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Gregariousness is Optional

excited business colleagues      Ah, those overly gregarious co-workers. You’re surrounded by them. Gregarious people are the ones who are highly sociable, highly outgoing, always seeking the company of others. Gregarious people, in other words, are the classic extroverts. And if you’re the classic introvert, your gregarious colleagues probably drive you nuts sometimes. Do they always have to be so — emotional? So up? Laughing so loud and so long? High-fiving each other incessantly? Don’t they ever calm down??!

Well…probably not. And I suspect there are times when that fills your introverted heart with a mixture of irritation and maybe just a bit of envy. Sometimes I’ll bet you’d like to cut loose a bit — or at least cut a little looser. But if that’s not your nature, the subtle pressure you might feel from the extroverts around you can be a bit daunting. So here’s some great news from an excellent book I’ve quoted from before, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She makes this profound statement: “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

As we’ve pointed out before, our culture tends to idolize the extroverts. We somehow tend to equate being an extrovert with being strong, being a leader, being assertive and taking charge. But experience shows us that is assuredly not always the case! Some extroverts talk a good game but fail to demonstrate substance to match their style. And many introverts outshine their extroverted colleagues and become outstanding leaders in businesses and organizations large and small.

Sadly, in our overly-hyped, extroverted world, gregariousness doesn’t feel optional! While being the out-going one gets you noticed, all too often the introverts feel out-shouted as the clamoring extroverts vie for attention. That’s why I think Susan Cain’s statement is so profound. After she says that “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional,” she goes on to add this suggestion for introverts:

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply…Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.

Where do you shine best — in the glare of the Broadway spotlight, or in the soft glow of the lamplit desk? Each has its place. Each is of equal value.

This notion is even Biblical, by the way. There’s a New Testament verse in Peter’s first epistle that challenges the faithful to use the particular gifts God has given each one of us. In the New Living Translation, this passage says, “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.” Do you see the difference? That passage means that it doesn’t matter whether your God-given gift is public or private, out in the spotlight or behind the scenes — both are equally valuable and both are essential.

So, let the gregarious folks out there high five all they want to! Meanwhile you introverts can stop being intimidated. Just remember, “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Extroverts, Introverts and Conflict

Workplace conflict     A friend of mine who owns his own business recently described a situation which perfectly illustrated how extroverts and introverts tend to handle conflict.

He was in the process of trying to counsel a salesperson whose style was creating a lot of conflict in the organization. This sales rep, only recently hired, had all the right credentials and was apparently bringing in lots of new business — but the style of this individual, hard-charging and abrasive, was causing major cultural problems. The boss explained how bad things had gotten. “When you come into a meeting,” he told the offending employee, “all the extroverts put up their dukes, and all the introverts head for the door!”

This idea that extroverts tend to wade into conflict while introverts are strongly conflict-avoidant is nothing new. But the idea bears some further scrutiny. In my work experience, just as (I suspect) in yours, I’ve had bosses who appeared to relish conflict, not only enduring group tension but (knowingly or otherwise) seeming to encourage it. Sales meetings with these bosses were a kind of Rorschach Test, bringing out the deep emotional baggage in the entire team. Some employees (the extroverts) almost literally rose to the occasion, the adrenaline pumping, while others (the introverts) looked like they wished they could crawl under the table, or disappear — anything to get out of the room!

At the other end of the spectrum, I recall a few conflict-avoidant managers, so prone to sidestep and evade that it drove the team crazy — introverts and extroverts alike. I probably fell into that avoidant trap too many times in my career. To all my former colleagues — sorry about that. When a conflict would arise, even when the solution was painfully obvious, the boss was nowhere to be found, and the problem would inevitably fester.

As I reflect back on those experiences, I think there’s a lesson for any of us who manage a team. If you’re a sales manager, a director of development, or the boss of any sort of group of colleagues where good, solid, productive relationships are paramount, be very aware of how you personally handle conflict. Be equally cognizant of how different members of your team handle it. If you’re the extroverted type who thinks plenty of conflict is healthy, beware of the effect all that workplace angst is having on your introverted colleagues who may think your red meat brand of conflict management borders on the hostile. Are they heading for the hills instead of engaging in the work of strengthening the team? At the same time, by encouraging conflict, you might be teaching your extroverted teammates an unhealthy lesson, showing them how to feed conflict and not how to resolve it productively and effectively.

