Watch the Interview
Working “ON” Your Business and not just “IN” Your Business with Mark Dobosz
Business and Strategic Planning As a Routine Part of Your Business/Organization
Mark Dobosz serves as Executive Director of the Western Sports Foundation. WSF provides health and wellness programs and financial assistance to western sports athletes in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia.
Mark has spent over 35 years working in a variety of leadership roles and areas for not-for-profit organizations including development, marketing, public relations, community, and government relations operations and teaching. He has served in organizations that address community needs in the areas of education, health care, small business development, disabilities, and community development. Some of these include the SCORE Foundation, Out-of-Door Academy, the Mercy Health Care System, Easter Seals, Friends School in Detroit, and other independent schools.
In the area of fundraising, Mark has been responsible for starting a foundation from the ground-level, multi-million-dollar campaigns, developing new fundraising programs, sponsorship programs, as well as expanding several annual giving, planned giving, and special events programs. Mark has helped raise more than $30 million for the organizations he has served.
Mark has spoken extensively throughout his career on non-profit management, leadership and fundraising at various local, regional, and national conferences. He is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, ASAE – The Center for Association Leadership, and the American Bar Association.
He is one of the contributing authors of the book “Do Your Giving While You’re Living” by Edie Fraser and Robyn Spizman, as well as the Editor and contributing author of – Business Planning Tools for Non-Profit Organizations – First and Second Editions.
Mark recently served as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Office Depot Foundation and has served on the boards of several professional and non-profit organizations. He is a recipient of the CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) Circle of Excellence in Fundraising Award – the Council’s highest award, as well as, a 2010 recipient of the Listen Learn and Care Award from The Office Depot Foundation for his contributions to the not-for-profit sector.
In addition to an undergraduate degree from St. Mary’s College, Mark holds Executive Certificates in Nonprofit Leadership and Management and, Transformational Nonprofit Leadership, from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.
About the interview in Mark’s words:
One of my favorite reminders that I have repeatedly shared with entrepreneurs over the years is to remember to spend time working ON your business and not just IN your business.
Being a small business owner puts you square in the crosshairs of finding yourself doing everything on any given day in order to make your business run successfully. So much so, that it has the ability to become all-consuming – either out of necessity to survive or just plain unplanned success. In both cases, seeing the forest for the trees often takes a back seat to sustaining your business and the chances for long-term success can be compromised.
So how do you know when it’s time to take a step back? What are five (5) warning signs that you may be working too much IN your business and not enough ON your business?
1. You aren’t questioning enough anymore.
You are just in a “move from project to project” mode and it’s all about just getting the work done and no time for anything else.
2. You aren’t listening enough anymore.
You stop relying on those who are working with you or for you for insights and ideas and you think you need to have all of the answers to every problem that surfaces.
3. You think you have to control everything including the outcomes.
You keep telling yourself that if you just do this and just do that you will get the desired results without recognizing which variables are in your control and which are not in your control.
4. You either lose the ability to admit you were wrong, or become so attached to your honest but naive loyalty to your ideas, or your strong sense of perseverance won’t stop and becomes unrealistic. In either situation, the result is ultimately the same outcome. You lose sight of the big picture, and you escalate your commitment to following a path that is leading you in circles instead of moving you forward.
5. You have used the phrase more than once in the past two weeks – “I just don’t have the time to do anything else!”
Once you begin to rationalize NOT taking the time is a clear sign that you have started down a path of potential misfires and bad decisions.
If you find that you have experienced one or more of these warning signs recently, do yourself and your business a favor and STOP. Take a half-day for yourself and get out of your own way and go to spend time away from your office and business and think about where you want your business to be in 3 months, 6 months a year. Dust off that business plan and see how close you are to the plan with your current state of affairs.
Remember, Albert Einstein, said it best – “Insanity is best defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou. I have a fascinating guest who agreed to come on the show quite a while ago. Somehow, we lost track of your application for being here, Mark, so thank you for being here. Mark, our custom is for folks to say a little bit about themselves and why you do this kind of work. You’re an executive director.
Mark Dobosz: Thank you very much for the opportunity to join you for this important segment of what’s available to nonprofit leaders out there. You’re doing some great work.
