3. Three core needs: so your staff will love working for you

You can't make someone give you their best.

So...

Why would someone want to give you their best?

Not just give the work their best...

But give you their best, too.

And give the team their best.

What would create that kind of devotion?

Deep attachments develop when...

People are meeting each other's core needs.

So this page is about much more than tips or tricks or techniques.

Over the last couple decades there's been a big push in our sector for our leaders to become more competent at the administrative duties that go with running a nonprofit.

But what's significantly more important for social change organizations is that our leaders become masterful at developing a...

Culture of caring, connection, and cooperation.

In sacrificial-savior organizations, people do care about the work. Intensely. But at a sacrificial cost to themselves. And to the well-being of the team.

By contrast, the hallmark of sustainable and soaring organizations is that they have cultures where the people who are meeting the needs of the mission are...

Getting their own needs met at the same time.

Really.

No kidding. 

And when your staff are getting their needs met—directly, daily, as a matter of course—then there are two things that stop being a problem...

Burning out and acting out.

And what if you didn't have those two bugaboos gumming up the works, then what would it be like to lead your nonprofit?

The thing about needs is they're so sweet...

When we're meeting them.

And when we're not...

They become such trouble.

Because needs don't go away.

They're insistent. You can put the lid on them, but they'll still be in there wriggling and squirming and growling and pushing and building up pressure.

They're persistent. Brush them off, give them the cold shoulder, and they'll just go around and come at you from another direction, and this time maybe in disguise.

No matter what, they won't quit.

The Advocacy Stand says...

Put staff needs first.

And with good reason. Because how can we care about the world but not about the people who care enough about the world to do the work it takes to change it?

The advocacy idea is to respond to staff needs not with a broad brush, but...

In a personal, nuanced way.

And to make this...

The very heart of your personnel system.

So that you always...

Lead with needs.

Not with shoulds.

Because the problem with shoulds is that they...

Can't ever make us happy.

And we...

Can't ever make them happy.

And the worst ones are the...

Noble shoulds.

Because they're so well-meaning that it's hard to refuse them.

Here's the classic...

Thou shalt love.

That sounds so good. But of course the minute love is commanded it's ruined. Because commanded love, forced love, should love, is not really love. It's a caricature of love.

Here's another...

Thou shalt do good works.

Shalt—the dressed-up version of should—takes the heart right out of the work. We can drive ourselves with shoulds, they can push us through the long hours from early morning till late at night, they can give us a rush of endorphins, catapulting us into sacrificial highs, but it always comes back to this...

Shoulds don't know how to love us.

And here's the saddest part. When you allow your nonprofit to run on the sacrificial operating system, there's no way you can be a true advocate for your staff—even if you sincerely care about them.

The sacrificial system will trump your caring because it has the louder voice.

Sacrifice tells your staff...

You should do whatever the work demands of you.

Even if that means you..

Exhaust yourself.

Forfeit your family life.

Damage your health.

It doesn't matter how much you as the leader care about your staff, it doesn't matter how much you tell them you care, a should-based system works relentlessly...

Against their interests,

Against what they need.

And at some level staff know this. They may feel your caring and know it's genuine. But that's not enough. What makes the difference is when...

You back up your caring with active advocacy.

Which means...

You take a stand for your staff and what they need.

For example, by upgrading the operating system of your nonprofit.

There's just no way around it. If you're not meeting the needs of your staff directly, you'll feel a nagging disappointment and constant undertow in your relationship with them, not to mention the possibility of triggering active opposition which sometimes develops out of their frustration.

But when their needs are getting met, when staff know they can count on you for that today, tomorrow, and the day after, then trust shows up.

You don't have to struggle your way into it, you get to...

Relax into it.

And all the benefits that come with it.

 

Match needs
Okay, let's pause for a moment to clarify three specific issues.

First...

Not every single thing every staff person tells you they need is actually a need. That word can be used in tricky ways, like when someone says, "I need you to leave me alone to do whatever I want."

That's not a need, that's an attempted manipulation and there's no way you're going to agree to it.

Second...

When I talk about "meeting the needs of your staff," that's shorthand. It's more accurate to say that the advocacy approach means...

You lead your staff in creating a culture where their needs get met.

You use your influence and your authority to make sure that your nonprofit is the kind of place where people can be at their best. You lead the effort and that's enough.

Because if you actually did try to do all the work to meet every staff need by yourself, you'd exhaust yourself. You'd be doing for your staff what they need to participate in doing for themselves. You'd be playing savior. And you'd be trapped back in the swamp of the sacrificial-savior operating system.

Third...

There's no way staff can get all their needs met in the workplace. It's not possible or desirable, so we don't even consider it.

Instead we focus on a specific set of needs. The ones I focus on I call...

Match needs.

Sometimes when I want to be especially clear, I use the formal name:  Mission Match Needs.

Here's what the match sounds like from the perspective of a staff person...

I have a need to give what this mission needs to receive.

Notice it's mutual...

When I give to the work, the work gives back to me.

So there's no sacrifice involved. We're not cheating the staff and we're not cheating the work. Both do better because they're in this together.

Personally I like to focus on three key needs...

The need to contribute—
The need to make a difference for this mission with this team.

The need to grow—
The need to develop mastery in service of this work.

The need to be seen—
The need to be seen and appreciated for who you are,
and because you're seen,
you attract and connect with and enjoy the company of kindred spirits.

Of course there are other needs—like the need for authenticity or comforting or creativity or challenge or adventure.

And you get to focus on different needs with different staff on different days.

But the three I highlight are the ones I keep coming back to again and again, the stable core...

Because they have a special way of enlivening social change work.

And because they're the driving force behind the Advocacy Stand.

And you can use the advocacy approach in everything you do with your staff...

Advocacy hiring—Which means you're rigorous about making sure that this candidate is really a match for your team and then you will have so much less trouble and so much more success down the road.

