2. Relationship courage: everything else depends on this

When I first had to supervise staff, I couldn't have started out more backwards because...

I didn't want to do supervision.

I wanted staff to...

Manage themselves.

Like, just do your work so I don't ever have to deal with personnel issues.

What put me in that mood? Past jobs...

I remembered seeing lots of conflict and I didn't like any of it. For example, a supervisor who made a perfectly innocent comment to a staff person who took major offense and blew up all over her and bullied her behind it for the next two months. I didn't ever want that to happen to me.

I remembered supervisors who staff gossiped about mercilessly. But I wanted everybody to like me.

I remembered supervisors who were not good at setting limits so their staff did a lot of goofing off and not much work. And I knew I was not very good at setting limits.

I remembered, too, stellar supervisors who I loved working for, but I didn't understand what they were doing that made them so effective. I figured it was something about their personalities and I wasn't very much like them.

So no wonder I wasn't eager to become a supervisor. And when it came to doing the tough correction conversations, I was just plain scared.

But I didn't like being scared, so I came up with a way to protect myself, which was my...

Wizard of Oz strategy.

I would put on my best professional persona, adopt a cool attitude verging on cold, and keep the staff at arm's length. I imagined myself hiding behind the Wizard's curtain out of the line of fire where nothing could touch me while I calmly managed by remote control.

And you can immediately see the problem...

When I stepped back and away from the staff person, she felt disregarded, maybe even abandoned.

Instead of using our working relationship to build a stronger alliance, I stepped away from the relationship. So it looked like I didn't care, which wasn't true. I was just afraid.

And this also meant...

I was bringing the fear to the party. Sure I put on my neutral face and used my reasonable voice, but jeez, what was I thinking?

The staff person knew this was going to be a correction conversation. Her antennae were up. She was reading me carefully—me, not my scripted words. And what she read in me was my fear, so instead of reassuring her I was putting her in a state of alarm.

And now neither one of us was at our best and now both of us were much more susceptible to getting triggered and having the conversation go off the rails.

So, in trying to protect myself I made things worse.


Stepping in
But I also remember some very different conversations.

I'm thinking, for example, of Bryony. She was the shyest person on staff, not much of a presence, except when she did her teen workshops, and then wow!

She engaged the teens. She held their attention. She got them thinking. Their eyes lit up. And afterward, they lined up to talk with her.

And there was one other time she came alive—when she was telling stories about people she knew. She was a remarkable observer of personal detail and a hilarious story teller. But she had an edge to her stories. You didn't want her to ever pick you as her subject.

Well, she was our representative to the regional coalition and the day after one of their meetings the grapevine was buzzing. Gossip being contagious, it all got back to us in vivid detail, the replays of the stories she told about some of our staff. And it wasn't just edgy stuff, it was just plain mean.

It was my job to correct her. I was not looking forward to this. I figured if I handled it badly and upset her, I would be featured in future stories as payback.

Which was not an unreasonable assumption since I had been one of the people she skewered at the regional meeting. My feelings were especially hurt because I liked Bryony a lot. I admired her. After her mother died, she had been shuffled through seven foster homes between the ages of 13 and 19, and now here she was at 20, in spite of all the disruption and losses in her life, doing such very good work.

I was hurt but I was also mad at Bryony. Not just about her trashing me. I was mad that I had to have this conversation.

What I really wanted to do was pretend we hadn't heard the gossip and ignore the whole thing.

It was in my job description, though, to meet with her and handle it. But as I walked into the room here's what I saw...

A talented young woman with a very good heart who was in trouble. She had hurt five people who I knew mattered to her.

And my next thought was...

Oh. That means she needs my help.

Right there was the advocacy stance, though I didn't know then what it was and wouldn't for a long time to come. But unconsciously I shifted into...

Caring about her and taking a stand for her, instead of correcting her.

And a conversation that I expected to be chilly warmed right up...

Rich:  We heard what you said about us at the coalition meeting. You hurt our feelings.