I’ve gotten into nonprofit work over 37 years ago and haven’t turned back since. I started out as a teacher. I picked up my first development job when the headmaster of the school got rid of the development director and asked me to take their place. I said, “Sure. What’s that?” I got to cut my teeth on raising money to keep an organization afloat as well as capital campaigns and public relations and advocacy work. I have been in health care, education, community social service programs, entrepreneurship, bar associations, and now here I am at the Western Sports Foundation, which provides health and wellness programs for athletes who are participating in Western sports in five different countries, including here in the United States.
One question you had is why do you do this? My own passion is wanting to give back and have an impact on community and society from what I do. Part of that comes from being a teacher first and foremost and educating. I see nonprofit work as an opportunity to educate people on what they can do in their communities to be part of making changes. That’s why I’m here.
Hugh: The title you gave us for today is working on your business, not just in your business. I want to be clear. We teach nonprofit leaders and clergy that we are in fact running a business, a tax-exempt business. I was excited about your line for what it’s about, which is a sub-head. Business and strategic planning is part of a necessary routine for your organization. Talk about what you mean when you say working on your business. Why is strategy important?
Mark: It’s great that we continue to educate our leaders in the nonprofit sector about the fact that we are running businesses. It’s important when you think about it as a business that you utilize all those great tools that are out there in the for-profit sector in the nonprofit sector.
What got me passionate about doing this for nonprofits is I spent nine years running the SCORE Foundation, getting the chance to interact with half a million small business owners every year. I was able to see on the for-profit side and nonprofit side how people were really focusing in on how to make themselves better, how to make their businesses better, how to make their businesses grow. I think nonprofits do that on a daily basis.
But what I also saw were the same pitfalls that for-profits face, which is getting so immersed into the business that you forget about the bigger picture. Being able to step back and realize that as the leader, you have not only the responsibility for the business in terms of making sure payroll is met every week and you are getting more clients or providing more services and education, but you are also taking a look at the strategic vision and how to move forward. Different in a nonprofit is how to get the board to get and keep that strategic vision. I have spent the better part of the last 10+ years when I have had an opportunity to talk about this topic of working on your business versus in your business to get people to focus on what they are doing as a leader.
Hugh: It’s important to get perspective on what we’re doing. When I was in Florida, I spent 26 years on the west coast; you’re in the east coast now. I lived in St. Pete and took a little camera store to be a big camera store. I had multiple Kodak dealerships. If you remember film, we used to develop and sell film back in the dark ages. That was the medium. Kodak owned silver imaging in the world, before digital imaging. They had this niche and were insular and walked down the pathway of being king and not needing to change. This principle applies to any type and size of organization. Say more about what if we don’t pay attention. Can we do all of this ourselves, or do we need external support?
Mark: I think you can do it yourself. I have created five warning signs I try to point out to people to see if they are spending too much time in their business rather than on their business. As people begin to question where they’re at, and particularly now, what we’re seeing is I talk with colleagues who are experiencing the impacts of COVID on their organizations. Everyone is knee-deep in trying to survive as a nonprofit or a church or a temple. I think what’s important is that while it’s integral that you’re staying extremely involved and hands-on through the process, this is not going to last forever. We are going to have to make sure that we continue to prepare what our vision and direction is moving out of this. Things may be changing for you. If you’re also not doing some strategic planning on that right now, that will create its own set of problems as you move out of it.
Let me touch on a couple warning signs I give to people relative to this. Maybe you are working too much in your business and not on your business.
Hugh: What are those?
Mark: The first one is: You’re not questioning enough anymore. What you’re doing is moving in a project to project mode. Everything is about getting the work done. There is no time for anything else. You are just busy all the time. You have to handle all the minutia that seems to be going on in your business. You’re just involved in that. You don’t really spend much time thinking about what will happen a month from now, six months from now, maybe not a week from now because it is so critical that you be in charge of everything. That is the first potential warning sign.
A second one is that you are not listening enough anymore. Unless you are a solo entrepreneur, you probably have one or two other people who are interacting with you anymore. In a nonprofit, you also have a board. As the leader, you find that you stopped relying on those people who are working for you for your insights. The line people who are experiencing things you’re not necessarily seeing. But because you are the leader, you think you have the sole responsibility and the weight of the world to make sure that the organization succeeds. So you stop relying on other people in terms of listening to them and not necessarily seeing where problems are surfacing that they may have tried to bring to your attention, but you haven’t been listening.