Conflict-avoidant managers, you may be under the assumption that your team is free of angst, but I’ll bet my next commission check that it’s just not so. Peace, as the old saying goes, is more than the absence of conflict — much more. Peace implies emotional health and wholeness (which is the connotation of the Hebrew word “shalom”). Avoiding conflict in hopes that it will go away is like putting a Band-Aid on a splinter: it hides the problem without solving it.

Let’s help the extroverts on the team put down their dukes, and the introverts stop their mental exit. Let’s resolve conflict in appropriate ways so the team can function like a good team should. And, boss, if you have an employee who refuses to get on board, maybe you need to have the same chat my friend had with his salesperson. Good sales numbers are all well and good, but in a healthy organization, the culture matters. Once you lose that strong, healthy organizational culture, you’ll have a really hard time getting it back.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“What’s the Point?”

uncle_sam_pointing_finger       You’re a Sales Manager leading a sales meeting. Suddenly you notice that glazed look gradually forming in the eyes of your team. The longer you talk, the more you realize that you’ve lost them — they’re not paying attention. What happened?

Or you’re a parent lecturing — um, I mean communicating with your kids. But soon they’ve stopped listening to you, and you notice their attention drifting. Where did you get off track — and how do you get back on?

Your team, your kids, your spouse, your clients, your donors — any time you’re trying to communicate and you notice that you’ve lost your audience, it may be that you’ve failed to answer the one question that is uppermost in their minds. It’s the one question you and I ask when we’re listening to our boss, or our spouse, or a salesperson, especially when they’re sort of, you know, going on and on. It’s a 3-word question that, if we stop and ask it, can really make our communication more direct and more effective.

The question: “What’s the point?”

Nationally known author, speaker and learning styles expert Cynthia Tobias (www.applest.com) says that “What’s the point?” is the single most important question a parent needs to ask when trying to motivate a strong-willed child. I would add that it’s also the best question a boss can ask when dealing with employees who seem reluctant to get with the program — maybe the employees are tired of the boss’s long-winded abstractions and really want him or her to cut to the chase! “Don’t give me chapter and verse…or the entire 50-page strategic plan,” they cry. “Just tell me what you want me to do. What’s the point?

If you’re in sales or in fundraising, my suggestion is that during your presentation you frequently remind your client or your donor what the point of your presentation is. Otherwise they may become fearful that you’re going to go on talking indefinitely! Or if you’re leading a team in something complicated, like a planning session, it’s your responsibility to remind them frequently what the point of the whole exercise really is. Otherwise, especially when tension and fatigue begin to rise, people grow frustrated. “For crying out loud, what is the point?” they’ll ask — a question you don’t want to hear!

So take it from someone who has done it wrong more times than I can remember. Before you open your mouth to communicate something important, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the point I’m trying to make here?” If you can state it succinctly, and if you can answer that question in the minds of your listeners, it will go a long way toward preventing that glazed-over look of indifference and detachment that no boss, or parent, or spouse, or sales rep or fundraiser likes to see! You can even play a little game with yourself: pretend the words “What’s the point?” are emblazoned across the foreheads of the people you’re talking to. Or if you’re really daring, hand them a three-by-five card bearing the words “What’s the point?” and give them permission to hold it up if you wander off topic.

After all, it’s all about clear, concise, effective communication. That’s the point!

 

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Gene Wilder       Back when I was a sales manager for a major metropolitan radio station, a rookie salesperson asked me one day to come on a call with him. “I feel like this client is really close,” he said, “but I’m not sure what to do next.” Of course I said I would go.

A few days later we met with the prospective client. It was clear to me that my sales rep had done a good job — there had been several face to face meetings during which the client’s budget and goals had been clearly determined. The rep had prepared and presented a workable radio schedule. My sales rep and the client went over all this stuff while I sat there mostly listening and nodding a lot. All the pieces were in place. The presentation concluded with smiles and words of agreement.