Advocacy firing—Which means you take the worst of the pain out of the process. You keep the judgments out and the caring in, so the staff person has their best chance to do the same and maybe even make a graceful exit.

Daily advocacy—Which means you create a culture of development rather than a culture of correction, so you can bring out the very best in your staff, and in yourself.

And if you bring the spirit of advocacy to each of your working relationships then you just might find yourself enjoying, even loving, leadership a little bit more each day.

 

The need to contribute
I put this need first because it is first. It's the context for every other need. It defines the ballpark we're playing in. It's the deal maker or the deal breaker. Because the main point of a social change or social justice organization is to make a difference by carrying out a mission.

The power of the upfront contract
Healthy working relationships begin with a conscious agreement. Right from the start. Beginning with your initial interview with a potential hire.

And you've got two key questions to answer...

What work are we going to be doing together?

And how are we going to treat each other while we're doing our work?

And you get to take the following stand with every staff person and every prospective staff person:

If you don't have a compelling need to move our mission forward, and

If you don't have a compelling need to be a member of our team of mission-dedicated people,

Then there's nothing else to talk about, and

You can't be here.

Now that might sound cold, but consider this...

If someone doesn't care all that much about contributing to your mission and if they don't care all that much about contributing to the well-being of your team, then what exactly are they going to do with their time instead?

And whatever it is, I'll bet you don't want them doing it.

And really, isn't it a blessing to be able to...

Make a significant difference that you care about, and

Do this with people you love working with?

And how many workplaces in our country are actually like this? A place where people can find both professional satisfaction and personal warmth. And why shouldn't we protect such places once we've created them?

Here's what's actually cold...

Allowing people to join your team who are irresponsible and treat other people carelessly or hurtfully.

Because it doesn't take very many such people, sometimes only one, to turn a stellar workplace into an ungodly mess of distress.

So you have every right to tell people what's okay and what's not okay in your nonprofit. And to tell them in detail so there's no misunderstanding. For example, you might say during an interview...

In our organization...

We have zero tolerance for relational aggression.

Because...

We believe in relational advocacy. We believe in being the wind under each other's wings.

And this is not inspirational BS. We really mean it. So please stop and think for a moment about whether our culture is a match for you.

We're a collection of very different kinds of people. We debate lots of things vigorously and enjoy it and that moves us forward in our work. But we find steadfast common ground in our shared mission and our shared commitment to treating each other really, really well.

We've seen over the years what it gives us to support and champion each other. We're so much happier this way. And our work is so much better.

Which by the way, gives our organization a special kind of shine which attracts funders and gives us our best chance to keep ourselves in paychecks doing what we love.

We're proud of the culture we've created. We're proud to be able to offer people this kind of workplace.

But please know that anyone who is not in alignment with our values doesn't last here very long at all because we're so very serious about keeping this a place where staff can be at their happiest and best and play at the top of their game.

Now, hearing all this, and we understand we're being awfully intense right now, what do you think? What questions do you have? What's your response? We're glad to take whatever time you need to talk this through because it's that important to us.

For someone who's into acting out, this is...

A cold warning.

For a top performer it's...

A warm welcome.

And this brings us to one of the best things about the Advocacy Stand. You're not asking anyone to sacrifice themselves in any way. On the contrary, when you hire someone who's in sincere alignment with your mission and your team culture, what you're actually saying to them is....

We'll pay you to meet your needs.

And how radical is that?

 

The beauty of conditional relationships
There are lots of inspiring books about unconditional love. And of course in a social change organization we always want to treat everyone with unconditional respect.

Yet...

Employment is conditional.

And has to be.

And...

Being on a team is conditional.

And has to be.

Even in a personal relationship where you love someone unconditionally there are times when you might set conditions on being with them. For example...

If John is abusing Marsha, she might understand his childhood history, she might be able to explain in compassionate detail why he does what he does, she might see the good things in him, her heart might go out to him, but if he keeps hurting her instead of caring for her, she doesn't have to have him in her life. She can love him from a safe distance where he can't find her.

Even though unconditional love gets most of the good press, it's also true that...

Conditions can invigorate relationships.

And teams and organizations.

Unconditional—meaning no conditions—might be a lovely ideal under the right circumstances, but in practice in a nonprofit it usually just means that anything goes.

And when anything goes, what goes away is safety, support, kindness, respect, and effectiveness.

Sacrificial organizations tend to be unconditional places...

There are no limits on how hard people drive themselves, how much they exhaust themselves, or how much personal distress they build up.

And sadly, when people are not taking care of themselves and are not getting their core needs met, that's when acting out is most likely to erupt and start working its destruction.

The sustainable and soaring operating systems are different than sacrifice because they are conditional at their core. That's one of the things that makes them so good for people—the conditions they set provide safety and protection.

They follow the if-then structure. Which means behavior has consequences...

If you hurt us and hurt our work, then you don't get to stay here with us.

If you treat us well and give this work your best, then we want you to settle in and stay with us for a long, long time.

So even though the Advocacy Stand is conditional, it's based on...

Very loving conditions.

 

A community born of the Advocacy Stand
Advocacy is not a flowery, lighthearted thing. There's a discipline to it. Even a toughness. That's why I think it's so important to include that word "stand" when we talk about advocacy.

It's good for you as the leader to take a stand for the kind of staff you need and the kind of staff behavior you need.

But it's also good for your staff. Social change work is challenging. And it's social. It's not solo.

So it matters that people who are dedicated to this work have... 

A community of kindred spirits around them.

It matters that they have that kind of support, that kind of company, especially in the hard times. It matters that they have people who will celebrate their breakthroughs and their victories with them, and who will challenge them to keep playing at the top of their game.

Imagine being dedicated to social change but you work in an agency where most everyone else is running on some other agenda. Like they're more engaged in acting out than in fulfilling the mission. Or they're into coasting along in a lazy mood while most of the real work falls on you.

Or say they're only there for the paycheck. That might be okay with some kinds of work, but not with social change. Social change takes a serious commitment. It requires a personal calling.

