Making the Most of Change

Are you in the middle of a major change in some area of life right now?

I am.  

Feeling squeezed? Confused? Not sure what to do or where to turn?

Are you challenged by a change?

Perhaps the change you are dealing with results from a decision you made to alter something about your life. Maybe you decided to change jobs, change locations, change friends, or change yourself. Whatever it is, youre the one responsible for initiating the change. You started the ball rolling and its up to you to see it through.

Or not. 

Its also entirely possible that the change was done to you. Maybe your company reassigned to a different department or job, required you to relocate to a new area. Perhaps you were even forced out into early retirement or sidelined by a reduction in force. 

What if someone you love dearly was forced into a change and suddenly, their change became your change. You left a place you loved, because someone you loved more was required to relocate and you moved with them. 

Worse yet, what if someone you love decided they no longer loved you and dumped you? They needed to move on and you? Well, you were left behind. An extremely painful 

Life cycle of the Tiger Swallowtail ButterflyHowever it started, change was, or is, underway. Regardless of its source, the real issue now is: how do you make the most of change? parting that adds to the significance and complexity of that particular change. 

Making the most of change, however it began and even when it was self initiated, is a process that results from an initial decision.  

Its a process, a journey. 

The journey begins with a decision, involves a shift, and results in a change.  

A shift in how you see, understand, and even in the way you do things. And if a relocation is involved it includes a change of where as well. William Bridges, noted,

Changes of any sort finally succeed or fail on whether

the people affected do things differently. 

Let me share the journey Im traveling.  

Actually, Im now 22 months into a change process and finally realize that what I originally perceived as no big deal was in fact, a very big deal. In reality, it wasnt just a  minor change, it was a major transition and this time it is one that I initiated. Heres a key insight with broad application: underestimating the significance of a change effort will delay, and in some cases, ultimately undermine, the whole change process.

Late in 2011, I made a tough business decision. I bought out my business partner. Theres another whole story there of how we ended a business partnership, yet preserved our friendship. Its even more amazing how making that change positioned (and freed) her to follow and fulfill her dream. Just last month, Tiffany Applegate and her family relocated to Guatemala to assume the leadership of an orphanage there. Thats her story to tell and you can learn more on their Facebook page.

In his excellent book, Managing Transitions, William Bridges shared a brilliant insight on the difference between change and transition. Change is situational, transition is psychological. 

In other words, change is an event, transition is our journey in response to any change.

Bridges continued, Transition is a three-phased process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.

Transition starts with an ending and finishes with a new beginning. 

The three phases are depicted in the diagram below:

William Bridges 3 phases of change

It begins with ending which includes letting go of the old so you can ultimately embrace the new. For many, this is the most difficult part of the transition. They dont want to let go of the old. 

I understand. Ive done it.

Taking on (or trying to) the new while still holding on to the security of the familiar is tough. Most likely, you just dont have the capacity to do it. Ultimately, you have to say no to some of the good things that youve done, maybe even for a long time, so you can say yes to even better things. 

Unless, and until, you let go of the old, you cant embrace the new.

I found myself trying to take on new things – like the fabulous partnership I have with the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. However, for a time, all I was doing was trying to take on the new without shedding the old. Slowly, I started saying no, I had to say no,  so I could say yes to the new. 

Saying no is hard, at least for me it is. Saying no meant helping some old clients find new sources of help. For me, saying no means staying focused on my sweet spot

According to Bridges, as the phase of endings and letting go closes, it leads to a neutral zone. The neutral zone is where innovation and repatterning occurs. Here, we find new ways to do things as well as new things to do. Its a time of great excitement and ultimately leads to the new beginnings. 

The new beginning is what completes this transition and realizes the change you began some time earlier. 

However, dont get too comfortable because the only thing that is certain is a new change will come and the new change will require another transition. 

Legendary coach and remarkable leader, John Wooden said it well,

Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out. 

If you find yourself in the middle of a change, or leading a change initiative, learn to navigate the transition. Successfully managing transition is how you make the most of change.

Hope in the middle of a maze


Image credits: Life cycle of the tiger swallowtail butterfly by Jens Stolt via 3 phases of change by Monash University. Labyrinth with HOPE by 3dts, via iStockphoto

Servant Leadership: Choosing to Serve First and Always

This post was originally written for The Center for Servant Leadership at Marylhurst University. It's shared here for our blog subscribers and other readers.

Serve Photo: Hryck via FlickrIs servant leadership something you do or is it someone you are? Whats your initial response?

