Are your meetings a mash-up of discussions, question and answers, recommendations, inquiries, individual opinions, speeches for the audience? Are there frequent calls to stop talking something to death? Do some board members dominate the meeting? Or alternatively do individuals shy away from expressing themselves? Do your meetings feel like you are going through the motions?
Meeting management is often recommended as the response to many of these situations. And meeting management is important, especially as it relates to preparation, structure, roles, and procedures that help meetings run smoothly.
Meeting vitality, is another thing all together. Meeting vitality asks, "is this meeting giving strength and energy (life!) to all its participants?" Each organization has the ability to develop meetings with vitality. Broadly speaking, vital meetings allow for both thinking and doing. Inquiry and deciding. Taking care of business and expressing opinions and emotions. The 2-part formula for meeting vitality is allowing space and time for both productivity and vulnerability.
Productivity doesn't appear to be too difficult for most boards--it is often a point of pride of "how much we got done." However those same boards are often surprised that their activity is not always appreciated. What happened? What was likely missing was the life force brought to groups by allowing for vulnerability.
Thinking, inquiry, and self-expression can leave us vulnerable. And making time for this vulnerability is just what may make our meetings more vital. I suggest this is the purpose of the workshop meeting. This doesn't take away from the action, decision-making and the taking care of business. This is the purpose of the business meeting.
Are you separating your meeting into workshops and business meetings? Do those meetings hold true to the purpose described here? The proof of this will be in the vulnerability--did you experience a space and time to be vulnerable? It won't be in the the efficiency of getting things done. Both parts are needed for meeting vitality. Its measurement, though, is in vulnerability allowed by the workshop.
Unfortunately there is not one simple formula for creating space and time for vulnerability. Each board must come to their approach on their own. As a coach, I can help. Please contact me for further assistance.
Allegheny League of Municipalities (ALOM) is a place-based association of municipalities in Pennsylvania. Organized more by geography than by particular type of government (cities, boroughs, authorities, etc.), ALOM brings municipalities together each Spring. The potential of the these local governments to act collectively is unlimited!
To celebrate and congratulate ALOM on successfully pulling together another conference, still a challenge in post-pandemic 2023, the following ad was placed in the conference book to inform local leaders of our services and to offer a free online confidential organizational assessment tool (COAT). This tool has been developed to help local government boards and staff identify needs in forming a development plan. Assess your organization's focus, culture and actions today. Submit a service request here or text or call 412.353.3997 to get started.
It's a new year. It is also the start of something else: campaign season. Lately, elections seem to be bringing about more unease than they used to. There is no escaping them! In reality, elections haven't changed--there has always been an election every year (even year and odd year elections). These days, though, we are experiencing campaigns in the era of social media. Since the arrival of social media, tensions around politics have heightened in ways we couldn’t have imagined a generation ago (and no, the irony of a blog post that will disseminate through social media isn’t lost on me).
When working with individuals and teams in the civic and governmental sector, social media often comes up as a sore subject. The most common complaints: trolls, assumptions, and rumors. It is not only that monitoring and correcting information takes a lot of time (which it does). It is also the self-consciousness that we may experience ourselves and in others. Reacting to social media can sometimes be a stand-in for dialog or execution.
All of this drama fiddles with emotions, begs for policy-making and happens in real-time. “Just staying out of it” doesn’t work anymore (and allows the jerks to tell the story). Politics as usual is amped up for now and the foreseeable future.
How will you handle the tension of the next election(s)? What is your relationship with social media and the content you experience there? What will you discover about yourself during hard times (or the just icky ones)? When our future selves look back, we will understand how these times shaped our spirit, commitments and institutions. Institutions like elections which are fundamental to governance. But first we go through it.
The work you do supports the public good. When you thrive, we all benefit. Please let me know if you are interested in confidential coaching and consulting to help bring forth your great potential.
Tis the Budget season and many executive directors, municipal managers and other public administrators in small organizations aspire for better budgets that facilitate policy making, particularly for volunteer boards or part-time elected officials.
