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 a 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 happened 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!

It’s an Inside Job

Job interview

I recently came across two statistics, from separate studies/publications, that gave me pause. For years I have been hearing concerns raised about an impending leadership crisis in the nonprofit industry, so I took great interest in an article that appeared in the Sanford Social Innovation Review titled “The Nonprofit Leadership Development Deficit.”  The article highlighted findings from research conducted by The Bridgespan Group which indicated, “Only 30%of C–suite roles in the nonprofit sector were filled by internal promotion in the past two years — about half the rate of for-profits.” Shortly after reading that article, I read a Harvard Business Review article on The Best Performing CEOs in the world.  It indicated that 86% of the 100 best CEOs were promoted to the position from within their companies.

Okay, so let me get this straight . . . 30% of senior leaders in nonprofits are hired from within, approximately 60% of for-profits selected their key leaders from within, and 86% of the best CEOs in the world were promoted from within. I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems like maybe non-profit leaders should be focusing more of their energies on growing their own leaders.

According to the Nonprofit Leadership Deficit article, corporate CEOs dedicate 30 – 50% of their time and focus on cultivating talent within their organizations. Yes, I can already hear the litany of reasons as to why that just isn’t feasible for a non-profit executive . . . to which I humbly reply . . . really?!?

I know you have far too many things on your plate already. If you take the long view, however, the only way to get some of those things off your plate is to have someone with the skills to take them on . . . someone who already knows your culture, the quirks of your industry, the strategic direction of your organization . . . yep, that’s right . . . it’s an inside job. I’m guessing you have more than enough potential, right under your nose, to accomplish your strategic goals. Yes it will take time, coaching, and a willingness to allow people to stub their toes now and then. Internal leadership development does require an investment, but in reality, that investment is far less than what it will take to bring an “experienced” leader on board and up to speed.

I realize many non-profits have a relatively flat organizational structure. Luckily the way to develop leadership capacity is through projects, not positions. I’m guessing you have a few projects on the drawing board that you know would benefit your organization, but you just haven’t had the chance to pursue. Why not ask one of your promising young leaders to take it on? I’m not suggesting you throw them to the wolves, but with just a bit of guidance and support, you might be amazed at what they can accomplish, and how energizing such opportunities can be . . . for the emerging leader, and for you!

One of the key responsibilities of a non-profit leader is planning for the future of the organization. And when it comes to talent, maybe more of us need to realize . . . it’s an inside job!

Stop, Drop and Roll


I don’t know if they still teach kids this, but when I was in grade school we were taught if you are ever on fire, don’t run . . . stop, drop and roll.

Hmmm. That advice might be just as applicable in a Leadership 101 course. You don’t have to be in a leadership position all that long to realize that sooner or later (or maybe both) it’s going to feel like your world is on fire . . . your contracts have been slashed, there’s a crisis in your agency, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place . . . and everyone is looking to you to find the soft place to land.

While it might seem like a natural reaction to scurry from point to point looking for something to douse the flames, in most cases your frantic actions will only serve to feed the blaze. When you hyperventilate, so will everyone else in your agency, right?!? What to do? The same thing they told you when you were 10 . . . stop, drop and roll.

When you are faced with a situation that (at least feels like) could lead to your organization’s demise, Stop. Breathe. Think. Don’t just blindly run from here to yonder looking for solutions. You need to keep your wits about you . . . so stop. And then drop.

Drop down and focus on the ground level, the foundation, of your organization — your vision, mission, values and operating principles. This is the solid place where you can take a deep breath and draw strength. The air may have been thin and your legs shaky when you were trying to dash around through the smoke and flames of the crisis. When you drop down to the solid ground that has supported your organization through thick and thin, you can better see the big picture view and keep the crisis du jour in context. And once you have that perspective, it is time to roll.

As the leader, you have to look past the fire before you and roll in the direction that provides the best opportunity to extend your mission reach. Do you sometimes have to roll through the flames to get there? Yep. Will there be those who will tell you that you are headed in the wrong direction? Most likely. Keep your eyes on the prize, and roll!

If you want to be a leader, you will have fires to deal with on a fairly regular basis; and even the best leaders get scorched from time to time. The difference between getting a slight scorch and an irreparable burn? You’ve heard it for years . . . Stop, Drop and Roll.