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Curiosity: Make it Your Leadership Advantage

This is a guest post by Kathy Archer from Silver River Coaching.


Leaders need to be in control, in charge, and have all the answers. Right? No. That is not entirely accurate. In fact, the best leaders often don’t have all the answers.  What the greatest leaders have is a tremendous amount of curiosity. In other words, they ask a lot of questions that they don’t know the answer to.

Doesn’t asking questions make me look dumb?

Why is it important to ask questions you don’t know the answer to? I mean really, doesn’t that highlight how unwise you are? Are leaders not supposed to be intelligent, invincible, and have all of the answers?

No.

A leader has two primary jobs:

1. To grow and develop others

2. To move the organization and it’s people (the ones they are growing and developing) from where they are now towards a shared vision of the future

If a leader already knows how to achieve the desired results then they would be doing it. But they are at the beginning, not at the end point of success. That is because they don’t know how to get there, yet! Additionally, despite what some leaders might believe, they can’t do it on their own. A leader needs a team. The best way to grow that team and to move toward the future vision is to get really curious.

Do you know where you are going?

To create a vision you need a clear picture of where you want to be. Start by asking questions:

  • If we were really successful at making positive changes in the next year, what would be different?
  • Imagine a year from now we are reaching significantly improved outcomes. What processes would we be doing differently?
  • What impact would our positive changes have on our relationship with our stakeholders, clients, and funders?

mapDo you know how to get there?

To figure out how to realize your vision you need a plan. Creating a plan requires more questions:

  • Imagine we changed our intake processes to make them more streamlined. Where did we start?
  • What skills would our teams need to develop in order to achieve those desired outcomes?
  • If we were to look back a year from now, what roadblocks would we have to overcome (and how did we do it) to achieve that new vision?

When a leader is willing to ask questions, explore possibilities, and invite introspection, they can spark incredible growth in their team.  A leader’s willingness to explore the unknown may open the door to discover a whole range of possibilities that may not have existed if they had merely provided a solution.

What it takes to be more curious

Being curious requires a leader to be vulnerable and admit they don’t have all the answers. By applying curiosity in situations, there might be a bubbling up of resistance or fear in ourselves. Yes, you could be opening up a whole can of worms. Yes, you might discover something you don’t like. Curiosity requires you to let go of control and accept ambiguity and uncertainty. It requires admitting that you don’t know it all and need help.

Learning to let go of control takes time and effort. Be intentional about it. You may select an area to focus on. For example:

Rather than implementing a new hiring system myself, I am going to ask 3 staff to develop the system. I am going to work on giving them more control and autonomy because I know it will help them grow. They will have the opportunity to become more confident and feel they are valuable, contributing members of the team. I’m going to simply get curious about what they can create. 

The advantage of curiosity

The reality is there is an incredible wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience in a whole team. When that vast information becomes available, it surpasses what one leader can do on their own. This expanded potential is what sets incredible organizations way out front of average organizations. Groups are able to excel when leaders are willing to leverage everyone’s strengths, talents, and experience.

ThinkingThe way to get more curious

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions! Inquire with no judgement, no preconceived answers in your mind, and no prior expectation of a right way to respond. Probe with open-ended questions and a child-like playfulness as you search for new insights.

  • What other options have we not looked at yet?
  • What else do we need to explore?
  • What have we not thought about?
  • What would you like to try?

Use curiosity to your advantage

Many of the best leaders are curious souls. They ask a lot of questions they don’t know the answers to.  A curious leader’s inquisitiveness helps them grow and develop their team so they can achieve a shared vision, together.

Let go of control. Let go of fear. Replace it with curiosity. When you do, you may find yourself and your organization more rapidly achieving your desired results.

 

Kathy Archer
Silver River Coaching

 

Kathy is a leadership coach for women who want to strengthen their leadership and find balance in life. She mentors women as they rediscover their purpose, passion, and persistence for life while dealing with office politics, jerk bosses, and the challenges of family life. In her signature program Women with Grit: Leading with Courage & Confidence, Kathy gives her ladies the hope and inspiration they need along with a kick in the pants to makepositive change in their lives.You can find Kathy at silverrivercoaching.com

 

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Organizational Well-being Starts with Staff

A major component for organizational well-being is staff well-being. With nice weather, longer days, and often a change of gears to match the change in season, summer is a great time to experiment with new approaches to staff wellness.

At Volunteer Alberta, we strive to support staff well-being in a variety of ways. While we are always growing and improving, here are 3 ideas we have already implemented that you might want to borrow!


1. Vacation Time

Jump with JoyWe have a generous vacation / time-off policy. As a nonprofit, one way we can stay competitive is with paid time-off as part of our staff compensation package. We can provide staff with time to rest, relax, explore, and recharge and create a workplace culture that values work-life balance. After all, I want to bring my ‘whole self’ to work, and that is made much easier when I have the time to grow and develop personally, as well as professionally.