Budgeting is an expression of values. But in a small organization, how do find time to do more than a basic spreadsheet? Instead of carrying around that frustration, why not set an intention to improve your budget little by little over a series of years? This smaller, incremental approach, if done with a clear vision of where you are going, will bring about lasting gains and won't require dropping everything else while you valiantly try to raise the bar .
To do this, take inspiration from the free criteria of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Awards program. That may seem counter intuitive as the Award is a significant accomplishment. But with the right "baby steps" approach you will begin to see real gains in the quality of information available for making decisions.
Start by being aware of the mandatory criteria of this program (see table below). This baby step allows the weaving-in of budgeting activities into the day-to-day management of your organization (instead of waiting until "budget season"). For example, has a strategic, comprehensive or other planning process recently taken place? Great! Rely on the mission, goals and objectives in that to kick of the goals of your budget. Participating in a certification programs such as Sustainable Pennsylvania? Awesome! A good place to start for performance measures.
Once you know the components of a "good" budget, you can begin to plug much of your existing work into each of the following major categories of the GFOA Criteria. This table presents the budget questions to be answered by each category (table best viewed in desktop browser). Make incremental gains over a few years and you are well on your way. It makes me think of what my dad always said, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch...Yard by yard, life is hard."
Brendan Sullivan owned the day back in 1987 when he uttered this line as part of the Iran Contra Hearings. It is Sullivan's competency and confidence that stand out (the proceedings and their significance is for a different discussion). If he had been competent with out being confident, his purpose that day may have been overlooked. Had he been confident without being competent, he may have lacked credibility. Humor gave his asserting of himself a light touch. As he brought it all together, he embodied presence. Unforgettable!
The world is roiling from stress on many fronts, felt deeply by public servants. Prompted by a friend's question, "What are we all about anymore," I was inspired by a recent article to put democratic principles into a venn diagram. The challenge of "government of the people and by the people" to create a government for the people is coaxed along through important institutional supports. Public servants are a huge part of this dynamic relationship and I am honored to support them. Creating this helped me, and I hope it can be helpful for others, as well (with apologies to the graphic artists of the world).
As articulated so well by Podger, a comprehensive list of democratic principles might comprise the following:
Government of the people, by the people:
Heading into July 4th, this is time for civic mindfulness. Wishing all a peaceful long weekend.
In Pennsylvania, municipal elections occur in odd numbered years and the governing boards formed by those elections swear-in new members at a meeting that following January. At that same meeting the board will reorganize, including making various appointments or assignments. If participating, one of those appointments is Delegate to the Council of Governments (COG). In a wholly unscientific anecdotal survey, it has been observed that this duty is often assigned to the newest member(s) of the board; i.e. an individual just elected in November. This results in that newly elected official having to learn the ropes of their office and what it takes to be a member of the board of an organization intended for regional action. Challenging!
To help, here is a handy top-ten list of ways COG Delegates can make a difference.
The Government Finance Officers (GFOA) of US and Canada has issued an "End the Acronym" policy statement urging all stakeholders to refer to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report as just that or as the "Annual Report" or even say each letter of the former acronym individually "C. A. F. R." As the premiere professional organization of government finance officials, GFOA is challenging a population that loves acronyms to discontinue one of the most widely used.
It is about upholding the profession's ethics. The acronym sounds like a slur to a more international audience and GFOA has placed a high value on Diversity and Inclusion in its new Code of Ethics. This got me to thinking about how the Code has changed. I had been using the old code in teaching and training for years, so I pull out my synopsis of it a lined it up with the top level statements of the new code (in a spreadsheet, of course!):
What was most striking in this comparison was the use of "I" statements in the new code. That and broad statements of principles. It is simultaneously more expansive and more succinct. Overall, a very impressive change. When I dug a little deeper I found the YouTube video GFOA produced for the new code. At time of writing it has 3 likes (one of which is mine!) Give it some kudos if you too are impressed by GFOA's more holistic approach to ethics and how government finance strives to make the world a better place. After all, what we budget and what we measure is ultimately a statement of values.
And speaking of values, GFOA has also come out with a publication to take inclusion up a notch and address directly issues of racial justice and the concept of defunding the police. Whether that phrase inspires or exasperates you, one thing for sure is that local governments and finance officers will sit at the cross roads of divergent views. GFOA has taken the topic head on and produced various resources.