On the surface this seems to be a simple question, perhaps, even deceptively simple. However, it quickly gets to the fundamental understanding of servant leadership. What is it? Is it a set of practices you do OR is it a set of beliefs about life and leadership and who you are as one who leads and serves?

My answer? Yes. To both.

There are principles and practices (things you do) associated with servant leadership and servant-leaders embrace those principles and exemplify those practices because of who they are.

Let me explain. Robert K. Greenleaf had a stroke of brilliance when he wrote servant-leader rather than servant/leader in his 1970 essay The Servant as Leader that launched a movement of servant leadership that is now global in scope and reach.

Servant slash leader (servant/leader) would denote an either/or orientation. One can envision situations where a person chooses to serve because serving seems the appropriate action for a particular setting or situation. Then, there would be other situations where exercising power and authority seem to be the greater need and one would switch to the leader mode.

The servant hyphen leader (servant-leader) is brilliant because the – denotes and rather than or. And it places the emphasis on being servant first as Greenleaf defined it: The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

Mr. Rogers red sweaterNotice that Greenleaf didnt say that the servant-leader is sometimes servant. Its not a set of behaviors a leader slips in and out of when convenient. Its not something you put on and take off, like Mr. Rogers and his cardigan sweater.

Oh, heres an opportunity to serve, let me go do something nice for someone and when Im done with that, let me return to being leader first.

Being servant first is a way of being and it manifests itself through a way of doing. The power of servant leadership is found in the paradox of the hyphen. The hyphen makes a servant-leader both a servant and a leader not a leader who occasionally serves OR a servant who sometimes leads.

Our original question, Is servant leadership something you do or is it someone you are? is a trick question. It sets up the false dichotomy that servant leadership is either/or rather than both/and.

Servant leadership is a philosophy of life and leadership. It is first and foremost a way of being and it is expressed through principles and practices. Yes, being a servant-leader is about who we are as people and it is equally concerned with what we do.

Dont accept servant leadership as being an either/or approach that allows one to go soft when its time to serve and be hard when its time to lead. By choosing to serve first, we choose to serve always.

Photos: Serve, Hryck via Flickr; Mr. Rogers Sweater By Rudi Riet (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 

Is your nonprofit board affected?

Experts and advisors for the Bureau of Organizational Health and Wellness (BOHAW) have issued a health advisory based on the increased incidence reports of LAB Syndrome among nonprofit organizations. Cases of LAB Syndrome have been widely reported affecting many communities in the United States and Canada. 

At this point, LAB Syndrome is believed to be highly contagious, and, if left untreated, its known to be fatal. Several board health examiners, having conducted autopsies of recently expired nonprofit organizations, listed LAB Syndrome as the leading cause of death. Efforts to contain the outbreaks have failed in many communities, leading some advisors to believe LAB Syndrome is on the verge of becoming pandemic. However, LAB Syndrome is treatable and curable with early detection and aggressive intervention.

What is LAB Syndrome?

Group of people sleeping or boredLow Achieving Board (LAB) Syndrome results from the ineffective gathering of groups of effective individuals. These groups, officially known as nonprofit boards, frequently fail to provide adequate leadership when assembled as the leadership body or governing board for a nonprofit organization. It seems mysterious to many of the nonprofit leaders interviewed by BOHAW experts and advisors. Despite their best efforts to recruit highly effective individuals to serve as members of the governing board of their organizations, they are mystified by the languishing states of low achievement perpetuated by these boards. Some of the most visible areas of low achievement are seen in fundraising, effective deliberation, decision-making, and follow-through.  

Causes of LAB Syndrome

Three main causes have emerged from the early studies conducted by BOHAW.

  1. The coronary-cerebral chasm. This is the 18 inch gap between the heart and mind of board members. It is believed that most board members have great hearts and great minds that they are people of passion and purpose. Yet, in many cases both heart and mind seem untapped or underutilized to advance the organizations mission and vision. This could be closely connected to the second leading cause thats been observed.
  2. Consistent reinforcement of low expectations. Many organizations report that, since board members are volunteers and receive no monetary compensation for their service, they do not think they can make demands on their time or talents. Accordingly, organizational leaders reported intentionally minimizing their requests of board members so that board service is not perceived as taxing or burdensome. Their requests do not stimulate board members to action and often perpetuate the coronary-cerebral chasm. When this occurs, it is perceived as the organization setting low expectations and consequently, often getting exactly what they don't want.
  3. Maniacally meaningless meetings. It is also reported that many board meetings are poorly planned, highly predictable, and terribly trivial. In other words, too many meetings are boring and ritualistic. Every meeting agenda contains the same few topics every month with little time allocated to meaningful discussions. Many board members perceive that their primary contribution to the meeting is ensuring enough members are present to make a quorum for the meeting.  