A third one points to both of those: You think you have to control everything, including the outcomes. We as leaders, particularly in the nonprofit sector, often feel the weight of our impact that we can have on our society and communities. We want to make sure that it’s right. We want to make sure those people are served properly. At times, it’s easy to fall into the mystified sense that we can also control the outcomes of what’s going to happen if we do all the certain things correctly, not realizing there are variables outside of our control. I often use the term “surrender” to remind myself there are many things outside of my control. When you start thinking that you have to control everything, that’s probably another warning sign.
As you spend more time working in the business and avoiding and not working on the business, you get to the fourth one, which is really dangerous: You lose the ability to admit you’re wrong, or you become so attached to your belief that you honestly begin to believe everything that you’re thinking is the right way to do it. This is when it gets dangerous for leaders to the organization and yourself. You can do irreparable harm if you go down the path where you believe you are always right and that your way is the only way that works.
Finally, once you start to echo that and move into the fifth warning sign, using the phrase more than once in the past couple weeks, “I just don’t have the time to do anything else.” This is more of an excuse. This is irrationalizing that you’re so engrossed and cannot see the vision any further. You’re really in danger of making some bad decisions and misfires in your organization.
Those are the five I try to point out to people to take an assessment. If you see any one of those five in your current leadership role, might be time to look at yourself and say, “Where am I at with things right now?”
Hugh: I don’t know anybody who has any of those issues. You certainly have hit the nail on the head. Those are the classic issues. From where I stand, SynerVision Leadership Foundation is about supporting effective leadership. That is the central point of making things happen. We are the influencers. Doesn’t mean we are the doers. We lead, empower, and engage people, but we have to be clear on where we’re going.
The piece about the strategy is so critical. I think people who get in these traps are very insulated from reality. There are some who lack self-awareness. We don’t have a team of people who can punch holes in our theories and give us straight feedback. We are not surrounded only by the yes people who tell us what they think we want to hear. Yes, we’re busy. We don’t have time to talk about leadership, to write goals, to write a strategy. We just have to work. Then we run off a cliff and wonder why.
There are lots of what people term reasons, which I call excuses. For instance, there is a couple that come to mind that I hear more than once. One is, “Oh, I don’t need a strategic plan. That will limit my creativity. I need to be spontaneous.” The second one is, “I don’t have time to write goals. I know where I’m going anyway.” How do you respond to those excuses?
Mark: I’ll start with the second one in terms of goals and writing things down. I had a great mentor and boss who often said, “That which is written down is what is attended to and measured.” There is a lot of truth to that. Once you put something into writing, you have a greater tendency not only to pay attention to it, but you have documented something that you can reflect upon and move toward.
The other catchphrase that goes along with that is, “If you don’t have enough time to do it right from the beginning, when will you have enough time to do it over?” It’s important that people spend some time. People think when you talk about strategic plans or business plans or goals that these have to be 40-page documents. I have seen two-page business plans. I just got done working with an organization with four or five pages in total.
Focusing on those things that are important and being able to synthesize things down and simplify them for yourselves is important. You can reduce the excuse or remove it and turn it from an excuse into an advantage for yourself by saying, “I will take the time and commit to writing the three most important things that we need to accomplish it at a high level over the next six months.” Do it in bite-size pieces. It doesn’t have to be a five-year plan or a three-year plan. If the best you feel you have the energy and leadership to provide right now is this period in time, that’s important. But put it down in writing so you have something to reflect on and hold yourself accountable to.
Hugh: It’s the difference between a dream and a reality and a commitment. You write it down and are committed to it. Plus everyone knows where we’re supposed to end up. I subscribe to the philosophy in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, where all the leaders had definiteness of purpose with specific, achievable outcomes. Writing them down provides energy for your team. Your road map is an engagement tool. People know when to show up and what to do because there is a road map for them to follow.
These are subjects near and dear to my heart. You are speaking to them very capably. We like having these expert interviews because these are people who have been there and done it and know the reasons why it’s important.
We are in a period of a shake-up. There is a possibility the worst has not yet hit us. We are in October 2020, and we are multiple months into the COVID situation where we have been limited in the things that we can do. We are hoping sometimes we will go to a place where we can meet again. People are calling it a new normal, which I reject. It’s the new radical. We have to reset the bar. We have to rethink how we operate because things have changed drastically. By the way, maybe the things we were doing before weren’t that good. It’s time to take a break and rethink them while we are on Zoom at home.