Coaching and facilitation helps organizations and individuals address important topics in a proactive and forward-focused way. I feel honored to be in this space and to do work imbued with peace and accountability. If you are tackling issues of ethics as an individual or in your organization, finance or otherwise, please let me know if my services can help.
My grandma used to say "it's not what happens to you, it's how you happen back." Wise words in an easy to remember catch phrase. But right now, we are really experiencing pressure on our ability to "happen back."
The stress of the global pandemic, the tension of the current political climate, the overdue reckoning on race and America --it can all feel overwhelming. These are serious and challenging realities. To respond, I'd like to make the serious case for optimism.
How can optimism help? Lets start with what optimism isn't. Optimism isn't all pep talks and cheerfulness. And it is not the same as confidence. Optimism is also not the absence of criticism. In fact, criticism is, in its own way, an expression of optimism.
While optimism can be expressed with an upbeat attitude, confidence, and even criticism, what it comes down to is more than way of behaving. It is a way of being. A personal belief in better days to come. Ultimately that belief is grounded in an internal dialog, not an external expression. What are you saying to yourself about how you respond, adjust, adapt and make a difference?
In coaching, that dialog is facilitated. I like to put it this way: this partnership approach looks like a conversation between you, the coach, and you again. That's not the same as talking to yourself or even your friends. It is instead an intentional and creative process to expand possibilities.
We're going to get through these tough times, but not out of tough times. To forge a better future, we commit to doing the work. Optimism can fuel the work. I think grandma would approve.
Twenty-five years ago today, a remarkable speech was given. So much as happened since Hillary Clinton's speech to the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing on September 5, 1995. It is important to harken back to what a moment in history it was. Read the full text of the speech to appreciate its full measure without editorial.
Happy Pi Day ! Pi. 3.14159265359. And so on. The number representing the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is fondly celebrated by math lovers every year on March 14 has come again. Seemingly infinite and also constant, pi inspires lots of math-y fun and the baking of pies.
A few years ago a local leader suggested the formation of a regional committee to produce ideas for intergovernmental cooperation projects (we will get to Pi here in a moment). While discussing it, the concept of ideation was landed upon as the description of what the committee will do .
What separates ideation from brainstorming is that it is structured process. There are likely a lot of definitions, and the one we landed on was project ideation, and that project ideation is
Being government and all it was time for an acronym. Project Ideation became PI, and the PI Team was formed. And then a non-governmental type read the letters P and I sandwiched next to each other and saw, oh my goodness, an actual word! Then it all clicked. The "Pi Team" was born.
I love this story. Pi as a metaphor is so relevant to the creative process and creative shared in ideation. Like Pi, creativity is infinite and ideation is a structured and known process--a constant. The story also tells about perspective--I saw an acronym, someone else saw a word, and not just any word. The perfect word for what the acronym was trying to embody-a testament to the intelligence of teams. This came about not just because of an additional person being added to the discussion but the inclusion of the outsider's voice (nongovernmental in this case). And then there was the circle. The very shape of the ideal committee. And let none of this overshadow the purpose of the team -- intergovernmental cooperation which requires all of these things: creativity, structure, diversity of perspective, and the circle way.
So Happy Pi Day. May you celebrate it as a science and an art. As the infinite and the constant. As the user of the circle and the consumer of pie. Please contact me if I may help your ideation and team intelligence to flourish.
Have you ever been asked if you “believe” in climate change? I have and it caught me off guard. Believe? Is this a theology exam? Or what about this one: do you think climate change is real? Real? Is the reality of this something I can assess? Isn’t there someone more qualified? (increasing my streak of insights from comedians to 2). As an initial reaction, this kind of question bugs me.
However, I really do appreciate the interest. So, letting go of my reactions, what do situations like this teach that can allow me bring my authentic self to conversations about important things? Thinking about what I would have liked to have been asked helps me to think about how to have important conversations.