Symptoms of LAB Syndrome 

A variety of symptoms have been reported. Among the most commonly reported are:

Organizations are resource deprived. 

Organizational strategy is static and stale.

Meetings are frequently rescheduled or cancelled due to poor attendance.

Board discussions seem preoccupied with trivial matters.

Board turnover either doesnt exist or is excessively high.

Staff members frequently perform board tasks. 

Doctor with defibrillatorTreatment and remedies for LAB Syndrome 

As with many ailments, proper diagnosis is the first step towards a cure. If you suspect LAB Syndrome has affected your board, immediate intervention is recommended. Self-detection and remedy is possible for minor cases of LAB Syndrome. If your case is severe, engaging a board specialist with demonstrated expertise in helping boards recover from LAB Syndrome may be necessary.

Preventive measures to avoid LAB Syndrome

Many nonprofit organizations ask what they can do to protect themselves from LAB Syndrome, here's a brief list of recommendations.

Actively recruit new members for your board. Screen potential board members to ensure they have a high degree of passion for your organizations purpose. Make sure they have a personal WHY for wanting to serve on a board and that their WHY connects to your organizations WHY. Invest in regular training and development for your current board. Provide regular opportunities for board members to build social capital with one another so they establish higher levels of trust and appreciation for the diversity of perspectives and personalities.

Seriously, there's too much at stake to allow low achieving boards to continue. If your board is languishing in low achievement, take action steps to revitalize the board. The health of your organization truly is at risk; but the greater risk is failing to be the beacon of hope and help to those your organization exists to serve. 

A fix for nonprofit boards that fail at fundraising

Are you disappointed with your nonprofit boards performance in fundraising? If so, youre not alone. 

Consider this from the BoardSource 2010 Governance Index, Year after year, nonprofit leaders identify fundraising as their boards greatest weakness and most important priority for board improvement.

That was written in 2010 and chances are, its as true today as it was three years ago when it was first typed.

Is that true for your board? Do board members continue to render lackluster performance in fundraising despite your best efforts to motivate, inspire, cajole, beg, or even guilt them into fundraising? 

Probably so. 

Most likely it wont get any better either. Why do I say that?

History and physics. 

Well maybe not world history or quantum physics, but two observations — one about history and one from a physicist.

Sign indicating going in circlesGeorge Santayana noted, Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

If your board has a long history of fundraising failures, what lessons have you learned from those failures? If you havent stopped long enough to examine whats behind those disappointing results and instead doubled down on your effort to get your board aggressively fundraising, thats where physics come in.

Or at least an observation from the beloved physicist Albert Einstein, who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If youve diagnosed the primary problem with your board fundraising as having the wrong people on your board which leads to the perpetual playing musical chairs with board members until you get the perfect people on the board that will go and fundraise. Well, perhaps you see what Einstein had in mind. 


What if the problem is not with who is on the board, but rather the problem is how youve defined and understood fundraising?   

Even more pointedly, What if the foundations of your fundraising are faulty?

Before writing me off as either a heretic or a lunatic, please read on.

What would happen if, in your organization, you recast your understanding of fundraising and how you approach it?

Imagine for a moment that instead of looking at fundraising as a set of activities you undertake to raise money for your organization, you began considering fundraising as an outcome or result from an entirely different set of activities.

Stay with me.

Fundraising is defined as raising money for a cause. That very definition casts fundraising as a transaction and this gets to the heart of the matter for many people.

A transactional approach to fundraising for many board members ranks either right above or right below a root canal on the pleasure scale. 

Heres how transactional fundraising is often perceived (by board members coerced into action).

 Let me see if I get this, you want me to arrange a meeting with a friend, acquaintance, or business associate, spend a few minutes in awkward small talk and then ask them for a BIG contribution to our organization?

Ick! Yuck! Are you kidding me? Im not comfortable doing that even if I wanted to AND I dont. No thanks.

Okay, it thats how your organization approaches fundraising, then its not on the pleasure scale at all, its on the pain scale. Something to be avoided like the plague.

And people wonder why your board members dont respond enthusiastically?

Attempts like that are trying to get people to do something that doesnt come naturally to them. Its awkward and embarrassing — and, in many cases, rightfully so.

three women talking over coffeeConsider for a moment, what do people like to do? 