So as a leader, when you provide top performers with a true community of contribution that means you're making it possible for them... 

To meet the primary need they have in doing social change work. You're helping them make a difference that matters—to themselves, to the community, to the world.

 

The need to grow
Why this need? Why do I count it among the top three? Why does it matter to social change work?

Because despite all the progress activists have made over the years, despite everything we've learned about making change happen...

We're still not winning. Not even close.

And why is that? Because our underlying mission is so big. Think about what we're trying to do:

We hope to change how power works at every level of society and in every institution, so that it stops hurting people and killing the planet.

And think about the deepest meaning of what we do every day:

We go into the worst of being human to bring out the best.

What could be more challenging?

So it's no wonder that...

We need to keep growing our work.

And it's no wonder that...

We need to keep growing into our work.

 

Of two minds
We humans are contradictory creatures....

We love to grow because that means we get to achieve mastery and mastery feels so good and makes us more effective and gives us a sweet sense of pride.

At the same time...

We love to coast, getting as many good things as we can the easy way without expending effort.

How these two desires balance out for each of us in any given moment depends on myriad variables like mood, temperament, motivation, and energy level.

But social change organizations need to push for growth. We need to nurture it, protect it, and make it more possible, both on the personal level and on the team level.

 

What does growing give us?
If you have a compelling need to contribute to the mission and the team, then when you develop yourself, when you get better at doing what you do...

You're able to make a bigger difference, and thus

Meet that primary need of yours more deeply.

Which enriches your days.

There are other benefits, too. The more you develop both personally and professionally...

The more responsibility you're able to take on successfully.

The faster you can advance your career.

The stronger your resume becomes.

The more impressive the recommendations your supervisor can make on your behalf.

And the more pride you can feel as your family, friends, and community witness you moving forward in your life while working to make their lives better.

One more thing. If you're in an organization where people are committed to growing and where they keep moving the work forward, you don't want the organization to outgrow you. One of the saddest things is to see a staff person get let go, even though they love the work, because they didn't keep up.

So in this context, encouraging someone to develop themselves is a way to help them stay on the team.

 

What does growing ask of us?
Now we come to the hard part. So much talk about growing is pretty-pretty. There are self-help books that chirp away about the virtues of growing every day in every way.

And then there's that phrase "growing pains" which is too lightweight for what it's trying to describe. It doesn't begin to honor the kind of pain and work and sweat and struggle that can be involved in growing, especially significant growth, especially in the arena we're talking about here, the super challenging arena of social change work.

They key to growing is...

Vulnerability.

That's where we have to start from...

If we want to grow, we have to look at the gap between where we are and where we want to be, we have to feel our way into it, and sometimes that's distressing or embarrassing.

If we want to grow, we have to look at our talents and strengths, because they're the foundation for our growth, for our future. And for a lot of us, it's actually harder to look at our talents and strengths than our limitations because once we really see them we can't deny our potential anymore.

If we want to grow, we might have to look at our blind spots and these spots are blind for good reason, usually because there's some pain or unhappiness or twist in there. And if we open them up, we might find ourselves a bit shaken, or a lot shaken, facing something that now, having seen it, we need to push through.

And if we grow...

That will likely change our relationships with the people in our lives. In some cases our relationships will become stronger and more rewarding.

But in some cases we might lose people who are not able to appreciate or tolerate this new us.

So there's relationship risk involved in growing as well as relationship possibility.

 

What do we need in order to meet this need to grow?
Mastery is so great—when we've arrived. But the journey we take to get there, that's different. It can be daunting and discouraging and demanding and long.

So what do we need if we want to make the journey more possible?

A place to work where we can be vulnerable without shame.

People around us who value our vulnerability.

Now I want to be clear that I'm talking here about work-vulnerability which might be different from the kind of vulnerability you have at home with your partner or closest friends.

Work-vulnerability...

Might not go as deep, but it does go deep, and

Might not get as personal, still it does get personal.

Which brings us to another dimension of challenge, Just where do we draw our own individual line? How much do we want to reveal in our workplace? What's beneficial, what's too much? What's more risk than we're ready for?

Creating a culture of growth in your nonprofit is by no means a simple thing. It's a complex and sophisticated process.

And yet a team that is able to do self-development together can get to a level of coherence and effectiveness that no other path can take you to.

There's an important distinction to make between two different kinds of vulnerability...

The scary, defeating kind which means woundable, defenseless, unprotected from injury.

And...

The second kind, the one that has the power, in which vulnerable means openness, authenticity, taking smart risks for the sake of improving relationships and effectiveness.

This second kind is of course what I'm talking about on this page. It's what I call...

Vulnerable strength.

Where...

Vulnerable does not mean victimy, or anything remotely like it.

When you use your leadership authority and influence to create a safe place for your staff to be vulnerable, you're being one hell of an advocate for them even while you've giving them one hell of a challenge.

And it helps to remember that this challenge is a gift. It might seem like a strange and contrary gift at first, but it will prove itself.

 

The power of protest
Leading social changes means that we are...

Working to change how human beings are with each other, specifically how we use power with each other, or against each other.

Which lands us right in the middle of this contradiction...

We're working to change human behavior,

But we are human ourselves.

We come to our work with all of our talents and strengths and good will. But we also come with all of our stuff. And we all have stuff. Simply because, again, we're human.

So we're very much part of the problem we're trying to solve.

Which is a good thing because being human gives us inside information. If we want to change other people, it's great to know personally what it's like to change.

Which means to inspire change we have to live change, we have to go through changes ourselves, many of which might not be easy.

This past week, I faciliatated two very different, very intense 3-hour meetings...

The first was with a Board where the Chair treated the ED in a way that any impartial witness would have had to say was abusive. She hammered him. She vilified him. She contradicted everything he proposed. She went so far as to order him to hold off on a small but urgent staff change the organization needed to make so they could meet their contract goals. A change which the Board should never have interfered with in the first place.

