Your County Fair

The Clark County Fair And RodeoThis coming week is fair week in my county. That may not mean anything to you, but for me, the fair has helped shape who I am as a person and a leader. My experiences with 4-H (my own, with my children and from serving as a 4-H leader), volunteering for various fair activities and events, cheering on and building memories with family and friends . . . The fair helps remind me “where I came from” in the best of ways. Many of the people I interact with at the fair couldn’t care less what my title is, or even what I do for a living . . . it’s enough for them to know that I am “one of the Duncan girls,” and they would have no problem calling me out if they thought I was “getting too big for my britches.” Every leader needs a county fair.

Your “county fair” may be a special family tradition, an annual outing or event, or a regularly scheduled gathering of long-time friends. It’s a place where people know your story, where your ideas or input don’t carry any more weight than anyone else’s, and where people have no problem calling you a dork if you are being a dork (usually with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye). Other people may not understand the appeal, but “county fairs” tend to bring a sense of peace and renewal in the midst of a leader’s overflowing schedule. Ironically, it is those tightly booked schedules and ever-growing to-do lists that may prompt a leader to consider skipping their county fair. Don’t do it.

All of us as leaders need to find ways to stay grounded, authentic and humble. Far too many leaders spend so much time trying to be who they think they are supposed to be, or who someone says they should be, that they forget who they really are. “Who you are” brought you to this point. Don’t lose that. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grow, expand your skills, and at times change your perspective — you should do all those things. I’m talking about who you are at your core . . . your values, your experiences, your innate wisdom. Those are the things that bring depth to your leadership, and those are the things that get nourished at your county fair.

As rewarding as your leadership role may be, it is still hard work. If we are to bring our best efforts to those we serve, we also have to carve out time to make sure we stay grounded. One way to do that is by connecting regularly with those who know us outside the titles or positions we currently hold.

See you at the fair.

Faith in the Right Timing

As a person of faith, and a leader in a faith-based organization, I am a big believer in God’s perfect timing. There have been so many examples in my career when I may have been thinking about a particular decision for a long time . . . so what prompted me to act at what turned out to be an opportune moment? I have no answer except to say that something inside me indicated it was the right time to move. Some would probably call that intutition. I like William Wordsworth’s perspective that “Faith is a passionate intuition.”

Please don’t hear me say that I think faith somehow absolves a leader from having to plan and strategize and stress, and at times agonize over decisions. Sorry gang, that’s part of the bargain. (I think God will provide, but I also think He expects us to do our part!) At the same time, I believe there is some degree of comfort in recognizing, as leaders, it’s not about us. Our job is to serve as caretakers of the organization entrusted to us, to leave it better than we found it . . . which means you can’t always go with the safe bet or the most popular option.

Recognizing the right timing requires a degree of wisdom that starts with knowledge, but also requires listening, observation, reflection, questioning, and ultimately, a willingness to go with your gut/intuition/inner-nudging and take the leap. Because here’s the deal, God’s perfect timing usually doesn’t come labeled as such. It take faith.

In our measuring, quantifying, metrics-based world, something as nebulous as “faith that you’ll know when the time is right” may seem like a hard sell. Except for the fact that, it is not an either/or proposition. Faith that you’ll know when the time is right to act does not mean you don’t do your homework, it does not mean that the data is irrevelant, and it doesn’t mean that you’re running off on some lark. You do your homework so you will be prepared when the time comes. Or maybe you are nudged to look at different data, or look at the data differently, than others might. You approach the situation with a different lens or perspective.

And then you are patient. Yes, I know patience a fruit of the Spirit . . . it’s a virtue . . . and frankly — at least for me — it is the toughest part of the whole equation. But I have learned the hard way that even the “perfect” solution, when implemented at the wrong time (which usually means my impatient timing) will fall flat. The solution? Take a deep breath and have faith. If you listen to your gut, you’ll know when the time is right.

Jumping Over the Candlestick

Jack

Jack be nimble,

Jack be quick,

Jack jump over the candlestick.

While there are few who would accuse Mother Goose of being a bastion of leadership wisdom, don’t sell the old gal short. Sometimes simple wisdom comes from unexpected places, and many an “expert” could benefit from taking note.

There is so much emphasis today on systems and processes, evidence-based and measured, best-practice and prescriptive . . . I get it . . . funders want to make sure their resources have the greatest impact, consumers want a guarantee that what they are purchasing will have the intended results, and employers want to know that their employees will behave in a predictable manner. The thing is, people (consumers), and the problems they want solved (or needs they want met) aren’t systematic, measured or prescriptive.

I am certainly not saying an organization doesn’t need systems, measures or knowledge of what has been proven effective. Just ask my staff, we have plenty of all of those. I get concerned, however, when the pendulum swings too far toward believing success is only found along a single path. After all, if we don’t challenge ourselves to see a situation with new eyes, how will we ever find a solution to unmet needs?

Sometimes we need to follow in the path of ole’ Jack and be nimble and quick . . . zig when others are zagging, experiment, fail fast and try again. Sure, not every effort will have the intended results, but the willingness to consider a new approach or possibility, and the comfort in shifting course based on changing variables, is the only way I know to successfully leap over a candlestick.

A word of warning — people (funders, monitors, even concerned friends) will likely try to discourage you from “breaking the rules”. Think about it . . . who really thought David would be able to take Goliath down with three small stones . . . a seasoned expert would probably tell Jack jumping over was not an advisable way to get to the other side of a candlestick. Breakthroughs don’t come from following the orderly well-trod path. Incremental change might come that way, but not game-changing advances.

So what’s the answer? Systems and evidence and best practice have their place, and may even be your mainstay as an organization, but I believe you need a few Jacks on staff, too. You need some people who have a knack for disrupting the status quo, who are not willing to accept that this is the best we can do, who question whether conventional wisdom is really all that wise. Carve out a spot for these people, and give them enough leeway to approach something from an entirely different angle. What happens when you do? Well, let’s just say . . .

. . . I’ll see you on the other side of the candlestick!