Why It’s Important: Can Empathy Be Learned?

Why It’s Important: Can Empathy Be Learned?

Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture

One of the most fascinating concepts in this Harvard Business Review article is the notion that empathy can be taught. Not only can it be taught, but there is evidence that people who think you either have it or you don’t – those with a ‘fixed mindset’ – are less likely to work at connecting with others.

That’s just the way I am

Or, as I might put it, the people who say “that’s just the way I am,” may be telling the truth; but they’re wrong when they think they can’t change.

Empathy leads to better connection, less stress, and higher morale, and CAN be taught. But not by merely mouthing the instruction to be empathic. It takes practice and it takes role models. If you espouse the value of empathy,  the actions need to be congruent with what you say, from the board on down through the entire organization.

The article lists – and expands on –  three ways leaders can embrace and foster empathy in the organization.

  • Acknowledge the potential for growth
  • Highlight the right norms
  • Find culture leaders and co-create with them

What does this mean for you? 

Do you work for an organization that encourages empathy? Have you tried to foster empathy in your work or your board? Or If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about values, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

– Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Irrational Wisdom

Why It’s Important: Irrational Wisdom

This really short article by colleague Rebecca Sutherns makes an important point. No matter how much time you take to come to a decision, the decision may still not feel right. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision, though.

Look deeper

That ‘wrong feeling’ is occasion for a deeper look at why it feels wrong. Is it because there’s something you forgot to take into account? Some aspect your gut recognizes but your head doesn’t?  Or is it because of your own assumptions? Does the decision grate against childhood beliefs? Are you succumbing to personal, unacknowledged biases? Is your team looking at it only from one point of view?

Don’t shortchange the time it takes to make a good decision.

If you scheduled a day for a retreat, and the results feel wrong, schedule time to figure out why. You may find out that your gut is right, and you need to side-step the work you just did. You still might go with the ‘gut feeling,’ and be glad of it.

BUT!   Just because the conclusion you came to doesn’t feel right doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It means it’s time to look again.

If a recent decision your team has made still feels wrong, or if you want help making decisions that feel right, please let me know.

Watch for more posts about important articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: No Tokens Allowed

Why It’s Important: No Tokens Allowed

When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance

Why is this article important?  It has some interesting points to make about the difference between tokenism and really embracing diversity on a board.

The majority of people on nonprofit boards, acknowledge that board diversity is important. But even as research shows the intention to improve board diversity, the 2017 report, Leading with Intent, shows that boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago.”* Meanwhile, as boards continue to talk about diversifying, the definition of what constitutes diversity has evolved.

From tokenism to inclusion

Society has moved from tokenism to ensuring that people of diverse age, gender, ethnicity, orientation and background not only fill important roles with their skills and talents, but are also valued for the diversity that they bring.

The perspective of this article from Harvard Business Review, When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance,  is that of a for-profit corporation. But there are valuable lessons for nonprofit boards that want to both encourage diversity and take advantage of that diversity. To quote the authors:

“Diversity doesn’t matter as much on boards where members’ perspectives are not regularly elicited or valued. To make diverse boards more effective, boards need to have a more egalitarian culture — one that elevates different voices, integrates contrasting insights, and welcomes conversations about diversity.”

What might that mean for your Governance or Nominating Committee? More pointedly, what might that mean for how your board approaches ambitious or controversial decisions? How might having different voices around the table change not only the decisions that you make, but how you make those decisions?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about governance and recruitment, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

– Susan Detwiler

*Leading With Intent 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy

Why is this article important?

The title of this Nonprofit Quarterly article, The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy, implies an either/or relationship between improvisation and strategy. But buried in this Nonprofit Quarterly article is the caveat that structure is necessary for improvisation to work. There needs to be a framework. Using Karl Weick’s jazz as a metaphor, you can interpret, embellish, do a variation, or improvise from a basic melody. But you still need that basic melody.

Looked at this way, you might consider crafting a strategic framework, rather than a formal, step-by-step plan. This gives your organization – and the talented people in it – the latitude to respond to opportunities that come your way.