The others of us in the room tried to get through to the Chair, in kind ways, in firm ways, but it was like she was phoning in from a different reality. It seemed to me that she was projecting onto the ED some deep dissatisfaction in her own personal life or from her own history and absolutley could not see it.

When I got home at the end of the afternoon, I pulled my curtains, sat in the twilight, and drifted in and out of somber Jane Kenyon poems for an hour while I meditated on the terrible, unintended damage done by our so-very-human blind spots.

Here was a Board Chair, truly a good person with a good heart, who sincerely cared about the mission, saying and doing hurtful things to someone she actually admires. But she could not and would not let herself see what she was doing so how could she possibly stop herself?

The next day across town...

I met with a team of five senior staff who in their meeting the week before, in the midst of stressful decision making, had fought it out with each other.

But here's the thing. None of them were happy with their behavior. Each of them understood that the team had gotten triggered into feelings which sucked them into a downward spiral.

In the session I had with them, t hey started by describing that last meeting—each admitting their own part in the problem. And how unusual is that?

Instead of casting blame, they took ownership for what they did to contribute to the mess and laid out in detail what they wanted to do differently from now on.

They brought consciousness and caring to the meeting. Not that it was easy. It wasn't. They did the hard part of what it takes to grow a team. They told the truth on themselves. Then they figured out a new game plan for their meetings.

Best of all they got to see themselves differently because of their openness. They demonstrated by taking that risk how much they each cared about this team. They got to see that they had the moxie and the smarts to take charge of their future and make it better. So at the end of the session hope filled the room.

And when I got home, I dove back into writing this page with even greater resolve about the importance of personal growth to the big picture of social change.

Now, sometimes a blind spot is really just a spot, and once you spot it, it loses its power and you get to take a leap forward. For example...

Rachel, from Brooklyn, grew up in a large, high-spirited family, where everyone talked at once and you learned to participate in any conversation on multiple channels at the same time.

But now here she was out in mellow California, in her first job after graduating, working on a small team with transplanted midwesterners, and her natural style was driving them crazy.

One day, Josie shouted at her, "Stop talking over me!" And Rachel in a flash realized what was happening. She saw how her style was putting her working relationships in jeopardy.

But this was only a minor spot. And how do we know that? Because once she saw it she easily adjusted. She committed herself to learning the art of one-person-at-a-time conversation and got a kick out of it.

It wasn't all compromise for her, though. Her best buddy in the office, Wendell, asked her about her style of talking and where it came from and what it gave her.

"It seems to me," he said, "this place could use some livening up. A little more passion would be a good thing. It's not what I grew up on. But why did I move west? What was I looking for? I think passion is it."

In their next staff meeting, he proposed making some conscious changes in their culture. Breaking the spell of the ordinary. He also recommended that they have a special meeting where everyone had to talk at once—under the baton of Rachel—just to see what might happen.

What happened was that after about ten minutes of total exasperation everyone let go and got goofy and found a nw energy they wanted to keep. They all agreed that once was quite enough for this particular experiment, but it set them on the course of developing greater range in their conversational abilities, and their culture became "a lot less staid" and "a lot more rock and roll."

Beyond blind spots, though, we come to the very hardest stuff...

Long-term unconscious strategies.

The kind with a history. The kind that reach back into childhood. The kind we've come to depend on so much that the thought of giving them up feels like a matter of life and death.

I know all too well what it's like to bring a childhood survival strategy right over into my adult life where I could act it out in a much bigger way on a much bigger stage, so I'm going to use myself as an illustration of...

How personal issues can become problems at work.

And because these personal issues can cause such serious problems, it's easy to feel despair when talking about them. So I'm going to kill any suspense I might have built and tell you the end of the story before I tell you the beginning.

Over the years, I've found that inside each and every unconscious strategy I've worked on for myself or helped colleagues or clients deal with...

There's an unconscious protest.

Our unconscious strategies do not give us what we need, so we do not love them. Something in us really wants to wake up from them, wants to beat them, wants to replace them with conscious strategies that will nurture us and give us pleasure instead of pain.

And this is our saving grace.

And this, I believe, is an essential part of social change or social justice work. Protest is a core element of our work. We see how the world works and we find ourselves protesting:

But things could be so much better! For everyone!

Usually when someone is driven by an unconscious strategy, acting out in that way, all we pay attention to is the acting out because we're so aggravated by it. But the key is to look deeper into the person's life, into the full reality of who they are, until...

We discover the protest that is hiding at the core of their behavior.

Now here comes my personal illustration. And I'm going to speed through it so we can get to the main point quickly.

All through childhood, the primary message I got from my family and my church community was this...

You have to earn your love.

This simple one-sentence imperative ran my life for many years. I still need to watch out for it.

When I'm in a light mood, I call this my "original glitch." When I'm in a serious mood, I can't joke about it because it's cost me too much.

And though I just said it was simple, that's only in the saying of it. In the living of it, it got complex. More complex as time went on.

At first, this message that love is to be earned meant driving myself to earn approval, which meant I always did my best to be a nice guy so I could make people like me. Which wasn't about opening hearts but only about getting a thumbs up.

Then I found something better than being a nice guy—fixing people. If I fix your life for you and you don't even have to life a finger, if I rescue you from yourself, why wouldn't you appreciate me forever? Maybe even love me. Hope, hope.

But then even better than that, I discovered there were groups of people busy "saving the world." Perfect! Instead of being a nice-guy rescuer, plodding along slow and steady, I could climb right up to the peak of the approval game and become a savior, one among many, but still a savior, the grandest earning-love strategy ever invented.

And from the first minute I tried out activism, there was that sacrificial-savior operating system waiting for me, welcoming me with open arms.

That was the set up. That was the kind of driven energy I brought to work with me every day.

And the problem?

To do social change work, you have to take a stand for change.

Take a stand for it. Not beg for it. You have to challenge people to step up and make tough changes. Serious ones, deep ones.