Bryony:  I didn't mean for that to happen.

Rich:  What did you mean to have happen?

Bryony:  I was just doing the thing I do.

Rich:  Telling stories?

Bryony:  Yes. People like me when I do that.

Rich:  Not the people who get talked about. We don't like when you do that.

Bryony:  Oh.

Rich:  What happened when you were at that meeting?

Bryony:  I forgot.

Rich:  Forgot?

Bryony:  Who you are and what you mean to me.

Rich:  Forgot, really?

Bryony:  Yes, really. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I wish I could take it all back.

Rich:  I believe you mean that and it's good to hear you say that, but help me understand. What were you thinking?

Bryony:  I was just seeing those people respond to me and the more they responded the further I went. I know this is something I've got to stop.

Rich:  What would help you stop?

Bryony:  I have no idea.

Rich:  You know, all of a sudden it strikes me that I've never heard you gossip about the kids. Not once.

Bryony:  Oh, God, no, I wouldn't do that!

Rich:  Why?

Bryony:  Because they're kids. They're too vulnerable. They don't need that.

Rich:  But adults...

Bryony:  I don't know. They're different. I don't get it. Something gets started in me and it feels so good that I don't stop.

Rich:  What's it like for you when you're the center of attention like that?

Bryony:  Well, I want that. I'm sorry, but that's true.

Rich:  There's nothing wrong with wanting attention.

Bryony:  But it doesn't last. Driving home I kind of crashed into this sadness. A lot like emptiness.

Rich:  Oh.

Bryony:  You don't need to hear about my problems.

Rich:  Only if you want to tell me. See, I'm just as sure as I can be that you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Bryony:  No, I really, really don't. It's just that apart from when I tell stories, I'm such a nobody.

Rich:  What about when you're doing workshops with the teens?

Bryony:  Oh, I didn't think about that. Yes, then I matter. That's something new. Just since I started working here.

Rich:  And what's it like for you after a workshop? Sadness? Emptiness?

Bryony:  No, I feel calm. I feel good. And that stays with me.

Rich:  So what are we going to do about the story telling?

Bryony:  I don't know, something. Talking with you right now I don't feel proud of it.

Rich:  What about learning how to do positive stories, appreciative stories?

Bryony:  No, I think I need to stay away from stories for now. I think they're poison for me. I think I need to focus on other ways of being with people. But I don't know if I can do it. When the story telling gets a grip on me it just takes over.

Rich:  Look, I don't have an easy answer for you. I wish I did, but I don't. But I would like to work with you on this if you want. I really want you to come out the other side of this.

Bryony:  I'd appreciate that. But I just have this sense that it's not going to be easy.

Rich:  That's okay. You're important to us. We want you to stay here with us for a long time. So I'm willing to work with you on this.

Bryony:  Thank you for not hating me.

Rich:  My feelings were really hurt, but that's because you matter to me.

Bryony:  Oh.

Rich:  Now what about the others?

Bryony:  I need to apologize. That'll be embarrassing, but I need to do it. I'll go around and talk to each of them today. But...

Rich:  What?

Bryony:  What if I do it again? And then again. I don't have this thing under control.

Rich:  Yeh, that's a hard one. What I can think of is to tell people that you're sorry and you're working on it and you're committed to getting it solved but it might take some time. Everyone here knows what a good heart you have.

Bryony:  They do? That's a relief to hear. You know when I apologize I'm going to ask them to tell me in detail how they felt when they hear what I said about them. I want to hear them out. Maybe that'll help drive it home to me how wrong this is.

Rich:  Okay, but I want to make sure you're not doing some kind of self-punishment thing, because I don't see how that could help.

Bryony:  No, I'm not thinking of it like that. I think I need to get into their world and get a feel for what it's like to be somebody I talk about. Maybe something like empathy.

Rich:  Oh, that sounds good. I guess I'm thinking right now that I want us to focus on positive ways you can get attention, the kind that lasts.

