My wife has a beautiful singing voice. I do not. Every once in a while, I will ask her if it is “painful” for her to listen to some folks sing when they cannot carry a tune. National Anthem singing seems to bring out the very patriotic. They are just not able to sing.
It is not a perfect analogy, but I sometimes “hurt” when I watch organizations with passionate people. They believe strongly in what the organization stands for. They are just not able to lead.
There are half a dozen or so organizations that are on my radar right now. Some of them are doing very well. But some are not. Those that are not doing well, seem to sense that there is a major problem. They seem to realize that they may be in a big mess. They don’t know how they got here. And they just don’t seem to know what to do. Or, maybe, they know what to do, but they just can’t bring themselves to do it.
What do we tend to do?
What do we tend to do when we find ourselves or our organizations in a mess? One of the first places we like to look is at tools and training. Does the leader of the organization have the right tools and training that are needed to lead the organization that is in a mess? That answer almost always comes back “No.” No one ever feels that they have all of the resources necessary to be successful So, “no” is an easy answer.
The tools or training most often identified as deficient in these situations deal with topics such as personal organization, goal setting, prioritization, and communication. All of which are great skills to have as a leader. This is particularly true in the non-profit space.
Yet all of these tools and training are administrative in nature. They are managerial in nature. And much has been already written about the differences between managing and leading.
What should we do?
We should always look to fill a leaders toolkit with as many tools as they can master. And we should always be “sharpening our ax” with training and ongoing professional development. But is that enough? Is there a deeper question we should ask and is there more that we should do on the fundamental question of leadership ability?
What questions should we be asking?
Let me speak to the corporate boards of directors and the non-profit boards upon which all of the responsibility for a “mess” ultimately falls. Let me ask them a few questions:
- Do you have the right leader in place?
- Will more tools or training turn your leadership situation around?
- How long will this go on before the organization reaches the point of no return?
These are tough questions. And they may seem harsh. I have been accused of being harsh on more than one occasion. What I tend to find, however, is that it is the answer that is tough and it is the answer that is sometimes harsh.
What is the Leadership Lesson?
The leadership lesson today is that you can’t always “administer” your way out of every mess. Sometimes, it takes real leadership to get an organization out of a mess. More forms, policies, procedures, and schedules can’t always get you and your organization out of a mess. It was a lack of leadership that got you and the organization into the mess. And it will take a change of leadership to get you and the organization out of the mess.