It takes courage to give people this kind of latitude. They need to know the ultimate vision you are all working toward. They need buy-in. And they need to trust that YOU trust THEM.

Can you build flexibility into your strategic planning? Do you allow improv?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about planning, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

-Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

I’m not writing any more blog posts! At least not for a while. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from me.

Building and nurturing relationships is at the heart of how I work with nonprofit boards and executives. A blog post cannot recreate the one-on-one conversations that develop into trusted working relationships.

But in my work I read many great articles that convey important food for thought for nonprofit organizations. Some are written directly for board chairs. Others focus on the for-profit world and carry lessons for nonprofit executives.

So instead of writing my own posts, I will curate the articles I read and give you my take on why they are intriguing, or important, or how to use them.

I hope you enjoy this new format. Here’s the first one.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Rick Moyers recently stepped down as chair of the board of BoardSource, As you can imagine, he had a lot riding on his time there. In this article, he offers three important lessons he learned during his time as chair. While only one explicitly talks about building one-on-one relationships, the other two have at their heart the need to recognize that you are always dealing with people. Always. And understanding that everything you do affects people is a great life lesson – whether as a formal leader or someone in the middle of the pack making routine decisions.

I hope you appreciate Moyers’ words as much as I do: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Watch for more curated articles from me. If you find one you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Can board training be interesting?

Can board training be interesting?

What a question! The mere fact that you’re asking says that you’ve had bad experience with consultants coming in and telling everyone what they ‘should’ be doing.

That is such a wrong approach, it’s no wonder board training has such a bad rap.  Even the word ‘training’ is demeaning. It sounds like you’re training animals in a zoo or a circus.

The secret to getting board members to know and be responsible for their duties is to

get them to figure it out for themselves.

As with anything else, start with the end in mind. Then you can reverse engineer to find the steps that will lead you there.

You say you need board education. Why? What’s the end result of board education? It’s not having board members know their roles. That’s only a stepping stone.

Board members knowing their role is a means to having a thriving organization.

If you want board members to know and be invested in their role, engage them in a robust conversation around what you need to have a THRIVING ORGANIZATION. not a thriving board.

The conversation will be generative, and include many things. But ultimately, while every organization may be unique, they each need these 3 things**:

  1. An eye on the future and a plan for embracing that future
  2. Resources to conduct business right now and resources to support that plan for embracing the future
  3. A way to ensure the resources are being used wisely

**Note: One of the first things to come up will be ‘money.’ Money is a red herring. Money, just like an effective board, is a means to an end. Counter that with ‘What does money make possible?’ or, if necessary, ‘Besides money…’

The board has a role to play in each of them.

The first is the future orientation – the long view. Board members have a responsibility to watch the world and consider how it will impact the organization.

The second is finding the resources – fundraising, relationships, hiring the executive, ensuring the talent is there. Board members have a responsibility to make sure the organization has what it needs to fulfill the mission, whether it’s treasure or talent.

The third is oversight and evaluation – are we being careful with the resources, are we following the law, are our programs the best way of fulfilling our mission. Board members have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is putting its resources where they’ll do the most good, and not jeopardizing the mission with poor or illegal practices.

Once you have these established, the next step is for the group to generate the HOW. 

How will you make sure you have a future orientation? What will it take to generate the different kinds of resources? What will make it possible to ensure that resources are wisely used, and we’re following the law? In the conversation, you may suggest some recommended practices.

It’s at this point you can tell the board members that they, themselves, have come up with what their roles and responsibilities are. You can present the usual checklist of responsibilities and show them that they’ve generated most of them themselves.

Board education doesn’t have to be deadly – or demeaning. A retreat to engage your board members in the whys and wherefores of a board makes the role of board member meaningful, and uses their passion to generate their own individual roles.

Congratulations!

An external facilitator can often make this retreat flow more easily. Let me know if you want to explore that possibility. To learn more about nonprofit boards and facilitation, you can follow me at The Detwiler Group.