And when those times came my way, I faced a conflict...

My values said, "Take a stand!"

But my fears said, "Never forget. You have to be a nice guy. That comes first. Don't upset anyone. Don't take any risks. You have to make sure everybody likes you all the time."

So my fears directly contradicted my values and way too often my fears won out. They were so big and so familiar and I had so much practice submitting to them...

But how can you do social change work if you can't take a stand when you need to?

Okay, but sometimes I did manage to take the stand that was called for and that's when I felt myself come alive. That's when I felt proud of myself. That's when I could look in the mirror without turning away.

Those times were the key to my future and the future of my work. And in those moments what was it that was showing up?

Protest.

Truth was....

I was driven to be a nice guy, but at the same time I hated being a nice guy. I wanted to be a real human being with the full range of feelings and desires, sometimes including grumpiness or rambunctiousness or rough edges.

I was driven to make everyone like me, but I hated that. Especially trying to make people like me who I didn't even like or respect. Oy.

I was driven to earn love, but something in me knew from the first moment I tried it that this was a loser's game, because the love you have to earn is not love. What can be earned is only approval, a poor and transient substitute for real love.

And here's something interesting...

My personal sense of protest and my social change sense of protest were nested cozily together right down there at the very core of my psyche.

They were kindred spirits. A natural match for each other. An inspiration to each other. The stronger the one got, the more it called forth the other.

And both were pushy with a desire for change. They wanted to make a world where no child would grow up like I did, hooked on approval. A world filled with communities that live by love instead of approval games or power trips or any of the other self-defeating strategies we employ in place of a direct, gutsy commitment to love.

And so I understood the importance of what my women friends were saying in the early 70s...

The personal is political and the political is personal.

 

Supporting personal growth for social change
I'm so thankful for the personal growth I've done over the years, and I'm one of those who's had to do a lot of it, but I am truly thankful, because...

Without it I would never have been able to get my life to work, not like I wanted it to.

And...

Without it I would never have been able to get my work to work, not like I wanted it to.

I'm so thankful for the people...

Who chose to stick with me back in the days when I was a mess.

Who put up with my compulsively helpful behavior, which could really be annoying.

Who saw deeper into me, spotting something in there of value struggling to come out.

Who challenged me when I needed to be challenged and did so as my advocates.

Who stood by me through the slow hopefulness of my laborious changes.

From my own life experiences and from working with clients to deal with unconscious strategies, whether these were left over from childhood or newly-adopted in adulthood, I've come to believe that it's crucial for social change and social justice movements to take a big, bold, visible, articulate and eloquent stand in favor of doing personal growth work.

Not that this work has to be done publicly. Not at all. But I think it matters that we create a culture that honors personal growth—however each person can best do that and however they choose to do it.

For more than thirty years I've done my own work with therapists, coaches, and imagery guides. I've joined all kinds of groups. I've attended tons of trainings and talks. I've read books and more books to try to figure myself out and move myself forward.

In the beginning it was a challenge to stick with all this. Sometimes I bailed out. Sometimes I got sick to my stomach. Yet there was something compelling about it that kept bringing me back to try again.

These days, though, I dearly love doing personal growth and can't imagine not having it be a central part of my life. So I guess I have a pretty strong bias, and though I think it's fair to say that personal growth is not everyone's cup of tea, I do believe that it matters that as social change movements we...

Take a stand on behalf of personal growth,

For the way it enlivens people,

For the way it sustains people,

For how it makes our teams stronger and happier, and

For how it contributes to the success of the larger effort.

It seems to me that:

Personal growth is a gift which, when you give it to yourself, you're also giving it to everyone around you.

Developing ourselves is the #1 key to capacity building. Way more important than any technical strategies.

Social change is not just a job, it's a way of life, so that means it's even more about who we are than what we do, and that means, again, that growing ourselves matters.

So I believe a key role for social change leaders to master is the art of supporting staff in doing personal development work, whether they do it privately on their own or visibly at work or both. Not that every leader needs to be able to do this, because not everyone has the interest in or the talent for it, but that we develop an abundance of leaders who bring this kind of mastery to our movements.

And it seems to me that...

Personal growth prepares people for social growth.

And social growth is another name for social change. Because what are we asking of our communities, our nation, and the world?

We're asking them to grow into change.

 We're asking that we come together to...

See our society in a deeper way.

Understand the human operating system as it really is, not as we might wish it to be.

Be vulnerable to the truth.

Become conscious of how our way of life, and our institutions, hurt people.

Take a stand against that.

Find the protest inside ourselves as communities.

Do whatever we can to give cooperation and compassion a fighting change to take the lead.

So there's a deep parallel between personal growth and social growth. And the more we master the former, the better we will be able to help our communities do the latter.

And the more we will be able to help them to take the challenge, engage the pain, make the progress that will put us on the road to the kind of satisfaction nothing else can match, namely, creating a world where love becomes more and more primary.

 

Growing together
Social change is social...

So what does social growth look like?

Here are two conversational snapshots to show how sweet it can be when people on a team trust each other enough to be vulnerable enough to develop themselves...

To grow together—in both senses of that phrase.

We'll start with Carmen and her senior staff.

Carmen:  In our meeting today, I want to tell you something that has been running through my mind for the past three weeks. I've been thinking I should resign as ED.

Dolores:  Oh God no!

Tianna:  You're our mentor!

Amelia:  We count on you!

Dolores:  Why have you even been thinking about leaving? Tell us.

Carmen:  I'm feeling disappointed in myself that I can't do better at the fundraising.

Amelia:  But we're doing really well on our grants.

Carmen:  Yes, but I mean with the major donor asks. Both consultants I've talked to say there are lots of natural supporters for our work out there and we should be able to raise some serious unrestricted money but I haven't been able to make it happen. I think I'm too shy.

Tianna:  Shy?! You're not shy.

Amelia:  You're the boldest person I know.

Carmen:  Yes when it comes to the work, to organizing, to public speaking, but asking for money shuts me down.