Part of our staff vacation time includes the summer bonus of extra long weekends from May until September. Anytime we have a long weekend during the summer months, we add an extra day of office closure. This works out to four extra days our staff have to enjoy away from the office and to get the most out of the season.

2. In-Office Yoga

Part of my ‘whole self’ includes my training as a yoga teacher. As a new teacher, I needed an opportunity to practice teaching. Luckily for me, many of my colleagues were willing participants! Teaching yoga at the office has the mutual benefit of supporting my personal development, giving me a chance to practice professional skills, and creating great value-add for other staff. Plus, I find it fulfilling to support the mental and physical well-being of my colleagues. It has been a great opportunity to build community and de-stress on Friday’s at lunch, and, of course, it’s optional so no one feels pressured to join in.

3. Take Advantage of our Surroundings

RestaurantOur office happens to be in the heart of downtown. We are next to restaurants and bars with great summer patios, as well as Edmonton’s river valley. Going to a patio with colleagues after work is an excellent way to end a work day – soaking up sunshine, relaxing, and building friendships. Staff also bring our meetings to our neighbourhood cafés, restaurants, and patios for a change of scenery and to embrace a casual, creative way of working together. Some staff members have even tried out walking meetings to get outside.


While these are my favourite ways Volunteer Alberta supports staff well-being, there are other ways as well. Staff benefits, flexible work hours, professional development opportunities, and sharing our lunchtime together are also positive influences on Volunteer Alberta’s well-being, individually and as an organization.

What kind of work environment would feel satisfying and promote wellness at your office?

No workplace, or office culture, is quite the same. This is especially true in our diverse sector: different peak times, staff sizes, volunteer involvement, facilities, communities, the list goes on. For this reason, activities that promote well-being for your staff need to be responsive to your nonprofit’s current reality and future goals.

What is your organization doing already to promote well-being in the summer and year-round? What ideas would you like to try out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Swing

Personal Experiences with Nonprofits: A Lifetime of Involvement

Our experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and support. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

A couple years ago, Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector. We are continuing to share Volunteer Alberta staff experiences, turning this into an ongoing series. Up next is Cindy!

Cindy has shared some of the key moments from her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today. Here are her 5 key personal experiences (and a step-by-step guide for a lifetime of involvement!):

1. Start with Family: The County Clothes-Line Store was where I first formally volunteered! The organization receives donations of clothes to sell to the public (specifically offering affordable pricing to those unable to spend a lot) and the money goes into the CCL Foundation. The Foundation funds various programs and scholarships in Strathcona County. My mom volunteered there and brought me along. I was fairly young, so folding clothes, ragging, and tidying up was often what I was asked to do.

Jazz2. Benefit from Nonprofits: I was a band girl growing up. I enjoyed music, I was good at it (or so I heard!), and I had a great time hanging out with my friends. One year, I happened to be the right age to play with a number of amazing musicians. Between my school’s jazz band, jazz combo, and concert band, we were often entered into band competitions and sometimes lucky enough to go to MusicFest Canada, a national competition. It was great fun! At that time, I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit – now I can recognize the amount of work that went into organizing it all. Some of my band friends continue to play, while others, like me, have taken different paths, but still appreciate what music has brought to my life.

3. Fulfill a Passion and Get Inspired: My friend’s son is a virtuoso cello player (check out his YouTube channel!) and has received support from the Anne Burrows Music Foundation. I have volunteered for their casino several times. I choose to support them because I believe in their mission of supporting upcoming musicians, I have a direct connection to someone benefiting from their work, and I actually met the very inspiring namesake, Anne Burrows, through my piano teacher many years ago.

4. Have Fun: At Fort Edmonton Park I was fortunate to volunteer for an organization I love, while supporting local tourism. My role was scaring people. To be clear, this was in costume during their Halloween event: Spooktacular. We had the opportunity to build the scenarios and create the scenes ourselves, and then the fun of entertaining guests throughout the event. I am definitely hoping to volunteer with them again in the future.

5. Be Recognized: Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has such a wide variety of positions open that there is something for everyone! I worked with the finance team and we had a lot of fun, including daily team challenges from the Festival. The Fringe also has good processes in place for volunteer orientation and recognition – including Fringe Bucks for hours volunteered (to purchase show tickets). It’s fun, I get to see a few shows and participate in the festival, and support the organization’s due diligence!

Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Are you successfully sharing your data with your Board?

Have you ever wondered how to use all the data your organization collects to measure your success and report to your Board? How do you show whether the organization is doing a good job?

