A conversation with a Struggling Executive Director (part 1)

August 6, 2017

 The dialogue in this article is purely fictional.  None of it actually took place, but the ideas and thoughts in this dialogue are nonfiction.  All the ideas and thoughts I talk about in this article are based on the teaching of four of my mentors: Jack Canfield, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Peter Senge and Stephen Covey.  You got to give credit where credit is due.


Part 1


“If you want to do something, you either do it right, or don’t do it at all.”  



It is 3:00 PM, I thought. Time to go home, my two hour volunteering shift is over.  I reached for my laptop case; it was on the floor to my right, kneeling against the wall.  I really need to get a better case, I reminded myself for the hundredth times.  I shut down the laptop, placed it neatly in the case and started to pull myself of the chair when I saw her walking toward my office.  Actually, it was more like a stride than a walk.


She stood at the door and said, “Getting ready to leave, huh?”


“Yes, my shift is over,” I replied.


“Do you have a few minutes, or do you need to rush?” she smiled.


“I have more than a few minutes, actually.” I smiled back.


I motioned to the chair at the front of my desk, and asked her to have a seat.


“Do you remember when you offered to coach me?” she asked.


“I sure do.  That was a month ago, I believe,” I replied.


“That’s right.  I am ready now,” she said, then added, “Would now be a good time to have a coaching session?”


“Sure!  What did you want to discuss?” 


“The never ending struggles we are going through in this organization,” she sighed; shoulders slumped.


“Believe me, you are not alone. Lots of other nonprofits are going through similar struggles,” I said. “But it really doesn’t have to be that way,” I added reassuringly.


“Easier said than done,” she replied with another sigh.


“Tell me about what is on your mind,” I said.


“It’s the same old stuff.  All these problems we keep struggling with day-in and day-out... not having the needed finances … our disengaged board … high volunteer turnover… disappointing fundraising season… the non-stop firefighting... do you want me to go on?” she asked with a defeated tone of voice.


Okay, it sounds to me she wants to vent, I thought.


“You can if you want to,” I replied, “but the truth of the matter is these are not the problems, these are the symptoms.”


“I know! We had this conversation before.”  She continued,   “But I don’t know how to deal with them anymore.  No matter what I do, they keep recurring.  I am ready to listen this time, I promise.” 


I felt the sincerity in her voice. I think she is ready, I thought.


“In order for you to resolve these issues, you must first understand what is causing them.” I advised.


“Root cause analysis?” she asked.


“Not the traditional root cause analysis exercise,” I said.  “We will talk about strategies and techniques in later sessions, but first we need to talk about more fundamental stuff than that.”


“Go on!” she exclaimed.


I pointed to the Anthony Robbins poster on the wall.  I hung the poster on my wall right after I started this volunteering work.  It sends subliminal message to the people I work with.


“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you need to do is to raise your standards,” she read it out loud.


“That’s right! That is the first thing one must do.  Good is never good enough.  Doing a good job would only bring poor rewards.  One has to do excellent job to get good rewards,” I commented.


“Oh! And how does one get excellent rewards?” she asked with a grin on her face.


“Easy!  To get excellent rewards one must do an outstanding job,” I said, matching her grin.


“That is totally unfair!” she exclaimed, then added, “If you do a good job, you should get good rewards.”


“I agree that it is unfair, but this is the way it works in life.  If you do a good job, then you are just an average, and average doesn’t attract attention, you know!  People are attracted to excellence,” I explained. 


“I would like to believe that I have fairly good standards,” she asserted.


“I am not implying that your standards are poor.  What I am saying is that to make a dramatic change, one must raise their standards from whatever they are at right now.   Good is not good enough, remember?” I said, reassuringly.


“Okay! And how do I start doing that?” she asked.


“You start taking an inventory of your ‘SHOULDs’ and turn them into ‘MUSTs.’” I advised.


“For example?” she asked


“Your office, for example!  Do you remember how you always say, ‘I should tidy-up my office; there is so much clutter everywhere’?”


“Yes, but I never do it!” she responded.


“And why is that?” I asked.


“Because I have higher priority items on my ‘to-do’ list.” she insisted.


“No, that’s not the reason.” I said.  “The reason is because it is on your ‘should-do’ list.  Once you move it to your ‘must-do’ list then you would make the time to do it.”

“You can start there.” I encouraged.  “Try saying it again, but this time use the word ‘must’.”  


“And what would that give me other than just a tidy-looking office?” she asked stubbornly.


“I sense doubt in your voice.  Remember when you assured me that you were ready to listen?”  I said.


“Yes, sorry! Old habits die hard,” she giggled.


“It would give you a lot.  It would be a first step on the path of ‘raising your standard’. That would be your first ‘should to must’ practice session,” I said.


She paused for few seconds, tilted her head backward; her eyes were looking at the ceiling.  She looked as if she was taking a mental inventory of her “SHOULDs”.

After few moments of reflection, she looked at me with exhausted eyes, took a deep breath and said, “You know,  I just realized that I use the word ‘should’ a lot when I refer to the things on my to-do list!”


“Do you remember our conversation about using social media as part of your marketing effort?”  I asked.


“Yes, I remember.  We had this conversation when we were planning for our fundraising event, which was a total bust.”


“First of all, it was not a total bust.” I said, reassuringly.  “The results were disappointing, but it was not total bust.  Do you remember what you told me at the end of the conversation?”


“What do you mean?  What did I say?” she questioned.


“You said you were going to open accounts on both Twitter and Facebook.”


“Right, I remember saying that.” she said, with a nod of the head.


“Did you do that?”  I asked.


“I opened a Facebook account, but I have not posted anything on it.” she admitted.


“Why didn’t you?”  I gasped.


“I was busy fighting fires.  Besides the things you were suggesting to do cost money.  I don’t have a budget for media marketing!” she said with an irritated tone.


“No! That is not the reason.  The reason is that was a ‘should-do’ for you, not a ‘must-do’.   And look at the result you got.  Look!” I said, trying not to sound as harsh as I appeared.   “I am not suggesting that if you had done that, your fundraising results might have been different.  And that is not the point I am trying to make here anyway.”


“What is the point?” she huffed.


“The point is you must start getting in the habit of looking at your to-do list as a ‘must-do’ list, and raising your standard.”  I said, with assurance.


“Yes, yes.  I am totally on the same page with you.” she said.


“I would like to give you an assignment.” I suggested.


She looked at me inquisitively and asked, “What’s that?”


“I want you to take a full inventory of the things you always referred to as your ‘should-do’ list.  We have to turn them into your ‘must-do’ list,” I proclaimed.  “That’s your assignment for until we meet in our next session.”


“What are we going to be discussing next?” she asked, excitedly.


“We will be discussing the second fundamental principle for your journey to excellence.” I replied.


“What is it?” she wondered aloud.


“The  beliefs you might about what can and can’t be done!” I said. “But this is the subject of our next conversation.  Right now, you need to develop your ‘must-do’ list,” I reminded her.


She breathed a sigh of relief and said,   “


Thank you, Ibrahim, for taking the time to talk about this.”


“You welcome, Anna.  And thank you for your willingness to apply this principle. Until next time, I am out of here.  My vegetable garden MUST get my attention.”  I winked as I emphasized the word “must”.


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