What stands out is that a focus on my experiences with changes in climate would make a difference. "Have you experienced climate change in your life?" There I have something that I can share. “Yes, I have had experiences with changes in climate. The dog got lyme disease and a travelling suitcase brought home some hitchhiking bed bugs. Yuck! And I have noticed we get more extremely heavy rain storms, landslides and flooding...” The interest in my story allows me avoid a perceived test or having to defend a position on a topic that feels complex and difficult. It also creates space for me to ask, “How about you?” Regardless of your answer we are conversing, not declaring positions.
Sometimes direct questions in search of a "yes" or a "no" don’t serve us. They are extractive, and when we’re being extracted, we aren’t connected. Yet connection is what we need to create solutions for group problems: like invasive pests and landslides. And climate change. Connectedness leads to creativity when a conversation includes perspective taking: How about you? When we tell our own story and also listen to the perspectives of others we get into a more constructive group problem solving space. We can be much more positive and effective.
As humans, we organize our thoughts and experiences into a set of beliefs and judgments, especially about complex or important subjects. It helps us remember things and handle a lot of information. At the same time, it is our humanity that allows us to work together. Next time you find yourself being asked about your beliefs and that generates an internal dilemma, try this experiment. (1) Smile and take a breath to disarm those totalizing words (“believe”, “real”) and (2) shift to your experiences. (3) Follow up with a question about the questioner’s experience.
And when you are the questioner, and it's a situation where you want to work with someone, lead with questions about experiences and not beliefs. See if that helps to build connection, creativity and problem-solving. Let me know!
Recently, in supportive conversations, colleagues and I have related about situations in which we feel like ”Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney.” In the comedy classic from Saturday Night Live, McCartney is a guest on The Chris Farley Show, a skit portraying Farley as a talk show host.
Chris asks Sir Paul a variety of questions that inspire basically one-word answers. Throughout the interview Chris fidgets, plays with his notes, runs on with his thoughts and seems to squander the opportunity, and then beats himself up about it. His anxiety is visible and the performance is an outward display of his character’s, and maybe Farley's own, inner tumult. Who of us hasn’t been Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney at least once in our life? This sketch captures the experience of self-doubt through Farley’s comedic genius and McCartney’s good humor.
What is the consequence of listening to our doubts? One of them is to think more about what we are putting out than what we are taking in. To focus more on what we are saying than what is being said to us. We miss the chance to connect, even to our dreams and those we adore. Then we doubt ourselves even more when we later realize what we have have lost.
How do we listen to our internal dialog without letting it take over? How do we hang with our conscience and not be self-conscious? It is not so much about shutting those voices out, but clarifying and appreciating what they express to us and being able to project our full, conscious, selves.
It is fun to imagine how, if we were in Chris’s shoes, we would rephrase his interview. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy classic, but it would be a good exercise. It might also be a nice tribute to a talent lost too soon. So you know how Chris Farley gave us a funny, emotional, pop-culture touchstone that promotes self-awareness? Is that true?
Innovation in the public sector is not an oxymoron! In fact, government is a fertile environment for innovation because of the dedication to service, deep reserves of expertise, and competition for resources found there. Traditionally, bureaucratic thinking constrains innovation because of its general nature to be rule-oriented with an emphasis on equality towards all actors.
A 2015 article from Stanford Social Innovation Review gives the idea of co-creation in government, a popular method of organizational change and innovation in the private sector, a thorough exploration. One of its authors, Francis Gouillart, is also an author of the seminal work on the topic, The Power of Co-Creation (2010). Co-Creation was also a topic for 2018 webinar by Alliance for Innovation, and featured a case study from Hennepin County, MI.
I took some time to compare the steps of Co-Creation with the Arc of Coaching as developed by Duquesne University Professional Coach Certification Program. The table below explains the alignment in a simplified way. Within each step resides many tools deployed by the professional coach. If your organization is adopting a Co-Creation approach to change, professional coaching techniques and practices can help. Please contact me for further info or assistance.