That could generate a long list, but in keeping with our topic, people like to talk about things they are passionate about. People like to share good news with friends, colleagues, and neighbors. People like to socialize by gathering for coffee, tea, dinner, or a party.

Imagine that your board members are so excited about the great things happening in and through your organization and they are so passionate about the mission that they want to share that great news with others? 

If this happened, could it result in natural, even organic, ways of introducing new people to your organization and your organization to new people?

Man having a bright ideaIs it possible that some of those people might be so stirred and interested that they want to learn more about this wonderful organization doing amazing work in the community (your organization)? 

If they learned more, might they be interested in investing their time as volunteers or their treasure as a financial supporter?

If that happened, would that result in raising resources (including money) for your organization?

DING! Do you hear bells ringing?

What if you developed a campaign that encouraged and equipped board members to introduce their friends, neighbors, and associates to your organization and provided natural ways for that to happen?

Its what I call relationally rich resource development

Stir up and unleash the passion of board members for your organizations purpose. Get them so excited about it, that they want to share your great work with others. Create opportunities for them to introduce and connect others to the organization.

Raise friends for the organization and trust that the funds will follow. 

In this model, relationally rich resource development is the activity, raising funds is simply one result. This is not transactional, and it has the potential to be transformational for all involved.

It works, its fun. Interested in learning more? Stay tuned. If you cant wait, contact me now.

Want better outcomes? Ask Bigger, Better, Bolder Questions

Earlier this week I was in a planning meeting to plan another meeting. Youve attended meetings like that, right? 

Theres a high stakes meeting in the near future and you assemble a group of the brightest minds you know to make a plan for that meeting. In this particular case, next weeks meeting involves leaders of two support organizations sitting down with a key leader to secure his commitment for a major upcoming multiyear project in which his support is vital to the projects success. Of course, failing to garner his support will be detrimental for all involved.

As we were talking through the meeting goals, objectives, and logistics we began envisioning the desired outcome we wanted to see. Someone said, It would be great to get a quote from the agency director to include in the program launch. Heads are nodding, indicating agreement that a quote from the agency director would be great.

Great? Im thinking we ought to get a quote without having a high stakes meeting.

Feeling that irresistible urge, I asked one of my favorite questions, Whats the highest potential outcome of next weeks meeting? (More on this below).

Instantaneously, the energy and discussion dramatically shifted to a higher plane!

Instead of thinking about the least we could get by with, we began considering whats the most that could come out of this meeting.

The director could offer to champion the project and give his full support to it.

He could offer valuable insights that are critical to the success of the project. 

What if he created a video expressing his support for the project?

Imagine the impact it would have if he would agree to attend the kickoff in person and provide the keynote.

What if he requested periodic status reports and monitored the progress of the project?

Suddenly, those were the new outcomes for next weeks meeting. And all of that because of one single question.

Thats right!

One question elevated the energy and excited the imaginations of those in the meeting. It unleashed creative thinking and raised our expectations. Hopefully it creates a new set of possibilities for this project and puts it on a trajectory towards greater success than it might have otherwise have.

Girl trapped inside boxEver found yourself in a situation where, either alone or as part a group, youre battling low expectations and small thinking? 

Small thinking leads to small action, or worse, no action at all. 

Small thinking is often a response to considering small questions.

Questions like:  

Whats the least we can get by with? 

Whats the smallest request we can make that they wont say no to?

Those questions may yield safe, predictable responses. But, playing it safe does NOT change the world or our communities in it. Playing it safe preserves the status quo and we desperately need a shake up of the status quo.

Questions like these are Safe, Low-Ask Propositions and yes, they are a SLAP in the face of people who are moved to action by big, hairy, audacious goals (Jim Collins BHAG). 

Our little thinking does not lead us to the audacious solutions needed for the complex and complicated issues we face today. Little thinking keeps us confined and constrained — bound up when you need a breakthrough. 

Daniel Burnham encouraged leaders to, Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir mens blood…make big plans, aim high in hope and work. 

Big red question markOne key to making big plans and aiming high is asking bigger, better, bolder questions. It is also important to ask them in the affirmative, not the negative. For example, the most common question I hear from my friend and mentor, Hildy Gottlieb, is what would that make possible? Note she doesnt ask, what prevents that from happening?  Phrasing the question that way focuses our attention in the wrong direction and magnifies the reasons something may not work or happen.

