Many people in our nonprofit sector get super excited about new ideas. We iconize people who think outside the box and revere innovation. And well we should! Our sector’s very essence is independent, creative problem solving and moral imagination. We wouldn’t be who we are without free thinking disruption.
But you, as an emerging leader in the sector, know that big ideas come with a dark side. So often, great new ideas become distractions from the core work at hand. And to make matters worse, so many great ideas never stand a chance of materializing anyway. So what’s the point? While many of us were magnetically drawn to big ideas early in our careers, we tend to become suspicious of them as our responsibilities grow.
How do we blend the seemingly opposite values of encouraging imagination on the one hand and managing with disciplined integrity on the other? Perhaps one clue can be found from the wisdom of a beloved advisor of mine, a yoga and meditation teacher, who guided me recently with a simple expression: “stability precedes freedom.” The conversation wasn’t about nonprofit management, but about musculoskeletal health. Build your core strength, she advised, and take care not to overstretch muscles unsafely, beyond what your core body strength can support. As your core grows stronger, you can stretch further. The key, it seems, is sequencing. Strengthen the core, and then stretch further.
It seems to me this advice extends beyond fitness to many other areas of life, including spiritual growth, relationships, skill building and – yes – to our work in the nonprofit sector. As a nonprofit leader, you need to strengthen your organization’s core. Rooted in operational stability, your organization’s creative stretching has a chance to become real and impactful without damaging your core mission.
Too many times we give too much attention either to creative dreaming or to operational management. Just as we can get lost in too much dreaming, professionalization can be overdone too. The real magic happens when we work on both, in the proper sequence. The managerial side of our work makes our organizations operationally strong so they can safely and effectively actualize the potential of inspired brilliance. The leadership side of our work creates environments that attract, encourage and nurture creativity and inventiveness, so that our strong infrastructures have functions to perform that are real, meaningful and useful.
What is genuinely beautiful – maybe even holy – about our work, is the possibility of bringing the spiritual into the material. When practical affairs of our mundane world are infused with authentic creative energy, we not only get things done, we elevate the world. This requires equal measures of disciplined attention to operational detail and open-hearted curiosity about new ideas
How does YOUR leadership style blend the seemingly opposite objectives of disciplined management and inspired leadership? Does your team know that you value both competence AND inspiration? How might you bring these values together to achieve more practical and meaningful impact in your organization’s work?