'In coaching we often ask for a "mindful moment" for the individual client or group, and the coach as well, to center themselves and be present. It seems that many folks are introduced to the concept of mindfulness through images or narratives evoking eastern religious traditions. Where to start in such vast and rich expanse of tradition, information and experience can be overwhelming. I often wonder if that this is the reason I have gotten a few side-eyes upon the suggestion for a mindful moment. It is fascinating, then, to share what has been learned by the work of Ellen Langer who approached her study of mindfulness from a western researchers perspective. Originally looking at "mindlessness...a state of mind characterized by an over reliance on categories and distinctions drawn in the past and in which the individual is context-dependent and, as such, is oblivious to novel (or simply alternative) aspects of the situation," Langer's research honed in on mindfulness as the simple act of noticing. In doing so, she uncovers why mindfulness contributes so powerfully to creativity and problem solving. "Less is More," the saying goes. So less mindlessness is more mindfulness! May we all tap into this deep wellspring of capability, and be confident in our potential for mindfulness.
For a generation, one of the most influential ideas to impact public service has been the landmark publication Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. A rallying cry to "revolt against bureaucratic malaise" and "build something better," it has inspired many public officials seeking to promote initiative and a sense of ownership in public organizations. Costs have been reduced and programs have been reformed because of the performance management programs inspired by Reinventing Government. However, a recent column in Governing magazine outlined the unintended consequence of performance management: some public officials felt diminished by the performance management process, which shut down creativity needed to solve problems. For reinvention to deliver its high ideal, how can the technical changes such as performance management programs be built upon to allow people and groups to adapt and improve? We offer our help with this through an approach of peace and accountability. This is particularly useful when elected officials struggle with the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations they have been tasked to lead or when staff feels politicized. This matrix shows the top level "action words" used to describe our assistance:
An approach imbued with peace and accountability doesn't avoid tough issues or assure certain outcome. It does, however, add integrity to an improvement process by building support across the spectrum of opinions on how effective workers and organizations perform. The result: increased creativity, critical thinking, and shared responsibility.
Spring cleaning brings about an opportunity to re-familiarize yourself with your items and make some decisions. Books are especially challenging. Do I keep this or pass along for someone else's learning? My process is to randomly open the book and read a passage. If it still resonates, keep. So it was that I came across the Pocket Pema Chodron in my collection. My random selection produced the following story/passage:
I was once invited to teach with the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, my teacher's eldest son, in a situation where it wasn't exactly clear what my status was. Sometimes I was treated as a big deal who should come in though a special door and sit in a special seat. Then I'd think, "Okay, I 'm a big deal." I'd start running with that idea and come up with big-deal notions about how things should be.
Then, I'd get the message, "Oh, no, no, no. You should just sit on the floor and mix with everybody and be one of the crowd." Okay. So now the message was that I should just be ordinary, not set myself up or be the teacher. But as soon as I was getting comfortable with being humble, I would be asked to do something special that only big deals did.
This was a painful experience because I was always being insulted and humiliated by my own expectations. As soon as I was sure how it should be, so I could feel secure, I would get the message that it should be the other way. Finally, I said to the Sakyong, "This is really hurting. I just don't know who I am supposed to be," and he said, "Well, you have to learn to be big and small at the same time."
Big and small at the same time. This helped me to reflect the challenge facing community leaders, and on my coaching role as they draw on their abilities from within. Inspires me! And I am keeping this book, as well as passing it along here.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the third Monday of January. "A day on, not a day off." The Corporation for National and Community Service serves as a resource for developing community service programs large and small. The commemoration of King's legacy occurs each year determined by the day of the month of January, not on a specific date. It has that in common with local meetings and US Thanksgiving. Reflecting on this commonality, isn't that a great way to remember the links between our gratitude and week-in, week-out opportunities to promote justice and be a force of good? Some additional quotes for "a little inspiration."
The TED talk by leadership expert Simon Sinek provides insight into the importance of trust in human relationships and organizations. Inspiring words and good advice, especially for governments and nonprofits with small budgets and scarce resources. Want to make the most of funds available? Hire and empower good employees and don't micromanage them . Are you an executive or employee feeling micromanaged by a board? Consider whether or not the seven big questions are driving them. If not, seek help. When considering the problem and costs of micromanaging, the lack of trust is the consistent theme.
Susan Hockenberry's blog of suggestions for info and updates.