Bryony:  Okay. But what about the coalition meetings? Do you want to take me off that assignment?

Rich:  Actually, no. Not yet. What if we try this. Next time you go up there, when you arrive, give me a call. We'll talk for a few minutes about why you like the people here in order to help you remember who we are to you. And then before you hit the road to drive back, call again to check in. Bookend the meeting. Would that help you stay anchored so you won't be tempted to tell stories?

Bryony:  If you're willing, I'd like to try that. It just might work. And that would be a good step forward if it did...

I wish I had known back then what I know now. I could have been much more helpful to Bryony. But I'm so thankful that in my naivete I did that one right thing, I claimed the relationship, not even understanding what I was doing, but that's...

What allowed Bryony to stay engaged with me.

And that's what allowed us to have many more conversations as we ever so slowly figured things out together.


Start with heart
These days when someone new to supervising calls me for help, it's definitely a walk down memory lane...

Ruth:  Four staff, that's all I've got, but even so I'm not ready to be a supervisor. I haven't had any training. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just winging it. I'm scared I might make a mistake I can't fix.

Rich:  Tell me what's good about being scared.

Ruth:  I guess it means I'm taking this seriously.

Rich:  And...

Ruth:  It means I'm really motivated to do this well. I've got a great ED. I love how she works with me and I want to give that same experience to my staff.

Rich:  Forget for a moment about the management thing and professional how-tos. Focus in on your four staff just as people. See them just as they are. Take them one by one, and tell me what you're noticing, like...

What talents and strengths do you see in them?

Where do you think their growing edges are?

What blind spots might they have?

If you were their advocate, how would you work with them?

Ruth:  Okay, here goes...

Danny does good work, but I keep feeling like he's coasting, like there's a whole lot more to him that we're not seeing yet. I want to talk with him and discover what that is and see if he's willing to challenge himself to take a big leap forward.

Delia is dynamite with the kids, but doesn't know how good she is. She's timid where she deserves to be confident. Which is my issue, too, so if she's willing, I'd love to help her push through.

Don is achievement-oriented and self-sufficient and I've never known anyone quite like him. I'm glad to have him on my team but he puzzles me. I don't know what to give him. Oh, but I could just ask him. I could ask him to teach me what he needs from me so I can be his ally.

And then there's JJ, and, oy.

Rich:  Oy?

Ruth:  She's the one I think about all the time. She's a whiz at the website, database, and IT stuff, but she's got this one thing she does that's a dealbreaker for me. She can take anything and give it a hurtful twist.

In staff meeting, Delia told us about a breakthrough with one of her teens, and JJ, deadpan, said, "It's about time."

Don's numbers hit the all time record for our department and he was so happy, but JJ, pawing the air, said, "Down big fella."

Danny's dad died and he was teary in the staff meeting. JJ rolled her eyes and said, "Oprah time."

Rich:  What are you noticing about yourself right now?

Ruth:  I get jazzed when I talk about my three D's, but when I think about JJ the joy is gone.

Rich:  Let's focus on the D's first. Listen back to how you talked about them.

Ruth:  It was easy to talk about them. I like talking about them. I'm looking forward to working with them. I know I have a lot to learn, but I really want them to do well. Does that count as a hopeful sign about me being a supervisor?

Rich:  I'd say so.

Ruth:  Okay, that feels good.

Rich:  What would you say matters most right now?

Ruth:  That I care about my staff. But is that enough? There's so much I don't know.

Rich:  I don't think it's enough. But if you were given this choice: either you care a lot about your staff or you know a lot about personnel management, which would you choose?

Ruth:  Caring.

Rich:  And why?

Ruth:  Because that's what makes everything else work.

Rich:  What do you mean?

Ruth:  Why would they listen to me if I don't care about them?

Rich:  For a paycheck?

Ruth:  Oh, no, that's not enough. That feels so cold. I couldn't supervise people who were here just for the check. I wouldn't do that to myself.

