September 23, 2010

A Formula for Leading from Behind

This is a post that has roots in my "tween time" - the time between my work inside a foundation and my current work with Grassroots Grantmakers. During that 5 year period, I worked solo and explored many interesting avenues. One was a connection with the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, one of the premiere coach training organizations in North America, where I completed a 9-month coach training program and connected with an amazing network of people who are working as professional coaches. My work in my "tween time" included a wonderful assortment of consulting work with place-based funding organizations, community-based organizations, and personal coaching with people in transition.

I tapped back into my Hudson Institute network one evening this week via a book/author call to hear from Kathleen Stinnett, a HI certified coach, talking about the book that she co-authored with John Zenger, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow. Loved the conversation, but this is what stood out for me as a connection with the big thinking on small grants world of grassroots grantmaking:
q x c = b

Kathleen shared this formula when she was talking about how difficult it is for leaders to refrain from giving advice when coaching is a better approach. I immediately thought of the "leading from behind" posture that is essential for working from a "we begin with residents" stance and how difficult it is for funders to avoid grabbing on to the steering wheel and inadvertently using their position (and their connection to money) to influence a grantee's behavior.

With this formula, Kathleen is acknowledging that the leader/manager/boss might actually have a higher quality answer than his subordinate, but that the true benefit that the company will derive is not purely a function of a quality answer. The commitment that the employee has to the answer factors into the amount of benefit that is realized.

quality x commitment = benefit

If we use a ten point scale and rate the quality of the idea and the level of commitment among those who carry out the idea, then this equation turns into something that can turn on light bulbs:
If the quality the idea is "10" but level of commitment to that idea is "2", then the benefit that is generated is 20 (10x2).

If the quality of the idea is "5" but the level of commitment to that idea is "8", then the benefit that is generated is 40 (5x8).
Simple, isn't it? But there's so much there in its simplicity.

Here's why I'm sharing this and how I can imagine using this in a big thinking on small grants environment.

  • You're a funder, in conversation in conversation with someone about an idea that could turn into a grant. When you're tempted to lead with your idea, remember that your focus is on the "b"/benefit part of the equation and pause.
  • You're a funder, in conversation with someone about an idea that could lead to a grant. What questions can you ask to learn more about the "c"/commitment part of the equation or what pressure can you take off the "q" part of the equation to create more commitment (and thus more benefit).
  • You're a funder, doing your write-up or talking with a grantmaking committee about a potential grant. What might this formula do to open up new doors for exploring (and talking about) the potential benefit of a project or activity?
  • You're a leader in your neighborhood, talking with someone new to the group or new to the idea of their own personal power, and encouraging them to move their idea into action. What might sharing this formula do to help them be more comfortable with taking that step?
  • You're talking with a veteran leader about sharing power and letting others into the action. How might this formula help them be more willing to try working from a "leading from behind" position?
What other ways could this formula be used to help funders stay in a "we begin with residents" mode of working? What personal experience does Kathleen's formula bring to mind for you?

Or what ideas or tools have you brought to your big thinking on small grants practice from the "tween time" areas of your life? Click "comment" and join in.

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