Then…nothing. For an awkward minute no one spoke. And in a flash of managerial brilliance it struck me: the sales rep had done everything except to ask for the order! So I cleared my throat managerially and said to the client, “Um, well, Karen, it sounds like this plan will work well for you. Would you like to start next Monday?” She beamed (with relief, I suspect) and said, “Sure, that would be great!” Sale closed, contract signed. We all smiled and shook hands and left the office.

In the car on the way back to the radio station the account rep thanked me profusely and sang my praises. I was brilliant! I was insightful! But no, I thought to myself…all I really brought to the table was a fresh pair of eyes. I was able to see something that was painfully obvious where my sales rep could not. The sale was 100% ready to close — all that was needed was the slightest nudge. Someone had to do the obvious and ask for the order.

Thinking back on that episode causes me to wonder: are there relationships I’m managing now where I can’t see the obvious? Are there donors who haven’t given simply because I haven’t asked? Maybe I need a fresh pair of eyes to help me see how to move those relationships forward. I know there are people in my worklife who would do that for me, just as I would for them. And I suspect that in no time at all I could come up with a list of several “stalled” relationships where some new insight would be in order.

Perhaps it’s time for me to overcome my hesitation, swallow my pride, and let someone else help me see more clearly with a fresh pair of eyes.

 

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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When Do You Decide to Stop Being the Boss?

The Office    You’re the boss, but you’re unhappy. You’re the Sales Manager, the Operations Manager, the Senior Team Leader, but you really don’t like it very much, and you’re beginning to wonder if you made a terrible mistake wanting to be a manager in the first place.

So…when is it okay to decide you want out? When is it okay to decide to stop being the boss?

Let’s consider a few thoughts about this — but first, a disclaimer. I am NOT giving you advice here! A decision to step down from a management position is a highly individual one, not to be taken lightly. Seek plenty of honest input from people whose counsel you trust, and make sure you’ve handled the decision well before you take what many would consider a leap backward. Don’t act impulsively. (And before you read on, sign this release form. Just kidding.)

I bring this question up because I have twice made the decision to step out of a management job and to stay with the same organization in a “front line” role with no supervisory responsibilities. In hindsight both decisions were good ones, and were I faced with the same choice today I would likely do the same thing. The first time I stepped down voluntarily was early in my radio career when I was Sales Manager; the second time came more than two decades later when I was VP of Donor Relations. Here are a few common denominators that affected each decision. Do any of these apply to you in your present managerial situation?

  • In both instances I was working for a boss I found very hard to please, largely due to my inexperience
  • Both those bosses felt they knew more about my job (radio sales and fundraising) than I did, and they may have been right
  • In both instances I felt like I was in over my head and had doubts (groundless, but real) about my future job security
  • In both of these situations my dissatisfaction had gone on for months — and seemed to be getting worse
  • In both cases I had begun to doubt my professional abilities, and that self-doubt was compounding the stress in my life
  • In both situations I had complete support from my trusting and discerning wife who saw how the stress was affecting me
  • In each of these situations, before I made a move, I had met with my boss on multiple occasions and talked openly through my decision process so the choice to step down from management did not seem impulsive or irresponsible
  • In each case I planned as well as I could for my own transition within the organization, and also helped plan how my managerial duties would be covered by reorganizing the team.

How did it turn out? The first time, I moved from Sales Manager into a sales position and things went fairly well. The second time I moved from the VP position into a fundraising job and things went okay but I ended up taking a job outside the organization six months later. The downside both times was that I did take a hit in salary and benefits — ouch — and my ego took a hit as well, to be candid, even though leaving management was my decision. So it goes. But each time I was happier and will probably live longer as a result. And I did end up managing again (after the first self-demotion anyway) and was much better at it the second time around.

If you’re a leader and happy in that role, stick to it with enthusiasm. If you’re new to leadership and you’re not sure how happy you are, hang in there — you need time to learn and to grow. But if you’ve been managing for a while and you’re increasingly unhappy and unsure of yourself, it just might not be the worst thing in the world, after you’ve taken all the variables into account, to decide to do the counterintuitive thing and step down voluntarily, moving into a non-managerial role. Just a thought, for what it’s worth.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Negative People Need Drama     Ran across this quote and couldn’t resist sharing it!