What thoughts do you have about how leaders can equip themselves to take advantage of this opportunity to reboot? It’s a tragedy and a crisis, but it’s also an opportunity to reboot and do something different. What would your thoughts be for people willing to think creatively?
Mark: I will pick up on one thing you said toward the end in terms of the opportunity to recheck some of the things we have been doing because maybe they weren’t all that great in the first place. I have seen it the most in the nonprofit world more than the for-profit businesses I was working with in that we have a tendency to do the same things because they sort of work, so they pass enough muster in terms of whether it’s revenue generation or program delivery not to get severe critiques to it. But are they the best way we can be doing things?
We are creatures of habit who don’t like change. In the nonprofit world, both of those are really strong suits for how nonprofits operate. But this is more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop and say, “I can really look at something, stop doing it potentially, and see what happens if I do something differently as a result.” Everyone has had scalebacks in terms of revenue and service delivery. We are being forced to look at how we do things and what we can do differently at this point in time.
I was just reading an article about organizations that relative to their fundraising have not yet embraced virtual or online. The hesitation comes more from the fact they are fearful because they don’t know it. People don’t want to try things they don’t know or understand. There are so many resources out there of how to attempt things.
I will give you an example. We used to do a walk as a live event; we had never done a virtual walk before. We started into that this month, and it is something I have never done before in 37 years. There are so many simple applications that were available for us to do this.
People have to have a willingness to let go of some of that fear of what could happen and realize that in their fear, they may be limiting their great successes for themselves. Lincoln failed 16 times before he won an election. That is proof enough we should be able to look at failure as something that helps us with our growth, not necessarily something that will cost us our job in the end. A lot of times in nonprofits, leaders fear if they make the wrong decision, they will be out of a job at the end of the day. Now is probably the best time to take some of those risks and try new things. People will have an opportunity to see they can be much more successful than they are giving themselves credit for.
Hugh: A lot of wisdom in what you’re saying. It’s really time. You’ve worked for various organizations, both businesses and nonprofits, right?
Hugh: I think we have a habit of doing what we’ve seen other people do, bad and good. We have had some bad models. These are the things that we should be doing. Like the virtual event you talk about. I do virtual events all day. I have done some virtual training events. That is a lot easier than a walking event. Choirs are doing virtual music. They have to use different technology than what we are using here, but there is a way. Many church music directors are now the technology director. It’s a chance to be creative about how we engage with people.
There is a lot of frustration out there, and it might be a chance for us to encourage that frustration to have a positive spin. We want to do something, and it’s up to us as leaders. What is the old saying? When the times get tough, the tough get going. We are not sitting around wringing our hands, wondering when people will come support us, which I have seen a lot in the organized church. Nobody comes anymore. Have you thought about getting outside your walls and doing something? That’s not as easy now. We are not doing social distancing at all; we are doing physical distancing and being more social, but it’s an interactive way.
It boils down to some of the fundamental principles of engagement. I am a musician. I am a conductor. We have to do right and left brain at the same time. We have a very rigid structure that you cannot break. I am a fan of strategies, of having a plan. When I put the orchestra parts out, everyone knows what to do when I wave that little stick. The rules of engagement are important. Thinking through systems. What is missing for us in being able to think in new terms? You are thinking about a virtual walking event. What holds us back? What do we need to embrace to take this situation and make the obstacles opportunities?
Mark: What I have seen, at least from my experience so far, is that we get in our own way. We do not develop and lean on other people and create teams that allow others to help be part of the solutions to the issues and challenges that we face. Again, I don’t know whether it’s a core principle or idea that people who fall into leadership positions and nonprofits get caught in that trap. There are many people. This is not across the board that everybody does not do great in terms of developing teamwork. Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to come up with the idea, execute the idea, and be all end all of it. If allowing those other people who are around you, and in most cases, I have seen the most unlikely person come up with the great ideas for you that will allow you to try new things.
The other thing you have to allow yourself as a leader to do is be willing to fail at something. Allow your team to be willing to fail at something. This is the only way you will come upon those great nuggets that as Jim Collins said in Good to Great, that’s the only thing that will take you from good to great: allowing the team to fail at things together and come out on the other side with often a newly revamped organization.