Rich:  So what if we said that you already have the most important part of being a supervisor?

 Ruth:  That can't be true.

Rich:  I'm not asking you to brag about yourself, but just be as accurate as you can and tell me how much you care about your 3D's?

Ruth:  A lot.

Rich:  And do they know you care?

Ruth:  Oh, yes. I'm very expressive. I let people know all the time how much I like them. I like doing that.

Rich:  So how's your relationship with the 3D's right now as you're starting out?

Ruth:  It's already strong.

Rich:  And that means...

Ruth:  There's an excellent chance they'll stick with me as I go through my learning curve. Oh, that feels so much better. But then I think about JJ and she eclipses everything.

Rich:  So if you were JJ's champion what would you want for her?

Ruth:  What I want for the others. It kills me to see her wrecking relationships she could be enjoying. She wanders around in her own world, a lonely soul as far as I can tell, and I don't want it to be like that for her.

This thing she does is so destructive, but it's just one thing. But maybe it's too big to fix in the workplace. But what if it's not? But then what if I try and I fail and that only makes things worse?

Rich:  How much pressure do you feel to fix JJ?

Ruth:  A Venti of pressure.

Rich:  And what do you want your relationship with JJ to be?

Ruth:  I want to be on her side, but only if she wants me to be on her side, only if she decides to let me be on her side. I don't want to carry her. I don't believe in that.

Rich:  So what will you say to her?

Ruth:  I'll say,

"JJ, I want you to succeed here. But I want you to know I'm not like the former supervisor. I won't let you slide. Your put downs have to stop. And I don't mean you can get away with cutting back to 50%. I mean you have to stop 100%.

"Here's who I am as a supervisor. I want each of my staff to do well in their work and be happy. I want a team where people back each other up instead of knocking each other down. That's me and that's not going to change. And I want you to know that.

"And I want you to know that I see you doing really good work. I want to keep you here. But not if you do put downs. And really, I can't see anything those put downs are giving you. I only see you losing behind them. Want to talk about it? I really want you to stay here and be happy and I'm willing to work with you on this."

Rich:  You haven't read any books about supervision? You haven't been to any trainings?

Ruth:  No, not yet.

Rich:  Did you hear that stand you just took?

Ruth:  I suppose so. No, I did, I really did hear it.

Rich:  And do you know that you don't have to do this alone, dealing with JJ?

Ruth:  I've been thinking I had to.

Rich:  You get to ask your ED for advice and support. You get to call in an HR consultant if things get tough with JJ. You get to call in a personnel lawyer. You don't have to let this burden you.

Just because you're a supervisor doesn't mean you have to be an HR expert. Learn the basics, but then call on the professionals when you need them. In fact, I recommend calling on them at the first sign of trouble.

Ruth:  Like a nurse practitioner.

Rich:  Yes.

Ruth:  It helps to think of it like that. And uh-oh.

Rich:  Uh-oh.

Ruth:  Really uh-oh. Wow, all of a sudden this whole thing has flipped over.

Rich:  Meaning...

Ruth:  Suddenly, JJ feels easy and the others feel hard.

Rich:  Hard?

Ruth:  Much more challenging.

Rich:  What are you seeing?

Ruth:  It's like the 3D's are out on a much bigger playing field. There's so much more possibility for them. And that means there's so much more for me to learn in order to support them. But it's like JJ is standing on a tiny, scrunched up patch of ground with no wiggle room and nowhere to go.

Rich:  So what about this question of caring vs. knowledge?

Ruth:  There's so much more I want to learn and I can't wait to learn it. Oh, I see where I want this to go.

My grandmother is my biggest fan and my most intense supporter. She was there for me when I was a kid. And then all through my teen years when I was going through big changes that I didn't feel at all ready for.

She still wants to know everything that's going on with me and I love telling her, because I always feel smarter when I'm talking with her and I figure things out in the process.

Rich:  So with the 3D's...