Incidentially, Hildy is the mentor who equipped me to ask, Whats the highest potential outcome of any situation or opportunity? Thanks Hildy, that question continues to prod my thinking and serve my clients.

Asking positive questions not only prompts us to bigger, bolder, and better thinking, it also reaches deep within us, stirs us to new levels of creativity and imagination, while also inviting us to dream bigger. 

Before your next staff or board meeting, equip yourself with powerful, positive questions you can ask. By so doing, the next time you find yourself in a situation or meeting where you feel slapped by safe, low-ask propositions, you will be able to ask powerful positive questions that enliven the discussion, elevate the thinking, and encourage big, hairy audacious action.

Need help with powerful, positive questions? Checkout the Encyclopedia of Positive Questions, Volume I or explore resources on the Appreciative Inquiry website

Servant Leadership: A virtuous cycle of service

This article was originally published last week as a blog post for the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Sharing it here for our friends and followers. 

Words matter. The right word makes a world of difference in whats communicated and understood. Mark Twain observed, The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.

Likewise, those of us who embrace servant leadership face a similar challenge in assigning the proper meaning to the servant part of servant leadership. Some people have a negative reaction to the concept of servant and others simply misunderstand it.

Lets look at the negative connotations first, as they create stumbling blocks for many.  And, in some instances, these struggles are legitimized by personal histories. Serving and servanthood are often associated with servitude, where a person, or group of people, is forced into bondage and subjection as a slave to another thats slavery and bondage. In the context of servant leadership, however, serving and servanthood are not at all synonymous with servitude.

A thorough reading of Robert Greenleaf and it is quickly understood that power and its proper use are central themes and tenets of servant leadership. Any abuse or misuse of power for personal gain or advancement is contrary to servant leadership.

Servant leadership is also misunderstood when people confuse wants and needs and seek leaders to cater to their wants, whims, and wishes. Instead of choosing a leader who serves their legitimate needs, they want a genie who grants their wishes.

That would be butler leadership, not servant leadership.

Butler in tuxedo holding call bell

A classic quotation from Greenleaf is: The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. Greenleaf held a high and noble view of service and envisioned servant-leaders helping their followers navigate Maslows hierarchy of needs.

Perhaps our best glimpse into how Greenleaf understood serving is summarized in what he offered as the best test of servant leadership. Do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsAs I read Greenleafs best test, its like watching people ascend the heights of Maslows hierarchy of needs. Having their physiological needs (food, water, shelter) met and their higher level needs of safety, belonging, and esteem satisfied, they reach the point of self-actualization and are now at a place where they too become servants of others and are able to reach out and help them on their journey.

Its a virtuous cycle of service. 

A servant-leader may indeed serve you a cup of coffee or tea or even help you change a flat tire, but please dont mistake random acts of service by someone in a leadership role as being the same thing as servant leadership. The best test of servant leadership isnt whether or not a person occasionally serves others, but whether they serve others in such a way that they too join the chorus and carry on the virtuous cycle as an authentic servant-leader. 

>>> Curious about the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and my work with them?

In addition to my work with X Factor Consulting, I've affiliated with the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership as Director of Greenleaf Consulting Partners. Through the Greenleaf Center, we're working with organizations, institutions, and associations interested in learning more about servant leadership and provide customized consulting and training to help them implement servant leadership principles and practices. Feel free to contact me if you're interested in learning more about our consulting services, retreats, or including a keynote or workshop on servant leadership at an upcoming conference. 


Image credits:

Maslow's Hierarchy – By J. Finkelstein (], via Wikimedia Commons

Butler on call – by scukrov, (

Nonprofit board service as servant leadership?

What would happen if board members approached board service as servant-leaders?

Trustees as Servants bookThat was the topic of one-day board retreat I was privileged to co-facilitate last week in Phoenix, Arizona. Our primary text for this workshop was the classic essay Trustees as Servants written by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1974. My partner for this session was none other than friend and colleague, Joe Iarocci, CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

Our mission was to design and deliver a one-day workshop that allowed the board of directors for an international nonprofit organization to consider what it would mean if they approached their board leadership roles as servant-leaders. For many of these board members, this was their first formal introduction to servant leadership.

The day included a brief introduction to the philosophy and practices of servant leadership along with an exploration of the natural fit that Robert Greenleaf saw between trusteeship (board service) and servant leadership. 

Greenleaf had a high view of trusteeship. He wrote,

“Trustees are accountable to all parties at interest for the best possible performance of the institution in the service of the needs of all constituencies including society at large. They are the holders of the charter of public trust for the institution.”