Dolores:  Okay, well, let's dig into that. There has to be a way to solve the asking thing, because we're not letting you go, that's not even a question.

Amelia:  Amen to that.

Tianna:  Indeed.

Carmen:  I don't know if there is a solution. This has been driving me nuts. I've done so many things in my life that have been so much harder than asking for money but this has me beat.

Dolores:  Take a deep breath. Take a big step back from the pressure to find a solution right now, and just tell us what it's like for you when you go out to do an ask. What are you saying to yourself? What are you saying about yourself?

Carmen:  That I'm a failure. That I won't be able to get this. And see, we can't afford to hire a real development director, which is why I start thinking I should step aside so you can hire an ED with lots of fundraising experience.

Dolores:  Okay, well that's not an option. So keep going. What's it like for you out there face to face with a donor?

Carmen:  It's like there's this underground river of noes running through me. I'm trying to think of what to say next and my body is just going no, no, no, no, no.

Dolores:  Do the noes attach to anything?

Carmen:  Just to the asking. The small-talk warm-up I do fine with.

Dolores:  So if asking were a person, how would you describe your relationship?

Carmen:  Hmmm, interesting. It's a nobody. It shouldn't exist. Asking is not someone I'm supposed to hang out with. Ever.

Dolores:  Because?

Carmen:  Because I'm supposed to give. And give and give. And serve. Take care of people. It's very unfeminine to ask for something for myself.

Tianna:  You are the best giver I know.

Amelia:  Me, too. But suddenly that makes me sad.

Carmen:  Well, it's pretty intense.

Dolores:  But you're very bold when you're out in the community.

Carmen:  I've thought about that. It looks like a contradiction but it's really not. It's okay for me to be bold when I'm being bold on behalf of the people I'm looking after.

Amelia:  Oh, I get that. But isn't asking the same thing, being bold on behalf of the mission?

Carmen:  Not in my mind. This nonprofit is my baby. I identify so much with this place that when I ask for money to keep it going it feels like I'm asking for myself.

Amelia:  Bummer.

Carmen:  Yeh.

Dolores:  Maybe not. Actually I'm glad you feel like that. Because if I could give you one gift right now it would be the ability to ask for yourself, for what you need, you personally, no matter what that is.

Carmen:  Well, I have to admit if you could give that to me, today I would agree to take it. I think I'm pretty tired of giving all the time.

Dolores:  Okay, let's do this. Let's get you set up with some discovery interviews. Let's get you to go out and talk with some donors without any pressure to get a check so you can relax and find your own way of asking and create a new relationship between you and asking. What do you think?

Carmen:  I guess I could try that. But what if it doesn't work?

Tianna:  Wait a minute. What if I go with you? Would it feel better to have company, someone to prep with and then debrief with, not feel alone with this?

Carmen:  Oh, God, yes, that's exactly what I need.

Tianna:  Then consider it done. Besides I'd like to get good at asking. I think I have my own version of the same block that you've got. That service thing. Only it's not just about being a woman. No one in my family asks for anything. It's like some kind of core feeling of being unentitled.

Carmen:  Oh that feels even better to think that we'd be working on this issue together.

Amelia:  Well, count me in, too. I'm good at asking, but I feel super intimidated by people with money. I'd really like to get over that. So can I go out with you sometimes?

Carmen:  Cool.

Dolores:  Well, let's make this a full house. Asking for money is not something I've ever thought much about. It would be good for me to test myself. I'd like to find out if I can do it. And if I can't then I want to learn.

Carmen:  So instead of me resigning, you're all signing up to take a big step forward with me.

Dolores:  That's exactly it. Let's make that formal. Here's a proposal. What if we redefine the major donor asking? What if we say that from now on the asking work belongs to the whole senior team, that we're going to take it on together? We'll always go out asking in pairs and that we'll do what it takes to get good at it.

Tianna:  I like it. And, Carmen, if you need to free up some time to do more experimenting with asking, I'm willing to take on some of your administrative duties.

Amelia:  Me, too.

Dolores:  Me, too. I can do the next grant report. I want to learn how to do those anyway.

Carmen:  Okay, this is a plan. Now I feel hopeful and when I feel hopeful...

Dolores:  Look out!

Next here are Hector and his team working on an issue that goes right to the heart of their mission.

Hector:  We don't have anything urgent for our meeting today, so let's put off the routine stuff and instead ask this question: What's on deck for us? What's ready to emerge? What's waiting in the shadows? What is it that we haven't talked about that could move us forward if we did?

Nelson:  Fundraising!

Darold:  Oh, boo and hiss!

Kizzie:  Forget it!

Hector:  Okay, Nelson, try again.

Nelson:  Well, here's what's really alive for me. The core of our work is organizing and we're doing really good, nothing to complain about at all, but I wonder what it would look like if we were doing really great. When I'm out there in the community I keep feeling like there's another level we could get to, and get to fast, if only we knew what it was.

Kizzie:  Juicy! Let's dig into that.

Darold:  What's the bottom line for you, Nelson?

Nelson:  Sometimes I feel like I'm on the other side of the table. Like since I'm the designated organizer, that sets me apart from the people I'm organizing. Like I'm the active agent and they're the passive consumers. That's not how I want it to be.

Kizzie:  Oh. yeh, I know that feeling. God, it'd be great if we could fix that split.

Darold:  I was in a meeting yesterday morning where I was "educating" people. Which gave me a sad feeling. Like I'm the sheep dog herding the sheep in the right direction that they wouldn't have the smarts to go in without me.

Nelson:  But they do need us...

Kizzie:  That's true. But I'm with you, Darold...

Nelson:  So how can we offer what we have to give but not be one-up like we're better than them?

Hector:  What if we took the stand that "educating" people is the old style of organizing, but we're state of the art, and we're just about to discover the new thing that's going to make us a whole lot more effective?

Kizzie:  And happier because we get to feel closer to the people in the community. Which we deserve to feel. After all, we live here, too.