You talked before about how some of the things you were doing may not have been so great. Some of the things you are doing right now may not be things you should be doing anymore. Mission creep, expanding to things beyond your original mission, is one thing. Maybe having a brand-new mission is where you are headed. Facing the challenges as a team and moving out of the silo of “I am leader” will get you to that point of-
It may not be the best analogy, but I think of the story of the fishes and loaves. The baskets and the people are sharing did not happen just because Jesus walked around passing the basket by himself. Thousands of people got involved to make that happen. We have to look at that as nonprofit leaders: How do we engage our teams better, including the people we serve? What do they need?
Hugh: Do we actually ask them about that?
Mark: My experience has been we rarely do that. I was talking with somebody about a mediation that they were doing about some challenging members they were having. They were talking about how other members were complaining. I asked, “Did anyone ask the membership what they needed?” “No, we haven’t done that in a long time.” “Well, that would be a great starting point to have a better sense of what it is you need to be doing.”
Hugh: My, my, my. At least they were honest about it.
Mark: That’s true.
Hugh: We’re at the halfway point in this helpful interview. A lot of good sound bites and nuggets. I want to go back to your warning signs.
*Sponsored by SynerVision Leadership Foundation*
Mark, you have given us some challenges to look at. The theme I see in those five warning signs is lack of awareness. You piggybacked on that in terms of how people get in their own silos and don’t seek outside influence or commentary. Part of it is you talked about having a strategic plan. I can’t tell you how many times I have visited with an organization of any kind who pull it out and dust it off or don’t have one at all. Or they say, “We finished the last one. It’s time for a new one.” If it’s a good plan, why don’t you let it migrate over time and improve it, update it so that you always have a long-term plan instead of, “Well, we ran out of that one, and we have to wing it until we have time to write a new one.” It occurs to me that you should have a three-month or six-month process where you review it. If you have a good evaluation process, some of these things could be front and center. If you have the board engaged, the planning process could be a tool to help you with these issues.
Mark: I had a great opportunity when I was running the SCORE foundation to work with a board member, Mike Mendez, who retired out of Southern California Edison. He was passionate about the strategic planning process. We had together worked on developing a book called Business Planning for Nonprofits. There are two editions of it. If you go to Score.org, you can find that resource there.
What I think I found is that having at least some semblance of a plan as you have indicated is really important just for that road map, not just for yourself, but you really are responsible as a leader to bring along other people and your stakeholders in understanding what that vision is and how you plan to get there. It doesn’t have to be an extensive, multi-chapter document in order for people to understand. In fact, I’d advocate the simpler the better. If people can communicate the same thing you’re seeing in terms of the vision, and everyone can share it and vocalize it to each other, the quicker you will get to realizing that vision. It’s important for every organization if you haven’t done it to go back and look on how you can do this process.
I have had the good fortune of participating with another colleague and her group to do a virtual strategic planning process. I had been involved in many half days and full days and multi-days of strategic planning activities. This is the first time I participated in a virtual one. It came off just as well in terms of being focused on those things they needed to get done rather than trying to tackle too much.
COVID has given us the opportunity to do a lot of things we maybe wouldn’t have thought of doing. The virtual environment has given us a lot of opportunities to do things much more succinctly and simplified and not long in duration. No one will sit on Zoom for 3-4 hours. If you can create agendas that are 45-60 minutes in length and focused, this is what you should have been doing in the first place. This has now forced us into that reality.
I think relative to your own strategy, take that half day for yourself as a leader and identify what those three or four things are. Bring them back to your team. Spend that time in that way.
Hugh: What do you do for yourself to keep your leadership skills and planning skills honed in?
Mark: I try to quarterly take a half day for myself to look at my goals and my organizational goals. What have I accomplished relative to those? I try to stay up on some of the current literature relative to planning and how people are facing challenges in similar organizations to mine as well as those outside of that. There are a lot of lessons to be learned. If it’s a marketing challenge I am having, I can read literature as to how other nonprofits are facing that. But what I’m finding is that people are people. How the general community is responding to this thing that’s going on has some impact in terms of how for-profit businesses are looking. I spend a fair amount of time when I am not working also to look at some of those other things for myself from a professional standpoint.
Hugh: Good for you. Would you entertain questions from listeners?
Hugh: Bob, your mic is open. Go ahead.
Bob Hopkins: Hi! I am glad to be here. I got on late, but I am sitting in the seat I sit in eight hours a day. I used to be in front of people. I used to talk and interact and see people’s faces and below the belt and what kind of shoes they wore. Now I can’t of course, but I am getting used to it. I am not sure when we go back face to face that I will always want to do that because this is so easy. I have been on Zoom all morning, and I took a lunch break. Here I am back again. I am not unhappy.
