Keeping it Real – The Importance of Humility

In my clinical practice I encounter many different personalities, motives and issues. Likewise, in my management role, I have had many occasion to encounter an equal diversity of personalities and styles. These are givens, and this is simply the way humans are organized. There are some patterns however that I have identified that suggest that certain styles (whether in management, leadership, or personality relationships) appear to work better than other.

What appears to be most effective in most human transactions is the ability to do two things: Keep yourself real; and, self monitor your interactions so that they show a level of humility and awareness of other’s feelings and needs. Let me explain.

For many people, keeping themselves real or transparent is enormously difficult. If there isn’t enough self-confidence, they will present as anxious or insecure. For others the opposite is apparent, being real means being “full of yourself”. This generally is not very effective.

The second part is humility. This is where the person has the ability to be real, but not offensive. They appear authentic, genuine, and willing to express their views, without imposing them on others. It also allow the person to express empathy, and a decency not to disrespect others in order to feel better about themselves, or project power over others.

When we put authentic realness with the ability to self-monitor and understand others our ability to influence change, or relationships with others amplifies over time. Being a “deep waters” person is actually an admirable trait. Being humble doesn’t imply that you’re shy, or even closed to others. It just means that you can allow yourself to be authentic, and influential, rather than defensive, and unrealistic.

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Learning to Stretch Beyond Your Limits

What does it mean when you stretch both intellectually and physically? We are generally told by fitness trainers that the benefits of stretching equate to better flexibility and endurance. Many people struggle with the ability to stretch beyond their current limits, and avoid the necessary stretching that might improve their situation.

Building flexibility is not just a good approach to physical health. The principle carries over to how we work in our organizations, in our relationships, and how we solve problems. Many people struggle with the effort (or the willingness to pay the price), to gain new benefits.

Stretching emotionally, and intellectually is not just good for our performance, it also provides us the reserves we need to remain more resilient in times of stress, or when we need to exert more personal effort to accomplish more complex problems.

As important as developing yourself in better physical shape, the principle of stretching implies that you will be better prepared for ongoing challenges, and the character to responsibly deal with highly charged issues, conflicting issues, or problems with other people.

How do we stretch? Physically we know that to stretch our muscles we must carefully, and slowly do so. Any quick actions when we’re not used to it, might damage muscles, or our ability to subsequently run or walk. Intellectual, and emotional stretching is also a progressive, and building process that can’t be approached in a quick fix manner. We have to allow our minds and our hearts to slowly consider and reflect on appropriate values, principles, and choices. Regular intellectual, and emotional renewal is a perfect way to slowly develop your reserves. Reducing things that cause stress (self caused stress) is also an important step. Learning to segregate things that pertain to us, versus those things that pertain to others is also a way to build reserves. For many people, merely limiting things that are causing stress and which they have direct control is an important place to start.

Often times, caring for ourselves, our bodies, and our mind requires us to make efforts to engage in healthier behaviors, and avoid pursuits that weaken our resolve. Again all these things are slow, progressive, require choice based on our conscience, and might require us to make hard choices. Remember, when you physically stretch, you are reorganizing the muscles. When you emotionally and personally stretch, you are also reorganizing choices, behaviors, and feelings. As you reorganize your thinking, your behaviors, and feelings will follow suit. Over time, you will develop more emotional and intellectual endurance, and strength, when times require it.

Developing an Organizational “Signature” for Non-profits

I was once reminded in a meeting about our customers recently, about how becoming “indispensable” is the best way to keep them. It’s an obvious concept, keeping their attention is expected to maintain your share of their business. When I was starting my career, the administrator for the non-profit service organization for which I was employed, introduced me to the importance of the organization to sustain people’s attention by “creating a signature.” At the time, I was a direct service producer, not a manager, so the concept didn’t quite take hold immediately.

Fast forward about 15 years, and I’m older (now using reading glasses) and have been in management and operations of other non-profit service organizations (behavioral health delivery systems) for many years. The concept of “signature” appears even more relevant, and even elegant. About a week ago, in a meeting to discuss our various customer groups, a discussion ensued about how some units were overwhelmed with referrals (high demand), and others were not. The idea of “making yourself” indispensable was brought up. We discussed the importance of organizations (particularly non-profits) to make themselves indispensable, as a long term strategy for maintaining their mission and the people they serve. Many non-profits just focus on delivering service, without looking at it through a deeper lens.

What is “signature” more specifically? It is the ability of the people in the organization to execute the service so well that the thought of your organization, keeps people coming back to the service. Their thoughts immediately turn to you, the organization, and the delivery you provide over and over again. It becomes what you’re known for. In a way, it is an organization’s “reputation”, but it is more about how people experience the delivery of what you do. The following steps can be used to evaluate whether your non-profit organization has a signature:

The organization usually has a core competency that it is known for. It does it well, and has for a long time. It employs specialized knowledge, or direct service people who have hard to replicate skills to deliver the service.

It does something that is highly valued by a customer service group. Perhaps, even something that other organizations shy away from because of its complexity or difficulty.

It makes the customer’s job or experience “easier.”

It customizes its delivery of the service so that it is tailored to the specific needs of a customer group. This can take the form of special contracting or agreements.

It keeps its social marketing (people marketing) active and responsive.