Hector: It seems to me we're talking about a key challenge. We have expertise, we have leadership to give to this community, and it would be wrong to deny that or pretend that we don't.

But the question is how do we provide leadership without creating the classic leader-follower divide? What would it take for us to be leaders who generate leadership in everyone around us? How can we claim the role of leadership and transcend it at the same time? And then teach that ability to all the new leaders we're creating in the community.

Nelson:  That nails it for me.

Darold:  Confession time. When I'm working with the committee to stop the freeway that would cut this community in two, I get scared the discussion could go off in the wrong direction and the committee would start making political mistakes when there's so much at stake right now. I feel like I have to push and control. So in the end I'm not really trusting the people I'm working with.

Kizzie:  I'm next. I'm not happy with my media work. I'm being too controlled and reasonable. It's like I've quenched the fire before I put out the press release. Same when I'm interviewed live. Like I'm trying too hard to be respectable, impress...who? I don't even know. But I do know this: our community is passionate. Me, too, when I'm talking one to one with people. What if I, what if we, brought that passion to the media? Found a way to make it work for us.

Nelson:  My thing is this. I do so much research on my issues and get so excited, that when I have a chance to talk I want to tell everyone everything I've learned. That's not good organizing, is it? I need to ask questions, lots of questions, and listen, do lots more listening. Hey, you know what? I could share out that research, get people to do it with me, so they'd be excited, too, and articulate and could step into leadership themselves. More leaders is better.

Hector:  You know the common theme I'm hearing is relationship. We each in our own way want more of that in our organizing work.

Nelson:  You, too?

Hector:  You bet. In fact, here's what just came to me. Let's work on transforming our own relationships with the community, but let's also look at what we could do to build stronger, politically effective relationships between community members.

Kizzie:  That's big. Let's do it.

Hector:  What if we turn ourselves into a think tank? Figure out how to approach each of these issues we've just raised. Run experiments, push for new learning.

Nelson:  And let's get famous. Let's come up with some stuff that we could share with other organizers all over the city.

Darold:  All over the state!

Hector:  The nation!

Kizzie:  The universe!

Nelson:  Parallel universes!

When we do social change work, we're putting ourselves up against very serious odds. We're stepping up against very serious opposition. We, with our pennies, are taking on powers-that-be with billions to throw around.

Social change work is hard. That just goes with the territory. But if we're going to do the hard parts, don't we deserve the sweet parts?

We can't control the world. It's so much bigger than we are. But we can control our team culture.

And few things compare with doing work that really matters with people who really matter, people who get you and enjoy you, people you love working with and...

Who you will hold in your heart maybe for the rest of your life.

 

The need to be seen
The sacrificial operating system pushes us into sacrificial modesty...

Don't look at me, look at the work.

Sacrifice says that any personal attention is an ego thing and therefore bad. But we humans have...

A simple, basic, legitimate need to be seen for who we are.

And meeting this need helps sustain us in our work. It's not good for us to make ourselves invisible. We're a social species which means we're social creatures which means we have a need to be in relationship with others, in a true relationship, and how can that happen if we're pretending to be less than we are, if we're acting like ghosts of ourselves?

Don't you want people who put their heart and soul into caring for the community to be seen for their caring? And why wouldn't that include you, too?

Being seen is not "self-serving" in the sense that you're gaining something at the expense of others. Being seen for the contribution you're making to your community and the world is good for everyone, because...

Being seen is an essential part of leadership.

How so? When people can see you leading a life of caring and contribution...

They might get inspired.

They might join you.

They might follow your lead.

And at the very least they will see that there is another way to live than the conventional, status-quo way. Who is it who gets the big attention in our society these days? People who spew hatred, preach idiocy, and demonize anyone who doesn't agree with them while caring only to accumulate more wealth and power for themselves and their kind.

And in the face of that, do we want people who care about the community—the whole community—to cloak themselves with invisibility?

Being seen, drawing in kindred spirits, building your movement, isn't that the core work of social change organizations? By taking a public stand, we're giving validation and credibility to that stand, we're making it more socially acceptable for people to stand with us. Sometimes this is called social-proofing.

So we want our staff to be seen by the world...

For their commitment to our mission and for the difference they are making in the community.

And we want our staff to be seen within our team...

For their talents and strengths.

For how they support their colleagues.

For their gutsiness in developing themselves.

Oh, and by the way if you hate bragging about yourself but you want to show people who you are, you can try the credo strategy.

 

What do top performers need?
I believe that what our top performers need most is...

To be seen, received, and enjoyed.

This means...

1.  You see her.
It's one thing to see the results she got, but a top performer wants you to see her. She wants you to go behind the scenes with her and see...

What it took to get those results.

Who she had to be.

How she had to stretch.

What challenges she had to push through.

What fears she had to conquer.

What talents and strengths she had to call on.

Top performers need to be witnessed. This is so much more important to them than any number of "one-minute praisings."

Check out the difference between this hit-and-run praise...

"Great work today, Vicky! Really great! Just the best! Way to go! See you tomorrow."

And this deeper, richer conversation...

Marla:  Hey, Vicky, I just heard from Jamie that you got an overwhelming yes vote for our proposal at the coalition meeting. Congratulations!

And thank you. You've done something really important today for our community. I really appreciate all the work you've put into this.

Vicky:  it was quite an afternoon.

Marla:  That's something I'd like to hear about. Do you have time?

Vicky:  Yes, I do. I need to unwind.

Marla.  I'm wondering what it was like for you personally to go through that meeting. Start right at the beginning, okay? I want to hear all of it. Especially if you had to deal with the Terrible Two.

Vicky:  Oh, yes, I did. The minute I walked in the door there were Erick and Derrick glaring at me from across the room. I felt like my face was burning. I went over to the coffee counter to try to regain my composure.

Erick came up to me looking right at me and bumped into me. One of his classic intimidation moves. My coffee spilled, so I had to go get a rag to clean it up which jangled me even more.

