Sunday, January 3, 2010

January 03, 2010



Happy New Year everyone.

“And the beat goes on................”

In Memoriam: I was saddened to learn that Peggy Amsterdam, President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, passed away last week. Not only was she one of our smartest, most effective leaders --someone who not only saw the big picture but could both envision and implement the actions needed to address the issues -- she was simply a very kind and decent human being. She was a friend, and I will miss her terribly. Godspeed Peggy and thank you, thank you for all that you did for the arts in America. This is a loss for the whole sector. We need more Peggy Amsterdams in our ranks.

My favorite politician of all time, Winston Churchill (from whom I took the “Don’t Quit” tag line I end my blogs with), was counseled by a friend - after he (Churchill) had been defeated in a bid for public office early in his career - that it “was probably a blessing in disguise”. Churchill responded: “Damn fine disguise.” That is precisely how I feel about 2009. There may have been a silver lining to last year somewhere, but I’m glad the year is gone. Now it’s time to move on.


1. Make a list of the five biggest items on your agenda for the coming year, and then delegate most of the decision-making authority on one or two of them to staffers, including your junior level employees. If you are a Mom & Pop organization with little to no staff, assign the projects to an outside source or to volunteers. If you have a Millennial Generation person in your employ – turn a big ticket project over to them. An obvious choice is in communications and marketing. You can insist that they check in with you for periodic review, but don’t micromanage them. Explain your hope for the desired outcomes, but then let them run with it. I know it’s difficult to relinquish control, but I can promise you three results: 1) you will free up extremely valuable time you will need for the most important big ticket projects on your plate (admit it, you are trying to do too much); 2) you will more than likely be surprised and pleased with the work they perform and the results they achieve, and 3) you will reap the benefit of increased staff morale and enhance the reputation of your organization as a place young people want to work.

2. Taking a page from Michael Kaiser’s advice book – make a list of ten people in your community who might be in a position to really help your organization this year. Such a list might include local business people, funders (be they corporate, government or foundation), people in the media, a local marketing major domo, an elected official or stakeholder or anyone else whose skill set, pocketbook, community standing & reputation, network or whatever could benefit your organization. Then assign each of those names to a separate member of your Board and charge that Board member with the job of cultivating a real relationship with that person over the next six months. Have them report on their progress as a regular part of upcoming Board meetings. The goal is not to necessarily ask that local target for anything, but rather just to cultivate a relationship. You can ask for what you need after the relationship is flourishing. If you do that now, you can reap the benefits later in the year.

3. For the first two weeks of the year, practice the art of listening. When in conversation, resist the temptation to interrupt the person talking and to too early chime in with your thoughts and reactions. In fact, wait until the other person is finished talking, then slowly and silently count to five before you say anything. Often, during that pause the other person will fill the void and add more. Let them. Parse your response to as few words as you possibly can. You really don’t always have to say anything, even when you have a lot to say. Do this for just two weeks, and I guarantee you your take on things will change significantly. We live in a culture where everyone wants to talk, but almost no one listens anymore. We hear words being said, but we don’t hear the meaning behind them. Try as hard as you can to understand what the other person is saying to you. And reserve your comments, judgments, opinions and reactions until later. Try it and see what changes it makes. You will be surprised.

4. Make it a point – and get in the daily habit – of complementing and thanking the people in your organization. Call someone every week (staffer, donor, Board member, volunteer, stakeholder) and personally thank them for their efforts and contributions to your organization. Call it Karma or good public relations or whatever you want, but I assure you that you will be most pleasantly surprised at the net result of reaching out to people to say thank you. It’s something we too often forget. This is a good resolution whether you are Chair of the Board, Executive Director, artistic director, intern or janitor.

5. Take some time off every single week. It doesn’t have to be much, but make it a regular practice to stand back from what occupies seemingly every minute of every day all week long. All of us (and falsely I think) think we have to be workaholics to get to the finish line, and in the process we end up far too close to the daily grind. What happens is we can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. You will make far better snap (and long term) decisions if you allow yourself the regular glimpse of the bigger picture, and you will get far less bogged down in the (really meaningless and irrelevant) minutiae and details if you stand back.

Do these five things for two months, and I assure you your work life will be better on any number of fronts.

And if none of that works for you, here’s a tip I learned from my dog: If you open your eyes really wide and then stare silently at somebody long enough, they will give you anything you want.

Don’t forget when you get the notice this month to re-subscribe to the blog as we move to a new platform, please take the few moments to do that right away. I appreciate it.

Have a great week and a great year.
Don’t Quit.