 As you can imagine, this was an exciting and enlightening day. 

Something amazing happened as the board members learned about servant leadership.  It actually confirmed what Greenleaf believed about trustees and servant leadership. 

Everyone in the room realized something important about themselves. 

They realized that while they may not have formally learned servant leadership, they were already servant-leaders. As they heard the philosophy and practices shared, heads were nodding in agreement. Light bulbs of self-awareness were illuminating.

Man on mountain top extending helping handThrough this session, they gained insights and understanding of the servant leadership philosophy and its key practices. They also learned a common vocabulary with which to discuss servant leadership and fulfill their roles and responsibilities as trustees.

In addition to the introduction to servant leadership, the day was filled with several guided  discussions through which they explored what it means to approach board service as servant-leaders and how, as a leadership body, they could better lead and serve the organization by intentionally adopting and implementing servant-leadership principles and practices.

These robust small group discussions were then synthesized by the board as a single group. This experience was practice in the art of consensus which Greenleaf described as “a group judgment that will be accepted as superior wisdom. 

This board was energized!

As the day was concluding, we led the group to consider the next steps in the servant leadership journey and reminded them that servant-leadership is a lifelong journey, not a destination. 

Consensus was reached quickly and the board identified several logical and natural next steps on their journey. 

Heres part of the beauty of servant leadership. These board members as individuals and the board as a whole had begun this journey long before this board development session.  

We helped them see the journey they were already on and equipped them with knowledge, skills, and resources to be more intentional as they continue this journey as servant-leader trustees.

If you're a board member, do you and your fellow trustees view your board service as opportunities to practice servant leadership not only to the organization, but more importantly to the community at large? If so, what difference does that perspective bring to your work individually as board members and collectively as the board? 

If you've not yet considered board service as servant leadership, perhaps it would be a worthwhile discussion to launch with your fellow trustees. Hopefully you will reach the same conclusion this groupd did and realize, as one of these board members said, servant leadership fits us like a glove.

If you need help getting started or continuing this journey with your board, please reach out to us.

Gloved hand holding silver tray


Image credits: Man on Mountain by YanLev via iStockphoto. Hand holding tray by Astroid via featurePics.

One Leader's Legacy…And What About You?

Everyone leaves a legacy!

Legacy is the enduring impact and impression of ones person and presence on others. Its how people remember us after weve left a position, place, or ultimately, this planet.

Long shadow of a manLegacy is the shadow we cast on others. Our shadow follows us wherever we go and falls on those around us. Most of the time were unaware of its presence and reach, yet that doesnt stop it from following us and falling on others. So it is with our legacy.  

Our legacy includes both those things we intentionally do to influence others as well as the things we habitually do that others see, hear, and remember. One element that makes a great leader great is the harmony between the things they intentionally do and the things they habitually do.  

Great leaders not only talk the talk, they walk the walk and people observe the congruence between their words as well as their deeds and between their professional and personal personas. 

Great legacies linger and endure the test of time. 

Last month we celebrated the 84th birthday of a great leader who left an enduring legacy. January 20 was the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy continues almost 45 years after he left this planet. Dr. King cast a long shadow that continues impacting and influencing leaders, generations, and nations.

Dr. Kings birthday was first observed as a national holiday in 1986. Eight years later there was a significant shift in how his birthday was observed. President Bill Clinton signed federal legislation in 1994 recognizing Dr. Kings birthday as the Martin Luther King (MLK) Day of Service and now, MLK Day is the single largest day of community service that is observed in all 50 of the United States and around the world.

Legacies are formed over a lifetime, not just in the last years of ones life.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with hand raisedHonoring Dr. Kings birthday as a day of service to others is the embodiment of his legacy. Dr. King saw the importance of service early in his life and ministry. He advocated serving others as the antidote to self-centeredness in a sermon entitled Conquering Self-Centeredness delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in August of 1957. In that sermon he admonished, An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Later in the sermon, he passionately intoned, Find some great cause and some great purpose, some loyalty to which you can give yourself and become so absorbed in that something that you give your life to it.

He was a servant who saw the value of a life lived in service to others. He recognized the difference between fame and greatness and noted that, Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. 

Yet, Dr. King was both great and famous. Fame found Dr. King. He did not seek it out; it sought him. He became the face, voice, and symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, but first and foremost, he was a servant and serving others, even the Movement made him great. In his case, it also made him famous. If he were forced to choose fame or greatness, he would have chosen greatness. 