So I was shaking inside when it came time for me to present our proposal.

Marla:  I'm so sorry you had to go through that. What did you do?

Vicky:  Well, this is where it gets interesting. I found myself fingering my locket. I have a picture of my mom in there. She was a woman who knew how to take a stand. She's been gone for ten years, but she's still my inspiration. Even more so as time passes.

I took a deep breath and imagined her sitting right there in the circle smiling up at me. My confidence rallied and I sounded pretty good. Because I had opposition I made sure to slow down and not rush.

The whole time I could feel that double wave of intimidation coming from the Two but it seemed to stop one inch out from where I was standing.

When I finished and sat down, Derrick, ignoring the facilitator, started dressing me down about how dumb our ideas were and how stupid I was. Then Erick jumped in where Derrick left off.

There was an awful, frightened silence in the room. I didn't know if anyone was going to be brave enough to speak after that.

So I stood up again, and now people could hear my voice going a little wobbly, but I was mad, and I thought, I'm not going to let a couple bullies kill our work. I'm not going to let their out-of-control egos wreck something I believe in so much.

I said, "There's so much at stake here. I urge everyone to look into their hearts and say what they need to say. Please tell us what's true for you about this proposal. I really want to hear from everyone."

One hand went up and that was Robbie, God bless him. Then two more, and then a bunch, and from there the discussion took off. It was a groundswell of support. The Terrible Two kept whispering and smirking and rolling their eyes. But every single person spoke. I was so proud of them.

I have to admit, I cried most of the way back to the office, but, you know what, Marla, I just realized that I'm never going to look at Erick and Derrick the same way ever again. When I stood my ground, they couldn't stop me. They had nothing. Suddenly their behavior looked pitiful instead of intimidating.

I got our vote and I shut down the two people who have kept so many good things from happening in this community.

And here's something I've just decided. From now on I'm going to organize support before each meeting. I'm going to take the time to make a bunch of calls to remind people of how we took a stand together, and to pump up their courage, and to pump up my own. I think this coalition is ready to take a big step forward.

Marla:  I'm so happy for you!

Vicky:  Thanks. And thanks for all the support you've given me ever since I started working here.

Marla:  You're so welcome. And what a journey you took in just one afternoon.

Vicky:  Yes, I think today was a really important turning point for me.

Marla:  I can see that. And I loved hearing you talk about your mom. How about if we have lunch tomorrow and you tell me more about her?

Vicky:  I'd really like that.

Marla:  I can't wait to see what's next for you. And please continue to call on me for whatever you need.

Vicky:  I will.

Marla:  I feel so thankful to know you.

Vicky:  Wow. That means a lot to me.

 

2.  You receive her.
Think about what is like to have someone listen to you so deeply and well that you keep reaching deeper and telling more and maybe even surprising yourself with what you hear yourself saying. Think how delicious that is.

That's what I mean by receiving someone.

You see her and what you see...

Makes you want more.

Makes you want to step in closer.

Makes you say, "Yes!"

In the conversation with Vicky, you might have noticed how Marla was mostly silent once Vicky started telling her story. I wrote it that way because I wanted to illustrate that receiving someone does not necessarily mean that you're asking questions and interjecting your responses. Sometimes you do that to encourage the person and keep the conversation going. And sometimes they are in the flow and you just listen.

The core part of receiving someone is a receptive presence. And you can communicate that with attentive silence as well as with prompting questions. As I wrote out the conversation I was imagining that Vicky could feel Marla with her every step of the way.

Now let's also take into account the fact that sometimes a person sees us and doesn't receive us. That's the risk we take in being seen for who we are.

I remember going to lunch with a coaching colleague some years ago. She did corporate coaching and all during lunch I asked her questions about her work and she happily talked away about her strategies and techniques and favorite kinds of engagements, and it was fascinating.

Then dessert came and she asked me about my work. I started to tell her about social change coaching, and her eyes got wide, and she pulled back in her chair, and she steered the conversation quickly to a close and got out of there as fast as she could leaving her cheesecake half finished, which was a shame because it was yummy.

She saw me, she really saw me, no doubt about that. But her values were so different from mine that having seen me she was done with me. I was both disappointed and very much okay with it because she made a real decision, the one that was right for her.

And the point of being seen is not that everyone is going to like us, but that we find the people who are kindred spirits. And it is especially important for top performers that they work in a place where they have a supervisor and colleagues who see them and receive them.

 

3.  You enjoy her.
We could stop with receiving, but let's not, because there's one more happy touch we can add. Enjoyment is so very different than evaluation, even a positive evaluation, like praise, because that's still a judgment.

Enjoying her means that you see the light in her and you just want to hang out in the glow. Apart from all her accomplishments, you just simply appreciate her. You like soaking her in. There's a feeling of celebration in the air.

Enjoying someone, taking sincere and spontaneous delight in who they are, is one of the very best gifts you can give anyone, whether in a personal relationship or in a working relationship. Even a little bit of it can have very big meaning for people. Especially in a world where it seems that people are hungrier than ever for true appreciation.

 

The possibility of soaring
The Advocacy Stand, which means focusing on meeting staff needs, is really good for you as the leader because it's...

A smart self-defense move, and that's because it prevents acting out.

Instead of people trying to get seen through distracting, disruptive, or destructive strategies, you create a culture where they get personalized acknowledgement and appreciation and attention again and again...

For the contributions they're making to the mission.

By seeing, receiving, and enjoying your staff...

You get to know them in a deeper way than any other management strategy allows.

You get to understand their talents and strengths in a way that is beyond words.

You get to discover what ignites them in a way that few other people really know, or maybe nobody else but you knows.

Which means you can then be the best possible mentor and champion for them,

So they will have their best chance to go soaring.

And when from your example, your entire staff is learning how to see, receive, and enjoy each other, then as a team, as a community...

You can go soaring together.

 

© 2010 Rich Snowdon