“…bold leadership for dramatic change is needed.”

28 Oct 2011 3:00 PM | Kathleen Loehr
That was the summary quote in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article discussing two recent surveys of nonprofit workers. Four out of ten workers in Washington DC and New York City said that the factors they ranked as most essential are not on display at their nonprofits: “respect, trust, and support by management” as well as a sense that their organization has “a compelling mission.” Seventy percent of workers in the two surveys said their jobs were either disappointing or only somewhat fulfilling.

Ouch – it is hard to hear this. We are running, running, running as leaders, trying to meet the needs of our many internal and external constituents as we drive toward our mission objectives. And our staff is complaining?? What is wrong with them?

Let’s take a step back – literally. A step back to fully plant our feet on the ground. Why? I know that when I’m running fast, I’m in my head thinking ahead and extending forward, and I literally hold my entire body in a forward position – on the balls of my feet, upper body leaning ahead of my core. My attention is extended and I’m not listening to those around me. While it feels like forward motion, I’m not giving myself much stability – I can easily be knocked over. It is a difficult position from which to feel my own back and personal support, let alone support others.

If I’m not taking care of my own needs, it is hard to be present to and support the needs of those closest to me. When I constantly lean “forward” as a leader, I feel alone and isolated, and those around me can feel unconnected and not heard – which can translate to not feeling respected.

Many leaders will respond to this survey by talking to their staff, doing their own survey, creating task forces. While that will gather useful information and help design action steps, I suggest you also practice the simple move of sitting down and relaxing or taking a few deep breaths several times a day. Just doing this will bring you more present to your self and your staff, and you’ll have more space to listen to what they have to share.

For this week, pay attention to being on your heels and being aligned over your feet and core. When sitting, fully sit on your tailbone, rather than leaning forward. You will feel more grounded by simply touching the floor and the earth below. Then breathe fully into that strong column of leadership that is you, feet on the floor or solid seat on the chair. You’ll be surprised by how much more present and supported you feel. And you’ll notice you’ll start hearing more – from your instincts and from your staff – about the right next moves to support each other. Try it and please let us know what you are learning!

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