“That was so healing.”

August 18, 2023 | 
2 minute read

“That was so healing.”

This was a sentiment from a nonprofit CEO we’ve been working with recently. She was sharing about her experience with us and the process we took her team through to update their strategic plan.

The objectives of the process were really straightforward and tactical, like updating the outcome indicators and success targets for the impact they are making in the world. We quickly learned that there were underlying cultural challenges and misalignments between the board and the staff that led to tension and, in some cases, animosity.

“The prevailing system of management has destroyed our people because
it is not about learning, it is about control.”

These words come from Peter Senge, the founder of the Academy for Systemic Change, MIT senior faculty member, and best-selling author of The Fifth Discipline, lauded by Harvard Business Review as “one of the seminal management books of the last 75 years.”

I use the quote above not to blame anyone (the board, CEO, or staff) but to share that so much of the prevailing “leadership” water we all swim in focuses its attention on using tools like strategic plans to control people and “hold them accountable” through old notions of accountability. People feel like they’re ‘on the hook for mistakes’ instead of us creating the conditions for people to “learn into” their work.

In this scenario (and in most scenarios like this) both the board and the staff were doing what they thought was right. The board is working to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to make sure the organization is doing the good work. The staff is in the trenches trying to achieve the outcomes they all set out to do and are trying to figure out how to best report back. The intentions were not wrong; it’s HOW those things are being done that is the challenge.

And sadly, the management system this organization was operating with had brought about real pain and trauma for people who are all doing incredible work.

So, when we heard the CEO say, “That was so healing,” we knew we weren’t only updating impact metrics for the organization; we were on the road to creating more systemic, positive, and lasting change in this organization.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to support THRIVERS – our community of small, community-based nonprofits. Your donations are having an impact. 

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