Why do I believe that? That belief is rooted in a prayer from that same 1957 sermon. Help me to realize that Im where I am because of the forces of history and because of the fifty thousand Negroes of Alabama who will never get their names in the papers and in the headline. O God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there. And this moment would have come in history even if M. L. King had never been born. 

Its no accident that we now observe Dr. Kings birthday by serving others. Its an appropriate expression of his legacy.

What legacy are you leaving?

Dr. Kings legacy offers insights on how each of us can leave a legacy that lasts for years into the future. While we may, or may not, become famous, we can become great.

We choose to become great by  choosing to serve others. Dr. King noted that, Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others? 

Billboard of Dr. King with Life's Most Urgent Question

By doing for others, you are leaving a legacy. It's a legacy that life is not about you, but about others. The time is always right to ask, what legacy are you leaving?



Attributions for graphics: Shadow by Andrey and obtained from Dr. King photo By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. What are you doing for others from University of South Carolina

The Real Value of Being an Expert

Years ago when I was just beginning my career and was truly a novice, I longed to become an expert and to be regarded as such. Being called an expert had this aura of…well, an aura of expertise to it. 

Expert sounded sophisticated, impressive, and refined. 

At that time, I thought becoming an expert was a destination, a place of arrival, the pinnacle of knowledge, the end point on the continuum of learning. Well, that simply illustrates how ignorant and naive I was then.

A funny thing happened along the way to becoming an expert. The more I discovered and learned, the greater was my awareness of just how much more there was to discover and learn. While I was progressing on the continuum to expertise it slowly dawned on me that this is a continuous journey and as long as Im alive, I will still be learning. There are, and always will be, new depths to explore, new discoveries to make, and new horizons to pursue. That journey is vividly illustrated in this image of the three stages of expertise.

graph illustrating the 3 stages of expertise

None of this is to disparage expertise. People often invest a significant amount of time and money to acquire or develop their area of expertise. Its simply an attempt to properly frame, or perhaps even, reframe what being an expert is and to note the subtle difference between being an expert and having expertise.

Just exactly what does it mean to be an expert? 

Websters defines expert as, a person with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully. The Oxford Dictionary defines an expert as a person who is very knowledgable about or skillful in a particular area.

While I agree with both of those definitions of an expert (after all, some word expert crafted them), theres another definition Ive come to prefer. 

An expert is someone who knows a lot about a little. 

An expert doesnt know all there is to know about anything and they certainly dont know all there is to know about everything. They just happen to know a lot about one thing, or perhaps, a few things.

In other words, an expert is a specialist – someone who knows a lot about one thing contrasted to a generalist who knows a little about a lot of things.

Consider this, when you need an expert, what you are really saying is, you need someone who knows more than you do about the subject at hand. An expert could be someone in the same field as you, just farther along the journey or someone from another field. Either way, they are able to draw on knowledge, wisdom, and skills to help you with the issue at hand.

Looking at it this way, I bet that you, too, are an expert.  

Whether its in the realm of your profession or an area of passion; there are areas in which you have special knowledge, wisdom, or skills. What really qualifies one as an expert is developing expertise in a specific discipline or area.

Problems and challenges arise when people confuse having expertise in one finite area with being infinitely wise and knowledgable across all areas. 

Consider that whether you are a consultant, a counselor, or clergy its likely youve developed one, or more, areas of expertise. Acquiring or developing that expertise is the springboard for serving others with excellence

Being, or becoming, an expert is a means to an end, and not an end of itself. 

Dont confuse being an expert with becoming an enlightened guru in an exalted state of knowledge. Instead, consider it being an experienced guide with an extensive set of tools and experiences by which you are able help others on their journey. 

Enlightened Guru

Having expertise equips you for greater effectiveness in the work you do with individuals, organizations, or communities. It equips you with additional tools and resources to do your work, while also providing you with keen insights and awareness to do that work better.

Expertise, properly directed and employed for the betterment of others, is to be esteemed. Being an expert, simply for the sake of being an expert or solely for the betterment of yourself, is most likely eschewed by readers of this blog.

So, what is the real value of being an expert? It's found in having expertise that enables you to serve others more effectively.

What's your perspective and experience? 


Graphic sources: 3 Stages of Expertise from Simon Wardley via Creative Commons; Guru by Creatista and sourced from

Top 10 Resolutions for Nonprofit Boards

Its another year and the New Year is that time when about half of Americans resolve to do something different in hopes of changing something about themselves, their lives, or their jobs. 