I appreciate what you have to say about this topic. I don’t have a question necessarily, but I am intrigued by the fact that you are talking about most of us and our lives and the way we are spending them today. We better get used to it, am I right?
Mark: I was talking to one of our board members who is involved in a Fortune 500 company. They faced a similar situation where they said, “A lot of things we thought we had to be in person for, we don’t have to be in person for anymore.” There will be changes to how we do things. To a certain extent, some of that will go back to the way it used to, but not all of it. If we can figure out which is the best way. For us in nonprofits, and I will speak from the fundraising standpoint, if we can figure out how the donor best wants to be approached these days, some people will still want to talk to you, but other people will love the comforts of Zoom and phone calls.
Hugh: Bob is in Dallas, Texas. J.E., you are in Bedford, Virginia, and you run Legacy International. He has founded four different organizations. What questions do you have for Mark today?
J.E. Rash: Mark, I really appreciate it. First of all, I want to go backwards. You mentioned Good to Great, which we used 15-20 years ago to do our transformational strategic planning. It was a good introduction for staff who had been working for 20+ years who didn’t understand that a nonprofit was a business. You made those points well.
We are involved in a lot of confirmation bias, which holds us back, especially when we are in leadership or founder positions. I find that if you look at our work, you will see we work with children in our own institutional preschool all the way through high school to entrepreneurs and social/political leaders around the world. One thing that keeps you from your confirmation bias is to listen to people. This is an important message in doing leadership training and nonprofit training. I really appreciate those points.
It reminds me of a quotation from Rumi who said, “Change comes out from necessity; therefore, man creates necessity.” Necessity has been created for us. We don’t have to be out creating it. We are seeing people dying out of the necessity to have a new perspective. Those of us who are involved in leadership in a social and innovative way or are entrepreneurs, we also have to realize that we are simultaneously involved in community leadership. Our organization, and I’m sure this resonates with you, needs to be clearer on its values. We are a values-based organization. What do we share with other people? If we are sharing those values, then the leadership comes about because the leader is not only someone who can manifest those values but also articulate them. I appreciate what you’ve said today.
Hugh: Mark, those are some well-experienced people there. Any comments?
Mark: No, thank you. I concur 100%. It’s always good when you’re bringing information to folks to have that validated by people who have long experiences and varied experiences in the field. Thank you for those comments.
Hugh: Back to the five warning signs. Short of writing them down and posting them on your mirror, how do people keep themselves alert to the potential that we need to upgrade some of our systems? There is the “Let’s stick to it. It’s going to work.” How many times do we do that when we realize we are climbing a ladder that is on the wrong wall? How do we get around the wisdom piece that is so often lacking? How do we figure out if these five things apply to us?
Mark: It’s important for leaders to commit to themselves. At a bare minimum, commit to two half days a year for themselves. They put them on their calendars. It’s immoveable, sacrosanct time to leave their office and focus on these things in terms of their plans and give themselves a tune-up. We all take our cars in for oil changes. We all take our cars to get our tires rotated. Somehow, we can’t make the time to check on our own business that we spend the majority of our time working in.
What I suggest to people is they make that commitment at least twice a year to do it. Quarterly would be better. Step back and hoe that review with yourself. Then take back what you found to your team to talk about. It’s a healthy commitment to you not only professionally but personally. As we examine the things we’re doing, we also learn a lot about ourselves and how we have changed over the years. To think I am the same nonprofit leader that I was 37 years ago when I first started, I would be kidding myself if I haven’t learned anything. I probably shouldn’t be talking to people about leadership and how best to achieve some change in your life. I feel like I have grown considerably thanks to mentors and opportunities and lessons.
What I am sharing with you today are not new revelations I somehow came up with in the middle of the night, but things I have learned from great mentors along the way. One thing I have learned is you have to take the time to make the commitment to yourself to do this. If you don’t, you’re making the mistake. Only you can control this. This is an outcome you can control. I am pretty vociferous about the notion that only you can do this as a leader.
Hugh: Absolutely. Only you can control what’s in between your ears. Those are wise words indeed. There comes a point when we need to retool. How do we retool? Right now is a good time for this because we have an unknown future. The worst may not have hit us yet as far as the economy goes. How do we think about retooling and not thinking it’s a negative defeat for us as leaders?
