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All social sector organizations have the potential to improve the world and make people’s lives better. So why do some organizations produce a flood of results and impact, while others seem to spend most of their energy measuring and splitting the few drops they control?

Craving is both a “head” and “heart” activity.

Through 9 years in nonprofit management and 19 years in providing professional services to hundreds of social sector organizations, working on answers to that question has been the central focus of my work life, formal and informal education, research, personal interest and calling.

I’ve worked with organizations that share similar communities, economic environments, histories and even causes—yet one soars and the other struggles. The only consistent differentiation I’ve discovered requires understanding what the small group of staff and volunteers leading the organization cares about deeply and constantly pursues.

The best organizations I’ve observed are led by a group of key staff and volunteers who crave future mission results over the current situation, past programs, contemporary best practices, institutional

pride, and even their own jobs or volunteer roles.
If craving sounds too much like fluff and lightweight for you, you probably haven’t seen the resource alignment, results analysis, staff metrics, research and accountability of leaders who crave to correct a wrong in society or further a righteous cause. Leaders who crave demand rigor and discipline, and not just to “best practices.” Best practices are not good enough for leaders who crave—they seek cutting edge solutions to achieve over-the-top results. Craving is both a “head” and “heart” activity.

Crave the “R” Words 

So how do I know if I’m one of those leaders who crave?

See how many of these activities are present in your work and come naturally to you.

Leaders who are responsible for the cause are: 

  • Respectful of the past (they understand the importance of history/culture)
  • Responsible to others (they’re accountable)
  • Realistic about the present (they’re eager to confront brutal facts)
  • Restless about the future (they’re always asking, “What’s next for us?”)

Leaders who crave mission achievement seem to spend time on: 

  • Ranking priorities
  • Research results
  • Resources needed
  • Relevance of our past to today and tomorrow

Because they crave a better future, they’re not afraid to: 

  • Require accountability
  • Risk when appropriate
  • Reinvent when necessary
  • Replace (with respect and never ruthlessly)

Observations of Leaders Who Crave 

One of the highlights of my job is to be in a room with a group of leaders who crave. No matter what issue they’re dealing with—a great opportunity or a serious challenge— they always follow a similar agenda (often without even planning it):

  • What do we know about this situation? (what are the facts and data points?)
  • How do we really feel about this? (honest opinion)
  • From whom/where can we get more information or appropriate opinions? (stakeholders, research, leading edge organizations, etc.)
  • What do we need to remind ourselves about our central purpose and principles? (the relevance of history and culture)
  • How can we best serve the purpose of this organization— the great cause we share—to produce an ideal future? (always strategy for the long view)
  • Who will take on the accountability of implementing the strategy? (providing direction and ownership; not a “to do” list)

Overall, these groups practice two very important leader- ship principles:

Input by many…decisions by few No parking lot meetings

Leaders actively seek input and data from all corners of the organization and the environment in which they work. But the “few” are that small group of leaders who share this deep craving for the cause. They have a broad (not just represent- ing a department or constituency) and deep (significant history) relationship with the organization.

We’ve all attended parking lot meetings following the meeting in the board room. Some of you reading this have chaired these meetings next to your car. If, in your opinion, the topic is worthy of a parking lot discussion, please have it in the meeting room. We can talk about almost anything if done with respect, in love, and for the common cause.

Alignment Happens 

In organizations where the leadership team at the top craves mission results, the response to other leadership issues seems to flow from their DNA.

They attract other staff based on commitment to the cause instead of money, titles, or perks.

Staff development is driven more by self motivation than training budgets, required courses or recognition certificates. Staff retention increases because no one wants to miss what’s going to happen next as their organization changes the community or society.

Technicians and specialists are highly valued, but under the leadership of those entrusted with mission clarity.

Leaders of operating units in different locations and of var- ious departments have one source for deciding on “local rele- vance/need vs. the common cause.”

Those coming into the organization from another social sector agency or the business world quickly understand what’s most important and how they must modify their views to fully engage on mission and purpose.

Board members are more engaged because they’re not there to borrow name credibility or to approve minutes.

Donors become solution enablers instead of purchasers of organizational influence.

Members and others volunteer to change the world instead of rearrange chairs.

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