!) a few days ago. To learn more about Opportunity Knocks, sign up for their newsletters, browse jobs and of course keep up with their excellent bloggers, head on over to their website.

Free Labor? Not Quite.

There are a lot of things that nonprofits have in common: tax status, mission-driven work, dedicated employees, and – the topic of this post – interns. The same goes for individual nonprofit professionals – at one time or another almost all of us have supervised interns.

Here’s what often happens: You ask for help and your boss tells you to hire an intern…but provides no further guidance or instruction because it’s easy. Right? Um, no. In fact I think that supervising most interns is actually harder than full time staff because they have very little experience and frankly they aren’t “beholden” to the organization by things like pay and benefits. So how do you make sure that the free (or even very cheap) labor provided by your intern doesn’t end up costing both of you a lot in wasted time, energy and frustration?

Here’s what you can do:

1) Calm down – Do not talk to your intern when you’re angry. In fact if you have any problems with your coworkers or significant others, don’t ever talk to them when you’re angry. You won’t be able to control your emotions or the conversation.

2) Write it down – What is the problem as you see it? How long has it been going on? What specific examples do you have of unprofessional behavior or work not getting done? Tip: if you don’t have specific examples, you may want to reexamine whatever you think is a problem to make sure it actually is one.

3) Schedule a private meeting – This is not the time for a hallway or bathroom conversation. It needs to be scheduled and it needs to be private; you don’t want your intern to feel ganged up on nor do you need to involve anyone above you during the first conversation.

4) Explain your concerns using “I” language – Telling someone about all the things he or she is doing wrong (even if you are correct) is a sure fire way to make him or her feel attacked and then defensive. Instead, frame your concerns just like that: as YOUR concerns. It is entirely possible that your intern is not aware of how his or her actions are affecting you so let that person know.

5) ListenSimple yes, but not always easy. Understand that something may be going on that you don’t know about – and the only way you will learn about it is by listening to what your intern is saying. Do not just smile and nod: actively listen, take notes if you need to and then repeat back what you hear to make sure you got it right.

6) Set up a plan to resolve the issue – Once you’ve said your piece and your intern has said his or hers, the next step is to figure out how to work on fixing whatever is broken. What do you need? What does your intern need? The next steps must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound; basically at the end of the following month (or whatever time parameter you choose) you should know whether each step has been achieved. This may be the most important part: your intern generally doesn’t have years of experience to fall back on so he or she needs very clear guidance from you in order to excel.

7) Follow up – After some time has passed, have another private meeting to talk about how things are proceeding. If things have gotten better, you can choose to continue following the plan you laid out or take a step back. If things have not gotten better, then it’s time to consider whether more serious steps are warranted.

I hope these steps will help you – and your interns – get even more great work done!

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In case you missed them: the most popular posts of the year

Dec 30, 2011 by

I’ve been inspired by a couple of other bloggers to share some of my top posts of the year. I want to thank all you who have been reading and I hope you’ll stick with me in the new year – I hope to bring you even more good stuff!

  1. 7 Skills for Supervision Success – No matter who you supervise, I think there are 7 core skills that you need to understand, practice and think about all the time. Read more…
  2. There is no such thing as “work/life balance” – There, I said it. Work/life balance is a mythical concept. Much like the fabled unicorn, it is a creature that is much sought after, but can never be captured – because it DOES NOT EXIST. Read more….
  3. How to get the money you deserve – Women seem afraid to negotiate, they don’t tend ask for what they need and deserve when they actually do negotiate and then they end up with less money than men over the course of a life time. Read more…
  4. Planning a wedding is like looking for a job – no, really – Let’s be honest: no matter how much the wedding is about you and your partner making a lifetime commitment to love and honor each other, its also just as much about bringing together friends and family and appeasing their need to see something they expect from you. In that way, its exactly like a job search. Read more…
  5. 7 Habits of Highly Successful Managers – A couple of months ago, I was asked to present a training on leadership and management. I was told that I had 3 hours and about 15 interns to work with in the session. And that was it. It was intimidating to say the least. I mean how do you talk about leadership and management in a way that gets across some useful lessons in 3 hours? It seems like both too much and too little time. Read more…
Flickr photo courtesy of user iuniquefx
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