Ruth:  I want to be there for them like my grandma is for me. I keep going through changes and taking on new challenges and growing, and she keeps tracking me. She stays right with me. And that's very, very big. And I want to learn how to do that with my staff. I want to be the kind of supervisor in whose presence they keep moving forward.

Rich:  So here you are a brand new supervisor and what would you say you need?

Ruth:  I need to care about my staff because that's me. And I've already got that in spades. That's not a problem.

I need help when I get scared or don't know what to do. And I've got that in my ED, and if I need more help, like you said, I can go get it.

I need staff who want to be on my team and will let me care about them. I've mostly got that. Three out of four plus an iffy maybe.

I need time to learn all the things I'm anxious to learn. So I guess I can give myself permission to pace myself.

Rich:  And what matters is...

Ruth:  Not that I'm a masterful supervisor in my first month of doing the job, but that I'm on the right track. And I can see that I really am on the right track.

Rich:  And that means...

Ruth:  From now on, I get to enjoy the trip.

Supervision can be daunting. Look that the standard personnel handbooks. Giant volumes with hundreds of pages packed with rules and regulations and strategies and warnings. And where do you even begin?

When I'm working with a new supervisor, I recommend that you learn the basic rules but still...

Start with your heart and let it lead you forward.

And when I'm working with veteran supervisors who have achieved mastery and know all the do's and don't's, I recommend still, in every supervision conversation, to...

Start with your heart and let it lead you forward.


Tending and befriending
When psychologists and anthropologists talk about the human response to fear, they usually talk about...

Fight or flight.

You attack the threat or you run away from it. And those are useful strategies as far as they go, but human beings are more complex than that.

Peter Levine, in his book on trauma, Waking the Tiger, adds a third strategy:


Animals under trauma conditions sometimes freeze up. Everything comes to a stop while they wait for the danger to pass. People can freeze up, too, when a situation is more frightening or painful than they can handle.

But there's also a fourth response to fear, something quite different...

Tending and befriending.

We could also call it...

Caring and connecting.

Shelley Taylor's book, The Tending Instinct, is not about supervising per se, but it's one of my favorite books to recommend to supervisors at any level of experience.

She says when you're stressed by someone, or afraid of them, or they're opposing about you, often the best strategy is to..

Step into the relationship, and

Use it to resolve the problem.

For example, she cites a study showing that women often make better police officers than men in that when they're confronted with a difficult individual, instead of resorting to command and control as their first strategy, they use their tending instinct to try to make a connection and defuse the situation.

And men who decide to use that same instinct can be just as effective.

Of course, there are times when the first three strategies are necessary...

Sometimes you have no choice but to fight to defend yourself.

Sometimes your smartest move is to get away from danger as fast as you can.

Sometimes you're overwhelmed by an event and your body shuts you down as a means of self-protection and you don't really have any choice about it.

But notice that those three strategies—fight, flight, and freeze—are all...

Non-relational strategies.

Whereas tending and befriending uses...

The power of relationship.

And in the workplace, especially in a social change organization, don't we want to try the relational strategy first?

This doesn't mean that you won't enforce your standards of behavior. It doesn't mean that you won't move immediately to correction or firing when that's called for.

But it means that you start with tending and befriending. You give that a chance. A serious chance.

And this same strategy is the one to use if you want to champion a staff person. Say he's doing really good but you know he could be doing really great and you want to call him to that next level of performance...

Tending and befriending inspires people to give you their best.

Top performers don't need correction or even supervision really. As I explain on my page on the principles of the advocacy stand, what they need is...

A witness.

A champion.


What about when there's trouble with a staff person, though? Here's how the strategies apply...

Fight—You go after the person. You threaten them. You control them. You judge them. You shame them. All of which will likely trigger a counter-reaction and then you're in a battle.

Flight—You avoid the staff person because you don't want to have a fight. But now that person has a free hand and their behavior gets worse and worse while you get madder and madder and then the blow up finally comes and, again, you're in a fight. You can't really run away from the problem forever because you and that staff person are there together every day working in the same organization.

