Embrace The Cold

Woman with big mug of hot drink during cold day.

I was recently talking to a friend about the fact that one of my sons will be working in Rochester, MN for a second summer and how much he likes the community, and then I added, “of course he hasn’t been there in the winter.” My friend replied that the difference is, in Rochester, they embrace the cold. It’s true . . . in looking at promotional materials for the city, it is almost as if they eagerly anticipate winter for all activities that are unique to that time of year. Huh . . . interesting concept . . . instead of bemoaning their circumstances, which they really can’t change anyway, they embrace the opportunities available to them as a result.

A lot of us could learn a lesson to two from our friends in Rochester, and I’m sure many other northern cities. If you can’t change it, sometimes your best option is to embrace the cold. Think about it, does all the bemoaning of your unfortunate circumstances, the fanaticizing about a preferred situation, really make you feel any better? In my experience, if anything, this type of wallowing only makes you feel worse. And if you’re a leader, aren’t you charged with finding a path out of difficult situations? You may have a lot of company if you choose to burrow in and bellyache, but your job isn’t to rally the troops with another chorus of “ain’t it awful,” your job is to lead.

When you make a choice to embrace the cold, to look for the opportunities in the current circumstances, it’s a bit like putting on sunglasses to cut the blinding glare of the snow. Suddenly, you are able to see things you otherwise would have missed. Maybe you have the opportunity to collaborate in ways that would not happen in different circumstances. Or perhaps there is now an openness to totally reimagine a program or service, which wouldn’t have been pursued in warmer times. You know, the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters, one means danger and the other means opportunity. Pull in, or reach out — the “crisis” of a winter chill offers both options.

Cold weather is when we need leaders the most. Our followers are more easily motivated on warm sunny days, but when the temperature drops, it is our job to help them see the possibilities in skiing and sledding, the beauty in snow-covered vistas . . . and of course hot chocolate! Would anyone even have invented hot chocolate without a bit of a chill in the air? Your team is looking to you to see if they should hunker down or put on their parka and venture out.

My advice? Bundle up, grab a thermos of hot chocolate, and embrace the cold!

–This post was originally published in February of 2016.

Avoiding the Collaboration Camel

Bichon maltais blanc assis & coquin sur fond blanc

Collaboration is currently a major push among non-profit and governmental funders, and I believe working collectively with complementary organizations can be a powerful force for positive change. If that sounds like a bit of a qualified statement, it is. Notice I said “can be” not “is”, and that positive change comes in partnering with complementary organizations, not just any organization.

Collaboration is a means to an end. It is something you do to reach a clearly stated goal. It is not (or at least in my opinion should not be) the goal in and of itself. Collaboration does not mean any organization in the community that offers a certain type of service has to be included in the discussion, nor does it mean every party has an equal part to play in the effort. Lastly, collaboration does not mean that the “big fish” takes all the risk, but all parties share equally in the rewards.

Let me reiterate, I think collaboration, when done well, can be extremely effective in addressing complex, multi-layered challenges. Unfortunately, all too often, it is not done well. I have seen far too many instances when the pressure to collaborate has led organizations to spend untold hours on efforts that merely spin in circles, rather than gaining traction in moving toward the goal. And then there are the committees where participants give lip service to collaborating while also trying to grab maximum gain for their own organization rather than working for the common good, contorting the original goals in strange directions. As the saying goes, a camel is a horse designed by committee . . . and I’ve seen a lot of camels lately.

So how do you avoid wasting your resources on a collaboration camel? First of all, pick your partners carefully. Shared values are ideal, or at the very least a shared understanding of the goal, the risks and the rewards are critical for a successful collaboration. As much as possible, it should be an “effort among equals” where each participant is aware of what they bring to the table, and how their contribution complements the other participating organizations in meeting the stated goal.

Secondly, you have to be willing to lay your cards on the table with all the collaborative partners. Resist requests for a meeting before the meeting/meeting after the meeting/side meeting. These are usually made by those looking to contort things for the benefit of their own organization (read camel makers). Open, transparent communication is critical for effective collaborations. Yes, that sometimes means having hard discussions within the committee, which builds far more trust than side conversations going on around the meeting.

Third, no matter how committed you may be to the collaborative goal, you also have to keep your organizational limits in mind. Sometimes, the answer simply has to be no . . . to continuing the collaborative effort if everyone isn’t playing by the same rule book . . . to walking down a path that may look good on paper but isn’t sustainable in practice . . . to agreeing to an effort that will divert you from more important strategic goals, just so you can look like a “team player.”

The impact that can come from a strong collaborative effort is too important for you to settle for anything else. Besides, there are enough camels out there.

Don’t Confuse a Clear View for a Short Distance

Les Baux de Provence Cliffs Ruins H

Several years ago, my husband and I were on vacation at a scenic location when we saw a ruin in the distance and decided to hike over and check it out. After following a somewhat treacherous trail for much longer than it we thought it would take to get to the structure, we looked to the horizon and realized the site didn’t seem any closer than when we started. At that point, we began to question if we should continue . . . it was already late in the afternoon, and once we got there we would have to walk all the way back . . . but it looked so cool, and we had already come this far, so we decided to press on. We probably stopped two more times to have a similar conversation before we actually made it to the ruin — which was totally worth the trip, even though it was approaching dusk by the time we wound our way back along a narrow path to return to our car.

I had to smile as a quote I had read several years earlier popped into my head. “Don’t confuse a clear view for a short distance.” Credited to Kevin Kelly, I have had numerous opportunities to be reminded of the truth of this statement. The bottom line is, most major projects take longer, and include more twists and turns, than we expect at the outset. And if we don’t have a clear view of where we are headed, it is easy to stop after the first few bumps in the road and decide the trip really isn’t worth it. But when you have a clear picture of the destination in your head, you are much more likely to press on through the brambles, the steep drop-offs, and rocky paths. Making a commitment to persevere toward a clear view can lead to amazing results — not only when you reach (or exceed!) your destination, but also in the increased levels of collaboration and support that can happen within a team along the way.

The reverse is also true. Without a clear destination in mind, even a fairly easy path can seem overwhelming, or require too much effort. A vague or foggy description of the view doesn’t inspire near the energy or enthusiasm needed to complete the trip. The journey is sure to include numerous uncontrollable variables, and there will be multiple scenarios that could come to pass. You will have to adapt and make course corrections along the way. But when everyone is clear on the ultimate destination, they are more likely to respond to these challenges as simply that — challenges to overcome, not insurmountable obstacles on the way to a fuzzy destination, which have caused many a team to stop short of their goal.

It is true that, as a leader, you should never confuse a clear view for a short distance . . . but you should also never underestimate the power of a clear view to motivate your team to stretch beyond what they might have otherwise imagined.