Category Archives: leadership

7 agreements for productive conversations during difficult times

tied-up-1792237_1280Hi everyone. It’s been a really rough week for many of us due to the election results. For me, I also had an 8-month-old baby who was sick and who stayed up all night for three nights crying and projectile-vomiting on everything. It was seriously like The Exorcist. But cuter. Luckily, just when things were getting bleak…my wife also got sick with fever, chills, and other less pleasant symptoms. During one of these sleepless nights, I hallucinated that the election results weren’t the way they were, and we all woke up to a bright and sunny morning where the world is the way we hope it would be, and everyone is happy and inclusive, and my favorite brand of soy ice cream is on sale. And I have six-pack abs.

Unfortunately, that is not our reality. Many of us in the sector are still going through the stages of denial, anger, and sadness. Everyone is on edge, and it’s been manifesting in various ways. Luckily, I’ve been seeing an increase of support and community, with many colleagues checking in with one another, validating feelings, and creating space to process.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been seeing an increase in hurtful and divisive interactions between colleagues who are on the same side. Normally collegial conversations become heated. People become defensive and accusatory. Emotions are intense. I’m not immune to it myself. I got feedback from a colleague that my post last Wednesday was uninspiring and possibly even making things worse. And I thought, “WTF! Oh hell no you didn’t just email me that! Someone hold my sick baby!” Continue reading

Disbelief, disappointment, and fear, and why our work is more important than ever

Hi everyone. I usually don’t post except on Mondays, but I can’t sleep right now and I need to process the feelings of disbelief, disappointment, and fear that are swirling. I know just this week I said that things will be OK, that the Apocalypse is not coming, that no matter who is elected president, we will continue to do our work to build a stronger community. But I can’t feel those words right now. I just feel awful. And I don’t know how helpful or even coherent this post will be.

How did this happen? How did we get here? I am in a state of bewilderment. This is mixed with sadness and a profound sense of loss and grief. I know many of you are feeling the same way. We as a sector fight on the side of justice and inclusion. We are all invested in the kind of ideal world we want to build—many of us dedicate our lives to it—and because of that we feel things more deeply. To see our nation choose walls, divisiveness, xenophobia, sexism, and demagoguery over love, hope, diversity, and community is devastating. Continue reading

Leadership styles, part 2: Have you flipped your iceberg lately?

pegacorn_stickerHappy Monday, everyone. Due to requests, here is some new NWB merchandise based on the mythical creatures leadership styles I wrote about. Now you can proudly proclaim that you are a Dragon, Phoenix, Pegacorn, or Griffin. I changed unicorn to Pegacorn to distinguish from the general nonprofit unicorn, and Lion-Turtle to Griffin because I didn’t want Nickelodeon to sue me. Thanks to the ever-brilliant Stacy, who designs this website, for creating these mugs and t-shirts.

Just to recap, Dragons are decisive and action-oriented and would rather run into traffic than talk about their feelings. Phoenixes have lots of energy and vision and are great communicators, but they’re easily distracted. Pegacorns bring harmony and consensus and are great listeners but are often indecisive. And Griffins ground everyone in processes and data and are great analyzers but can be too perfectionistic and slow to action. Continue reading

Why we hold on to bad employees, and why we need to fire people faster

game-animals-334334_1280Hi everyone. This post a little tough for me to write. Because, I love the people in our sector, 93% of whom are amazing, dedicated, wonderful individuals. Getting a chance to work with you every day is one of the biggest reasons I love doing what I do. Knowing you are out there makes it easier for me to get out of bed each day, put on deodorant, wet down my cowlicks, eat a handful of Fudgee-Os, and tackle injustice (not always in that order).

This post, however, as you can tell by the title, deals with challenging staff situations; specifically, why we hold on to people who are ineffective or even harmful to our organizations, what that does to our team and mission, and what we need to do about it. I am not an HR expert, and recommend you go to people who are (Ask a Manager is one great resource). So take my words with a swig of Pepto. But having been an ED for a while now, and being in various venting sessions with colleagues, whom I’m quoting in this post, I’ve been noticing some patterns. Continue reading

9 traits of the kind of leaders we need in this time and place

flower-108685_1280Hi everyone, this post may be a little more serious than usual. Last week, Seattle lost one of our community leaders, legendary activist Bob Santos. “Uncle Bob” was one of the Gang of Four, also known as the Four Amigos, a group of racially diverse friends who hung out, sang karaoke, and fought injustice. The other three Amigos were Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas, and Larry Gossett. They realized that they, and their diverse ethnic communities, were much stronger together, a philosophy that carried them through countless successful sit-ins, rallies, and other forms of protests in their fights around gentrification, poverty, funding inequity, fishing rights, and other issues. The friendship between these men—who are Black, Native, Latino, and Asian—and their activism, made Seattle better and continue to inspire countless people, including me.

The Four Amigos are a significant inspiration for the founding of my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, which has a mission of ensuring the nonprofit sector has a strong bench of leaders of color. We are building the next generation of 100 Amigos and Amigas. If a Gang of Four diverse leaders bonded by deep friendship can do so much for a community, imagine how much a Gang of 100 social justice leaders can do. This vision is what guides RVC, along with the question, “What kind of leaders do we need in this time and place?”

Continue reading