Recently published research reveals that:

45% of Americans make New Years Resolutions  

64% stick with them after one month 

46% are still at it after six months. 

That got me looking at lists of resolutions and what kinds of resolutions top the lists for most Americans. 

Perusing those lists led me to wonder what tops the list for nonprofit leaders and executives related to their boards of directors. 

And, well, that led to this: The Top Ten New Years Resolutions for Nonprofit Boards for 2013.

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

10. Get Organized. Thats a great step forward. Create clarity in your documentation and communication. 

Some simple steps include creating an annual calendar including the scheduled meetings for the year and the key topics to include at each meeting. If you dont have a board book or board policy manual, create one. That way all key documents are in one place and its easy to find pertinent information when you need it. Heres a sample template for a Board Policy Manual.

9. Volunteer/Volunteer More. Granted, board service, in and of itself, is a volunteer activity. However, board members find incredible value by volunteering in other program activities beyond board service.

Volunteering is one of the best ways for them to experience the mission first-hand and also provides opportunities to connect and engage with staff, volunteers, and clients. These experiences can make for better informed board members which leads to better board decisions. As a bonus, it keeps their passion for the mission fresh.

8. Learn Something New. This is a treasure trove and could allow board members to learn vital basic skills like reading financial statements, budgeting, board roles and responsibilities. It might also include opportunities to learn more about your community, clients, or partners. As a board, adopt the mindset of lifelong learners and find ways to learn together.

Moment of enlightenment

7. Travel More. Travel is an enriching experience and provides opportunities to learn new things (#8) and make new friends (#5). 

If your organization provides services at multiple locations consider taking a field trip to visit those locations and allow board members to see the programs in action. Perhaps you could develop an exchange program where you visit other organizations to tour their facilities, observe their operations, and discuss their effective practices. Of course, youd reciprocate and do the same for them. Heres one innovative partnership combining learning and traveling.

6. Improve Work Situation. For many boards, there are abundant possibilities on ways to improve how, when, or where, they do their work. 

For some, its committing to begin and end meetings on time. Perhaps its adopting a board code of conduct to raise the level of respect and professionalism in your meetings. It might also include addressing personality conflicts between certain members that spill over into your meetings. 

Perhaps, its adjusting when or where your board meets. Find the best time when board members can devote their best thinking to your organization. Make sure your meeting venue is conducive to conducting board business. 

Three people making introductions5. Make New Friends. Apply this internally to the board and externally beyond the board to your broader community. 

Provide regular times for your board members to get to know each other socially and to develop relationships that both enrich and enhance their board experience. Reach out to connect new people to your organization through volunteering in programs, serving on committees, or participating on an advisory council. Besides making new friends you can also build a strong bench of future board members.

4. Improve Financial Situation. Every nonprofit organization I know is seeking to ensure their survival and/or solidify their sustainability in our rebounding economy. 

Engaging your board in this planning and in these discussions is vital. Find nonthreatening ways to engage board members in relationally rich resource development to further fund your mission this year.

3. Be More Philanthropic. Every ED dreams of having a board where 100% of their board members are personally invested in funding the mission. Hopefully you are already there, if not, seek to engage 100% of your board members giving at a level that is personally significant for them.

2. Lose Weight. Its one of the most frequently listed resolutions and applies equally to nonprofit boards. If you have extra weight on your board resolve to shed it this year. Maybe you have board members in name only,  those who never attend meetings or have any significant involvement with the organization. Explore ways to re-engage them if at all possible. If there are truly dead weight, then find a way to gracefully and quickly transition them off the board.

And the number 1 resolution on most lists…

Business people warming up for race

Get Fit! And yes, nonprofit boards can be fit, fat, or somewhere between. Resolve that 2013 is the year your board gets serious about getting fit as a board and provides the leadership your organization craves.

Like people, boards can lose their vim, vigor, and vitality and become lethargic and lifeless. If that describes your board, recovering its health is possible, and, depending on the situation, may require some dramatic actions to do so.

The year is young! Consider one, or more, of these resolutions for your board, it could make a world of difference for your organization and those you serve. If you need help, give us a call.

Consider joining me on January 23, 2013 as I lead a webinar on Board Wellness: A New Paradigm for Board Excellence for MANY, the Mid-Atlantic Network of Youth & Family Services. Click here for more information and to register.

Photography credits: Top 10 resolutions from Pixels Away, Bright Idea from jorgophotograpy, Business People Meeting from nruboc – sourced from Business Warm Up! from agenziavisione – sourced from