It develops services that not only meet a need, but solve a pressing problem. Again, making the life easier for the customer.
When I started my career nearly two decades ago, I knew doing a good job would create customer value, but I didn’t clearly understand what my boss meant by “developing a signature.” It is a total package for delivery and sustaining your non-profit organization. The signature may need reviewed periodically to ensure it is meeting future trends and revenue streams that feed the organization. It is exciting to have this package as another tool to sustaining your non-profit for the long term.

Sustaining Your Organization – An Assessment Tool

One of the major challenges that I have witnessed over my many years working in non-profit organizations is the difficulties leaders face in sustaining their organization. Generally speaking, leaders in small non-profits right up to large corporations tend to equate the organization’s health with covering costs, making sufficient revenues, and keeping employees happy. These things are all necessary, but what are the real elements to keeping your organization healthy and vibrant? So much of the literature focuses on market share, product development, intangible “human resource needs” and building good strategies for “long term growth.” The literature also tends to view health of an organization by how big its market share is, or how well it grows. My view is that “long term growth” does not necessarily equate with a healthy organization. To the contrary, the larger your organization grows, the bigger the threat to sustainability. In other words, the larger something becomes, the larger the burden to keep it going well!

As you consider how you can keep your organization vibrant, effective and dynamic there are several indicators to a sustainable organization.

Assess your mission – is it fulfilling the current need in the environment? You may like your mission as an organization, but it may be falling short, or in need of revamping. My view is that mission statements can be misused, or even ignored. A sustainable organization takes a critical view of their vision. They evaluate whether the current mission, culture, and organizational direction is really matched well with the market, customer base, community need, and revenue streams.

Next, they carefully examine their skill sets or skill base within the organization. Once you know whether you are matching well with the community need etc., the leader must ask: “Do I have the right components in my organization?” This may include expertise, personnel, and knowledge. It is even identifying the organization’s core competency, or what it has special expertise.

Defining the scope of your organization’s focus. It is important to keep your scope of the organization within a well defined direction. The idea that “bigger is better”, or more products or specialties can get organizations in trouble. In their effort to define themselves, they end up being too big and quality suffers. This is where the leader needs to define what the organization will be, will do, and not do. There are always a lot of good ideas, and many appealing options as to what the organization might do with their talents, however defining who you are, will help you create a “signature” of who you are. In other words as you progress in your well defined mission and deliver outside services or products, you begin to be known for a specific quality, or outcome.

Look at capitalizing on cross competency. This is not multi-tasking, it is being able to utilize your current resources across different areas. Helping people in your organization to work across different departments or sections, only strengthens your flexibility to adapt and sustain your organization to different challenges and trends. As a leader, make sure you are breaking down barriers and “silos” in your organization. Each section of your organization should work in harmony and in mutual ways with others.

Developing different revenue streams that will support changes in the market. This is the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. A sustainable organization creates the capacity to make money or revenue under different circumstances, and different ways. If one area of the market is not doing well, then other revenue streams can pick up the slack. Developing your strategies, and programs in this way is helpful. Using your cross trained staff in this way helps you adapt to different economic challenges.

Making sure you stay relevant. This means keeping up with the trends. Here’s where the common SWOT analysis comes into play. When the leader starts detecting challenges to the organization, then assessing S – STRENGTHS; W-WEAKNESSES; O-OPPORTUNITIES; and – T-THREATS is helpful. Doing this quarterly is likely a good idea. Getting various people from different areas into the meeting, including line staff, students, community members can be beneficial.

Innovate. Be an innovator in your organization. Create new ideas and concepts. A sustainable organization usually has a knack for creating new concepts. While others are just trying to maintain their organization, a healthy sustainable organization designs new ideas and concepts. Tying these ideas into potential needs and special problems in your market is a way to keep other’s interested in your organization. A lot of organizations focus on reacting to changes, or copying their competitors or unfortunately, stealing other’s ideas. Be an original thinker and others will seek to emulate you. Thinking ahead about your organization on an ongoing basis better enables the organization to change when it may need to do so.

Maintain your quality. This would appear to be obvious, and potentially a “no-brainer.” It is neither. A lot of organizations develop cultures that only focus on meeting minimum requirements and not functioning beyond what is necessary. As you develop your organization, quality and consistency in delivery is key. This can even become your signature as discussed above.
It is hoped that this brief article will help you better evaluate your sustainability within your own working unit, organization or community agency.

Characteristics of Organizations That Create Value

What characteristics separate those organizations that really create value? What makes these organizations sustain over the long term? In my many years working in, observing, and participating in different organizations, a few attributes stand out:

1. The organizations know who they are. They have well defined and coherent directions.

2. They adhere to a easily understood, yet powerful missions. Customers or the public can easily grasp what they do.

3. They live their missions. The organization usually has a culture that is dedicated to the concepts of what they do.

4. They do usually one thing or a small set of things very well. They don’t over-extend their strategies, nor over-commit beyond their means.

5. They have a viable plan that creates financial security. They are not dependent on others, and they sustain themselves without creating financial turmoil in the organization.

6. The people that work for the organization are very committed to it. They find joy in their work.

7. The organization thinks ahead, invests, and adapts to changes in the environment, without changing its core.

8. The organization creates a product or service signature that demonstrates a hard to replicate, but valuable skill. This creates long term security.

9. The organization regularly adjusts, evaluates and modifies structures that continues to raise the bar on its quality and performance. The organization embraces learning and ongoing personal development.

10. The organization likes people and actively supports them. There is an absence of power struggles or the use of control structures. People are valued in the organization.