We all know what it’s like being around people who are habitually negative. There’s a corrosive quality to their attitudes, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that seems to say, “No matter how bad things get, they will probably get worse!” Sadly, that kind of toxic thinking is contagious, affecting the negative person’s friends, family, even an entire office full of people.

What’s more, as this little quote says, negative people tend to love drama. They wallow in conspiracy theories. They savor the direst of predictions. No positive motive goes unexamined. No good deed goes unpunished. Suspicion is the order of the day, along with a habitually thin skin. It’s exhausting!

So in light of all this, what are we positive thinkers to do?

Here’s the obvious answer: the best way (maybe the only way!) to overcome another person’s negativity is to find all the ways you can to stay positive. Practice the old “attitude of gratitude.” Strengthen your faith muscles through prayer and praise. Rehearse all the reasons you can find to be glad. Start hanging around people who will lift you up, not bring you down. If your circle of friends is the problem, pick new friends. Negative thinking can indeed become habitual — but then again, so can positive thinking.

Easier said than done? Perhaps…but I know what the power of negative thinking can do when left unchecked and unchallenged. So choke off the drama machine! Fight back with love and a smile! It may drive your negative friends nuts — but it will be worth it.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“One Thing” — the Power of Focus

Jack Palance One Thing      Everybody knows the famous line from City Slickers. During the cattle drive, cowboy Jack Palance (the unforgettable Curly) offers to tell uptight radio advertising salesman Billy Crystal about the secret of life. It’s simple, Curly states, holding up his index finger.  “One thing,” Curly says. “Just one thing.” Crystal’s character Mitch asks Curly to explain what the “one thing” is. “That’s what you gotta figure out,” replies Curly cryptically.

Speculation has abounded ever since as to exactly what old Curly really meant. (Spoiler alert: in the movie he dies not long after sharing this deep insight. “The man ate bacon every day,” said fellow tenderfoot Phil. “You can’t do that!”) But Curly’s quote came to mind the other day when I was thinking about how good leaders are able to maintain their focus in spite of a relentless rash of distractions. I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. You and your team embark on a major project. Things get going with energy and enthusiasm. But soon other projects, other priorities, other agendas begin to pop up like moles in the old Whack-a-Mole game. The team gets distracted. Or worse, the leader gets distracted! He or she begins to take the old eye off the ball. And when the leader begins to lose focus, inevitably momentum grinds to a halt, progress evaporates, and frustration becomes the mood of the day.

When it comes to effective leadership I like to consider the example of one of my favorite Old Testament characters, Nehemiah. His book, especially the first 7 chapters, represents a terrific, highly practical manual on effective leadership. Nehemiah had been sent from Susa, 800 miles away, to the ruined city of Jerusalem, intent on rebuilding the wall that had been torn down decades before when the city was sacked. Without the wall the city could barely function, but with the wall intact Jerusalem could once again become a viable commercial and spiritual hub — so getting the wall completed was a huge priority. And as we read when we come to Nehemiah chapter 6, the big project was almost finished! The wall was practically done!

Doesn’t it seem like things can unravel the fastest as you get closer to the finish line? That’s when a handful of powerful opponents, made up of people who preferred the status quo (sound like anyone you know in your office?), really began to ramp up their opposition, trying to stop the work on the wall. They first tried to distract Nehemiah with pleasant invitations masking sinister motives. When that didn’t work they resorted to rumor, innuendo and false accusation. Finally they even threatened bodily harm as a way to deter this highly focused leader and those working for him. But Nehemiah refused to take the bait and become distracted. He said, in essence, “Sorry, guys, no chance — I have a job to do and a wall to finish, and my team and I are not going to be deterred.” And they got it done, an accomplishment that finally silenced the critics.

For Nehemiah the “one thing” was finishing the wall around Jerusalem. For me, I’ve come to realize that it’s reaching the financial goal for the alternative high school I raise money for. What’s your “one thing”? It could be personal or professional, a team effort or something you’ll accomplish solo. Whatever it is, I’m learning a valuable lesson from Nehemiah — and from Curly! Don’t get distracted. Figure out the one thing. Remember the power of focus!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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