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Leadership - Travel slow to go farther

Committees, volunteer boards and group work were activities to avoid for years. It always looked as if no one could make a decision and nothing was getting done. It looked slow and ineffectual. Moving at rocket speed was my preference, which occasionally created false starts for me and my staff, yet there was plenty of success to point to and a decisive, pro-active attitude and track record that garnered desired promotions and leadership opportunities.

Meanwhile, through being coached over seven years, there was an increase in self-awareness and the cover got peeled back on intentions to make a difference, what would that execution look like and "guess it's time to learn" the process in the valuable middle.

An assignment to be a procurement co-chair for a prominent, annual charity auction changed my leadership competence in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I agreed to serve.

There was an element of competition on the committee as five charities shared in the total fundraising rewards. While I am sharing the learning from working with a committee, I would add it is analogous to working with a team inside an organization.

Here are 7 tips for effective leadership with groups and teams:

1. Show up and be part of the team.

Action will happen, eventually. Discussion, collaboration and consensus take time.

Learn to breathe deeply, quietly and appreciate all individuals and their contribution to the process.

Notice when the energy shifts in the group and movement forward occurs. How that energy shifted may indicate a pattern the committee can lean into, although it may take time and repetition to reveal. As the group collects more experiences, a rhythm emerges and with it, a desire to repeat what is working.

2. As committee leader, name what you’re observing

and be a "cheerleader" for the group with a compliment on the specific behavior that you recognized as creating the win.

We had a chairperson who passed out Pom poms one year and the group would cheer successes from the past month by waving the sticks with the multi-colored foil strands in the air wildly. The energy and enthusiasm was encouraging and enlivening.

3. Listen, listen and listen some more.

This takes practice and intention to be focused on what’s being said rather than listening for an opening to add a story or your personal perspective. What’s being said, what has meaning for the person speaking and what might they not be seeing. Being 100% present when people are speaking builds trust on the committee/team. Catching your own mental distractions or diversions and modeling this deep listening demonstrates how valuable each charity, each team member is to the eventual success of the project.

4. Get curious.

Be interested in how the committee identifies an emerging theme or concept or perhaps unearth a disguised need for support from other team members to create liftoff for an auction package. This comes from bringing your healthy curiosity to the meeting. Set aside your personal agenda and be in service to the collective. The committee members have ideas, resources and experiences and your curiosity can spark others to be more curious, too.

This modeling helps create a “no bad ideas” atmosphere where brainstorming and collaboration can thrive.

5. Be willing to disrupt the status quo.

The committee had a habit of each charity reporting in at the monthly meeting. The spokesperson would update their plan and progress from meetings with their individual board. It was a linear and predictable process and frequently the other charities would side talk and overall group listening decreased.

The Executive Director was open to an idea of healthy disruption. At the beginning of the next meeting we asked if people were open to an exercise. They were. Everyone counted off 1..2..3..4.. and we separated into breakout groups to brainstorm oral auction lots without the safety net of being in the group with whom they drove over to the meeting.

Every group was asked to focus on the auction attendees. If the sky’s the limit—“what did they want to buy at the auction?”. When groups came back 45 minutes later, the enthusiasm and excitement was electric. As groups shared their blue skies, everyone was listening, cheering and supportive. The paradigm shifted. The possibilities with collaboration were not addition in nature, rather they were exponential.

6. Communicate during the “in-betweens”.

Reaching out for key influencers between meetings can spark actions, accomplishments and sets up the next meeting to be more cohesive. It is also a good idea to reach out to any of the team who’s struggling or stalled. Check in. What do they need? How could they best be supported and by whom? What is their vision? How will they feel when they create what they want? Take time with them to reconnect to their vision. The next scheduled meeting has scaffolding in place that supports what’s next.

7. Be impeccable with your word (borrowing from the Four Agreements).

If you’ve signed up for a contribution, an answer from a supplier/vendor/donor, make sure you bring exactly what you promised. Or, come forward without prompting that it wasn’t done and bring a deadline for you and the committee. As leader, be that lighthouse of integrity (make sure you’ve got a coach, too). This one keeps working me as the years go by and I learn to listen to myself , what I'm committing to, the timeline and ask my eternal optimist for an accuracy check. Sometimes I will stop mid-sentence and after calibrating with my inner calendar offer an alternate date that truly works.

These seven learnings worked BTW. They invited me back.

The paradox is that slowing down actually made the project (the auction) go better and farther. Faster is for NASCAR.

Sarah Graves, PCC

Sarah passionately and practically pursues the development of leaders through intentional, organic growth. She emboldens leaders to create an environment where management is expansive, willing to move with agility beyond comfort zones, and to champion the individual and collective genius within the organization. With teams in transition she inspires connection, realignment and forward progress within the awkward movements of the changing landscape. Her belief is that coaching is as essential an element for an organization as the product or service the company produces. “An employee who grows personally, grows professionally” and coaching seeds growth.
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