We strive to be an innovative organization that continually seeks new ways to meet the needs of the children and families who turn to us for care. To do that, however, we have to have a higher than normal tolerance for letting key staff “dance their own dance.” What exactly does that mean? Well, for starters, it’s sort of like when you hope your children grow up to be independent thinkers . . . and then they do. And the first time that happens, you question a bit the wisdom of encouraging such independence, because it would really be easier if they would just follow your lead. But of course, easier rarely equates with better.
Letting your staff dance their own dance means letting go of the fallacy that you alone know the best way to accomplish your organization’s goals. It means having the confidence to allow staff to try things, in their own way, to further your mission. Certainly, there have to be parameters. For us, the parameters are our mission/vision/values, our strategic framework, and our SMaC recipe (more on that next week). But beyond that, the leaders in our organization are given a good deal of latitude in searching out and testing new ways to extend our mission reach. Do all of their efforts work out? Of course not. Sometimes it’s the right project at the wrong time. Sometimes everything works out except for the funding, and sometimes a great concept falls prey to the “devil in the details.” And still, I believe you have to not only give permission, but encourage them to keep dancing.
Allowing your key leaders to dance their own dance fuels the passion, the commitment, the creativity that it takes to see a challenge with new eyes, and break through to a game-changing solution. Our leaders live in a world of gray. All the black and white parts of the job happen closer to the direct service. By the time a challenge gets to our senior leaders there usually is no one right answer . . . and, by the time someone is a senior leader they should have demonstrated that their instincts are trustworthy, so why not let them dance!
I was recently talking to someone who commented that “culture eats strategy.” So true! All the more reason that your culture should foster innovation. I have found that many non-profts, in trying to be good stewards of their resources, avoid failure at all costs. No dancing allowed! While I can’t fault these leaders for wanting to be good stewards, I haven’t found the safety/conformity/minimal risk route to be the best way to reach our strategic goals. We tend to follow the “fail faster” school of thought. Try a pilot, adapt as you go, and chart a new path. While perhaps a bit scarier than following someone else’s lead, when you’re the one forging the trail, you get to decide the direction the path will go. As caretaker of this ministry, I see determining our direction as one of my primary responsibilities . . . so as for me and my team, we’re going to dance!