Freeze—You shut down so much so that the typical blow up never comes. The organization operates in perpetual distress but everyone suffers in silence and the staff who act out are never confronted and nothing ever changes and you never develop your leadership talents.

Tend and befriend—You step into the relationship as an advocate for the staff person. You advocate for them getting on the team and getting with the mission. You neither avoid the issue nor start a fight.

You call the question. You ask them to make a decision. You hope they'll pull up their socks and behave in a way that works for the organization. But they're perfectly free to decide not to.

In which case, the best thing for them is to leave, because why should they stay and live under battle conditions? That's not good for anybody. And you won't tolerate it anyway, so that's not even an option.

Tending and befriending is a stand you take for that particular staff person in the context of taking a stand for the rest of the staff and yourself and the mission. Again, it's relational.


That one step of courage
Courage is an awfully big word. We use it to describe those utterly inspiring moments when someone reaches far beyond herself, perhaps in the face of danger, to do something remarkable, perhaps something life-saving or life-changing.

But on this page, I want to talk about...

Ordinary courage.

The kind that's accessible to you every day. The kind that's gutsy but not beyond you.The kind that has the power to deepen relationships and make them last.

The key is to...

Take just that one next step into relationship.

This is the...

Daily practice of courage.

It's not spectacular in and of itself. It's a simple workaday commitment to keeping your working relationships strong. And the more you practice it, the better you get at it, and thus the more ordinary it becomes.

Yet it has the power to turn your organization into something extraordinary.

It can give you breakthrough moments with your staff, not because you're trying for them directly, but because your constant attention to relationship keeps adding up and allows special things happen.

The ordinary courage I'm talking about we could also call nurturing courage. Yes, you're doing something that takes moxie, but...

You're stepping into possibility, not danger.

Let me add a caveat, though. There are days when you just don't have it in you to take that next step...

Maybe you didn't sleep well the night before and it's all you can do to get through the day.

Maybe you're exhausted from too many weeks in a row of too much work and you don't have the bandwith to deal with staff issues right now.

Maybe you're too mad at the staff person and you need some time out to get some distance and pull yourself together before you're ready for an advocacy conversation.

If you're having an off day, you get to take the day off from courage.

That's the way I see it and I hope you'll give yourself that permission. The word courage comes from the Latin root cor, meaning heart. It's a matter of heart. It's not a should or a duty.

And we can only do what's in us to do. We can only take that next step that's in us, stretch ourselves that much. And when we need to rest, we rest.

I'm saying this not to lower anyone's ambitions, but as a way of saying please treat yourself with care and kindness.

Managing staff is a serious challenge. For many of us, it can take a long time to develop the kind of mastery we want. So instead of putting yourself down for what you are not yet able to do, please...

Take the steps you're capable of today, knowing that if you take those steps today that will make you more capable tomorrow.

And if you're just starting out as a supervisor, please don't burden yourself with the expectation of mastery right out of the gate.

If you're a veteran supervisor, if you're someone who keeps taking on bigger and bigger challenges and you keep calling on your staff to play a bigger and bigger game, then...

You'll never outgrow your need for courage.

And a little bit of it can make a very big difference...

When a staff person feels that you're genuinely on her side, you can make mistakes and still the relationship can hold.

You don't want to make mistakes, you want to make as few as possible, but...

If someone feels it in her bones that you're doing your very best to stand with her and by her and for her, she will likely give you a whole lot more room to be human.

And when you demonstrate that you care about her, chances are good she will care about you in return.


Taking a stand for messy
Ever feel the pressure to be the perfect manager? Personally, I don't think trying for perfection is a good goal for imperfect beings like us.

So instead I urge you to...

Take a stand for messy working relationships.

While you...

Take a stand against relational aggression.

It matters that we know that aggression and messy are very different things. Aggression hurts people. So we rule it out.