Mark: One thing I have practiced and seen is, it goes back to something you had pointed out before, reassessing all the things you are doing right now. Put some valuation and evaluation on those things. How are they performing for you? Are they at fives or nines and tens in terms of the success? What are the measurements you are giving? It’s one thing to say we have served 1,000 people, but have we made any impact on them? How many things are outputs versus outcomes? What is the difference you’re actually making?
That is how you begin in my mind to go about retooling. Then you are looking at what it is you are trying to impact and change versus just straight numbers of people who are being served. It is always great to say we have served thousands of people, but have we made a difference? When you start thinking about what difference you’re making, then you’re retooling. Otherwise, you are just moving the deck chairs around to see how many more you can serve.
Hugh: The deck chairs on the Titanic.
Mark: In some cases, yes.
Hugh: Let’s go back to your title. People use this perspective a lot. Very few do much about it. These five things arise from not spending time working on your business. You spoke about having some dedicated time to think. I find that I need external advisors because we call them blind spots for a reason. SynerVision has lots of resources. I have ten books, ten online courses, and a bunch of these interviews and webinars on different aspects. SynerVision has a lot of content, but people don’t always look at the content. I find that I can’t do strategy for my own organization. I need to have strategists outside my organization do it for me, even though that’s my principled thing. As a conductor, a principled thing is integrating the strategy into performance. As we are not spending enough time, we get sucked into the vortex.
One of the developers of the leadership methodology, Murray Bowen, talks about leaders overfunctioning. That is the prevailing issue with leaders who claim to be burned out or claim their boards don’t do much. What are some other dangers of not really working on your business? Help us differentiate between “on” and “in” one more time.
Mark: In terms of “on” or “in,” the in for me is when you are in the detailed day-to-day operations all the time. You’re not thinking strategically. You’re thinking operationally. You find yourself worrying about every single detail that is going on in terms of the organization. Even if you’re letting other people do it, you’re still focusing on how much they are paying for X for this particular event. Have they gotten all these details in that particular program service outlined and done and completed in a more minutia way? Versus strategically thinking about what is our market? Are we best serving that market? That is the differentiation there.
In terms of other warning things, you bring up a good point in terms of outside advisors and people who can assist us. It’s important that we constantly evaluate what our professional network is and who we rely on for our inputs and advice and brainstorming and sounding boards. If you don’t have sounding boards, it’s never too late to get them. But particularly now, in these challenging times as a nonprofit, you should have and put into place some folks you can share- If you want to think of it as commiserating, fine. I think of it more as having an opportunity to share ideas to be able to get inputs and either validate or negate the thought process you’re going through.
The old phrase of “two heads are better than one” probably applies moreso now than it ever did. Because of the fact you need to retool, think differently, evaluate and constantly look at how not only everything around us in terms of other variables are changing, but what you need to be doing for your organization to change it, because it will change. Whether you want it to change or not, things will change as a result of what we’re going through. If you want to be part of that change and direct the vision of where the change will go, you need people as part of your team that you can look to. That can be internally or externally. But when you are working in your business, you are not making time for other people to be sounding boards. You are not working on your business if you don’t have a team of people you can rely on also.
Hugh: You’re helping us remind people we are running a tax-exempt business. A guest of ours years ago called it as a contrast that it’s not a for-profit enterprise, it’s a for-purpose enterprise. That was really well-put.
Mark Dobosz, your five points are written out on our website. I am going to print them out and read them every day. Not to worry, I won’t obsess. I encourage boards to write their guiding principles for how they work together because everyone knows how to run a meeting. If we have 10 people, we have 11 opinions. Someone is schizophrenic. We have different opinions on things. How do we agree to work together and build consensus? I also invite boards to write a covenant. If people say they promise to do something, there is buy-in. I would love to be in the organization you lead; you have so many things to say to people.
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Mark, what do you want to leave people with today?
Mark: Thank you for the opportunity to share this information with your audience today. My closing thought is one of my favorite Eastern quotes that I had learned when I was at Friends School in Detroit from the headmaster there who was almost mystical at times. His favorite quote he shared with us is, “I have drunk from wells I did not dig. I have been warmed by fires I did not build.” Whatever I have been able to share with you today, I hope it benefits you and the many communities which you serve around the world.
Hugh: Thank you for being our guest today. We are all richer because of your wisdom, sir.