For a highly motivated and driven individual, not hitting a goal hard and leaving it dying in the dust is never an option. However, sometimes it is a very painful reality. Finding a way through the complex range of emotions can be difficult…the key is not to be defeated. Yes, this sounds like the opening few sentences of the next “How To” business book or motivational “You Can Do Anything” article. Well it’s not. I missed a goal for the very first time in my professional career and it totally SUCKS.
I have felt defeated, bruised, my confidence is shaken and I have a hard time looking people in the face when they ask me how work is going. Especially those who have been friends for years and often talk of our various professional successes as if they are badges of honor. No, we don’t ever compare our successes like others do their cars, kids or paychecks. Believe it or not we do revel in each other’s triumphs.
Over the past weeks, it became painfully clear that although we had a bang-up year (in the best sense), my team was not going to achieve what we set out to achieve. I have been uncertain how to accept my defeat. In my mountaintop moments I often looked to my mentors, heroes and idols; could that be me some day? I want to make that kind of impact. How can I follow in their footsteps? Well the truth of the matter…I am.
Before Nelson Mandela united a nation, he was in prison for over two decades. How many setbacks did Abraham Lincoln suffer before he achieved the level of success that captures our imagination over one hundred and fifty years later. Did Steve Jobs achieve total world domination after building his first Mac…NO! Our leaders, heroes and idols are so often defined by their successes, it is after all, what they are remembered for. We strive to be like them, read books and articles about them listen to endless TED Talks and quote them whenever we can. We don’t sit around thinking, “gosh I sure hope that I have to suffer the failures, humiliation, and persecution that they did“. GET REAL!!! Who wants to go through that, isn’t there a fast track, a short cut, a pill or “Get Out of Jail Free Card“, that can alleviate all that nastiness? No, my friend, there is not.
Yes, thinking through this, I do have a slightly better perspective. No, I am not back on my mountaintop, I’m still frustrated and a bit disillusioned. What I can say is this, knowing that the incredible people that I have looked up to all these years are indeed human and have also suffered failures and defeat does give me hope. I choose to move forward, learn where I need to adjust, how can I approach differently, rethink my box (not that I ever really worked in one) and go at it again.
We are not defined by our circumstances or what happens to us, anything that happens to us. We are defined by how we respond to, and through those circumstances. I may never change the world in the way some of my heroes have, but I will change it, and I will change it for the better. I will change it because I know I can and I will get up each day, no matter how difficult it may be, and go at it again.
Humility is a key characteristic of successful people. They have been knocked down, walked in others shoes and chosen to lead through that experience. Without humility, we can never truly understand or appreciate what we have and how hard we had to work to get there.
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I recently made a rather large career move out of the education space and back into the not for profit arena. The move was calculated and absolutely what I wanted; however to say that the change was disruptive would be a ridiculous understatement.
As an Executive Director my main responsibilities are to drive fundraising initiatives through my Development Directors (often serving as one myself) to exceed revenue goals and to identify, recruit and develop volunteer leadership…the real job.
As frequently happens in my career, I accepted an opportunity where there was a lot of repair work to be done. The organizations reputation had been somewhat tarnished in the community due to excessive turnover and ineffective leadership.
My challenge was not renewing the sponsor and donor relationships. It was not in identifying new partners and revenue streams. It wasn’t even in digesting the mountains of information that I needed to understand and be able to articulate regarding our organization. The challenge was navigating the volunteer jungle.
The Old Guard reminds me of the staunchy British safari hunters during the Victorian era. The rules of decorum must be followed! The rigid formality of things being just so and the constant distrust of outsiders and that which seems ‘new’.
The Old Guard is a wonderful combination of knowledge, experience and tradition. They bring a level of grace and sophistication to every endeavor. The elite want to be in their company and part of what they are doing. However, the elite are a small and finite group. Finding a way to engage your Old Guard with the future generations of philanthropists and activists may prove your greatest safari adventure yet.
This is the adventure I’m currently on. I can tell you I have a long way to go; however I can share a few early learning lessons. First, they don’t see themselves as the Old Guard, no really they don’t, so you can not treat them that way. No detail is too small, they don’t like to be caught off guard and they do want to know everything that is going on…or look like they do. The key take away here is over communicate.
- Be clear, concise and to the point – over communicate does not mean be verbose.
- Set expectations for communication early; do they prefer email, phone, text, etc.?
- Communicate how they best want to receive information. (It doesn’t hurt to follow up with secondary form just to be safe.)
- Always be respectful! This is so important, don’t be too informal, speak to them with the respect they deserve.
- Finally always, always, always be polite. This statement is not contingent upon their being polite and that is the hard part.
I’m sure as I continue on this journey there will be many other learning lessons. Some will probably come easier than others, all will be important and many will benefit me no matter what industry I work in.
Photo credit given to my talented father-in-law Paul Stuetze from his African Safari adventures.