Messy, however, we can live with. Some days we find the messiness charming, some days we find it exasperating, but it's who we are. We're Homo M. Sapiens. Messy is our middle name.

We're not an easy species. Every day we come to work with our talents and strengths, but we also bring our...



Personality twists, and

Blind spots.

And sometimes we bring...

The leftovers of our childhood histories,

Or the distractions of our current life crises.

And that's if you take us one by one. But put us in a group and try turning us into a team and you find yourself dealing with mind-boggling complexity because...

Teams are made up of relationships not just people.

For example, if you have five staff including yourself, that means the number of relationships you're dealing with is 10. With ten staff, the number of relationships doesn't double, it leaps up to 45. And with 15, you've got 105 relationships taking place within your team.

Of course some relationships are stronger and more active than others, but still, you can see how quickly the challenge grows.


It matters that everyone does their part to make the team work.

It's much too big a challenge for one leader to manage all those relationships by herself. Especially since she's got her own stuff and her own blind spots to deal with, too.

And just because a relationship is messy doesn't mean it can't be supportive and sustainable and satisfying. And this is why advocacy matters. 

Taking each other to heart brings grace to our working relationships and it's really okay if it's... 

A messy kind of grace.


The pleasure of demonstrating social change inside our own organizations.
It seems to me that...

If we want to do something special in the world,

We have to be something special in our own organizations.

I don't think we can do effective social change work using the cultural norms or the personnel system of the status quo. We need something better and deserve something better.

Look how many people in this country...

Hate their work,

Are exploited at work, or

Are bored to death by their work.

Look at how many people stay in their jobs only because they need the paycheck.

Look how fundamentally conflictual so many workplaces are, and how, given that context, managers resort to...


Put downs,

Threats, and


Plus other command-and-control, non-relational, actually anti-relational strategies. In other words, to manage perpetual underlying conflict, they resort to...

An adversarial system of management.

But we, by contrast, have our nonprofits, our little laboratories, where we can experiment with...

The advocacy system.

Discovering what it can do. Showing the world what it can do. And how much more effective it can be. And how much more fun.

The classic sacrificial burnout of nonprofit leaders is not all that appealing to the general public. It's not a good advertisement for social change work. Not good for recruitment.

But if people see us thriving even in the face of the most challenging work, because we are dedicated advocates for each other, they just might be inspired to come join us.


Whenever I see nonprofits torn apart by personality battles or coalitions split into warring factions, I can't help but think that the greatest source of pain in our social change world is...

Relationships gone wrong.

And when I see nonprofits or coalitions that are a little too quiet, I start thinking that our greatest source of ennui is...

Relationships gone flat.

And if these things are true then...

It's in the area of relationships that we can make the most progress.

I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this, but I do believe it. And I believe this perspective adds deeper meaning to leadership. And...

A deeper sense of adventure.

Because despite everything we've collectively mastered about building relationships and then teams and then coalitions and then movements...

There's even more that we still haven't mastered.

And that means there's a whole lot of room for discovery.

I understand why so many personnel books have so many warnings and so many rules. It's not that the warnings are not justified, but I worry about how we take them. I don't want to see the dangers dominate us or shrink us.

Every team is made up of its own collection of personalities, strengths, talents, callings, struggles, and challenges. So every team is unique.

Which means every team gets to create its own story.

And that can be a story of pain or boredom, or

A story of discovery and delight.

And why suffer or why play it safe when you can play at the top of your game?

It's true that most top teams have core principles in common with each other, but beyond that they can be so very different. Each of them, following their own path, is learning different things about what makes working relationships work. And they can share these learnings with the rest of the movement. Then all their efforts to excel will have a far bigger meaning. And what's not to love about that?


A final thought
Social change is social, it just is, and that means...

We need each other.

Social change is hard, it just is, which means...

We need each other.

Social change work has so much potential for joy—if we do it together rather than isolated and alone. So, again...

We need each other.


© 2010  Rich Snowdon