Organizations and their Boards define what a ‘good job’ looks like with a series of objectives. These objectives, known as strategic directions or goals, are included in an organization’s strategic plan. One way to measure these strategic directions is to examine how successfully the organization’s services are being delivered using the data your organization collects.

Volunteer Alberta has five strategic directions. One of our strategic directions is to ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’.

Using this strategic direction as an example, we’ll investigate two foundational considerations to report on meeting this strategic direction by using data that we collect. The key is to ensure the data tells a meaningful story to the Board.

Selecting a performance indicator

Web Stats1Do you want to tell your Board the number of participants at a training session? Or do you want to tell your Board about whether your clients are more skilled or confident following a training session?

The answer is… it all depends.

The rule of thumb is both. Report outputs when your initiative is new and you are just beginning to gather data. Report outputs and outcomes when your program or tactic has been in place for a reasonable period of time.

Outputs: the scale or number of actual activities that your organization undertook (ex. number of participants at the training session, or the number of training sessions). Outputs answer the question ‘What happened?’

Outcomes: the value or impact of your program (ex. what people got out of the training session). Outcomes answer the question ‘Why does it matter?’

When starting a new program or initiative (ex. a training session), the number of participants and sessions are meaningful for the Board. When a year or two of the training has passed, outcome-based measures become more relevant. By year two and onwards, the Board wants to know whether participants are more confident, for example, or can apply something new to their jobs as a result of the training. Regardless, outputs (the numbers) are always required for context as they show the scale of the service (and any growth).

Reporting the performance indicator

Using our data, outputs, and outcomes, how do we report to the Board on our progress and achievement of our strategic direction: ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’?

There are multiple programs and initiatives Volunteer Alberta works on to contribute to this strategic direction, and we report on several different performance indicators to share our progress with the Board. One performance indicator might be ‘% of participants who feel they can apply something new to their job that they learnt at the training session’.

Data over several years is especially powerful as it shows trends. If this indicator % reduces, then it may indicate that the training is not as useful as it once was, or alert us that it may be time to review and update the training material.

In addition to numbers, data also includes additional context and stories. Ex. Did the facilitator change? Is there a particularly inspiring story from a participant that we can share? How is the organization’s communication plan impacting this particular training opportunity?

With the data your organization is already collecting, it’s likely that you have a good amount of outputs and outcomes, along with additional information that you can share with your Board and truly measure the success of your work against your organization’s strategic directions.

Have more questions about reporting data to your Board? Ask in the comment section!

Susan Gulko
Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

Header photo attribution: WOCinTech
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Advocacy: Networking for a Cause

prl_logoThis week we are sharing a blog by Meredith Bratland, Communications Coordinator at Parkland Regional Library. The article originally appeared in their publication, Quatrefoil Summer 2016.

While Meredith focuses on advocacy for libraries, we believe her insights are valuable for nonprofits in any subsector!


Advocacy work can be a hard sell. I’ve been conducting advocacy workshops with library boards throughout the region for three years and sometimes it sounds more political, complicated, and quite frankly like hard work than it truly is.

Basically, advocacy is networking for a cause.

Advocate (verb): publically recommend or support.

Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

When advocating for your library in the public sphere, you are still getting many of the benefits of traditional networking. It can be even more fulfilling because you are not just focusing on developing your own career but developing public services for your community as well.

Advocating and networking have these common characteristics that go together like peanut butter and jam:

  • Meeting and connecting with community members.
  • Building your list of contacts within the community.
  • Investing in your social capital.

Business writer Margaret Heffernan explains that “social capital is a form of mutual reliance, dependency, and trust. It hugely changes what people can do. This is more true now than ever. It’s impossible in modern organizations to know everything that you need to know. What you need are lots of people who know lots of different things. Collectively you’re smarter.”[1]

By creating a network of people in your community and letting them know you’re an advocate for the library, you can impact your library’s goals significantly because of the opportunities that arise from involving other perspectives.

Advocacy quoteThere are a few tips that make networking easier for introverts and extroverts:[2]

  1. Approach someone confidently.
  2. Have your elevator pitch, a concise 30 second message, ready and polished.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions.
  4. Be genuinely interested.
  5. Say something memorable that emphasizes or demonstrates your elevator speech.
  6. Follow up!

It can be even more straightforward by creating an advocacy plan. In the workshop, we discuss and create key messages that can be your elevator speech. We identify stories, which would act as a memorable tidbit that emphasizes the key message or elevator speech. Your entire library board will be sharing a similar message and the chance of success increases exponentially because of the connections created in each of your separate networks.

Your social capital will rise and your library’s goals and visibility in the community will improve too.

Meredith Bratland
Parkland Regional Library

 

[1] Career advice for millennials (and really, anyone) from Margaret Heffernan by Juliet Blake
[2] Practical Networking Tips for Introverts by Maricella Herrera Avila
Header photo attribution: WOCinTech

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