A Global Pause; Creating A Positive Virus of Kindness and Possibility

Earlier this week I listened to a webinar by the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine on the impact of the coronavirus and how to protect ourselves.  Dr. Randy Horwitz, the Center’s medical director and expert on immunology and molecular biology explained how the coronavirus (protein molecule) attaches to cells in the respiratory system, invades host cells and “instructs” them to replicate.

What struck me the most about his presentation was when he explained between 700 and 1,000 coronavirus molecules could fit on the diameter of one hair. This infinitesimal molecule is bringing our lives to a screeching halt and shutting down our planet; we are living in one big global pause.

I have been thinking about what this great pause might lead to. Will we relate to each other differently?  Will we have a new appreciation for things we might have taken for granted?  We will come to appreciate a new pace where we see each other and connect in more meaningful ways?  How will we re-define work?  Will we come to appreciate what is really important in our lives?  Will we see the bright blue sky and hear the birds singing?

What if we re-imagined ourselves as positive viruses where kindness is contagious.  Neuroscience tells us that when we do an act of kindness or see an act of kindness serotonin which regulates anxiety and happiness is released in our brains.   This enables us to connect with others instead of being fearful, shutting down and separating from each other.

What if we imagined ourselves as positive viruses (molecules) in interconnected systems?  Perhaps the virus is showing us how even the smallest molecule can have a disproportionate impact on systems just as we can.  We can shift the paradigm and see ourselves as powerful, resilient and resourceful in new and positive ways. 

With each interaction we impact our relationships, families, communities and country.  We are part of interconnected systems and quite literally we hold each other’s destiny in our hands. We are being given an opportunity to re-create the world we want.   We can “go viral” as a positive contagion.

Building Resilience; Moving Beyond the World we See

I just completed a Zoom call with two amazing women authors and Appreciative Inquiry practitioners, Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell. Their book Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry gives us the ability to acknowledge what is happeing in our lives, and help us to move into a new way of being.

Appreciative Inquiry is about seeing possibility, reframing situations to see strengths, imagining the future and designing a way forward. Often it is difficult to move forward if you are in despair, grieving or feeling loss. In recent days I have found my emotions bouncing all over the place and even stayed in bed until the early afternoon one day. I discovered that I could not stay there, something inside sparked and said, “don’t do this, there is hope, the world can be a new place.”

This book is all about acknowledging our despair, finding hope and learning to forgive. These three elements combine to give us resilience. The authors recognize tragedy while also seeing the power of our human spirit. They round out the Appreciative Inquiry model and philosophy by allowing stories of grief and despair to be acknolwedged so that we are free to imagine a new future.

The world is calling for us to create a new way of being on this planet. Check it out, I think you will find it a useful tool in your work and life.

Exceptional Boards Make for Exceptional Organizations

Even in challenging times when organizations seem overwhelmed, it is possible to move beyond constraints by asking new questions, creating a new vision for working together and generating actionable outcomes. By shifting the focus from problem-solving to solution-finding, new energy is ignited, and people gather around topics that matter most to them while being aligned in a common strategic direction.

If you think your board is ready to work in new and creative ways, I would love to partner with you on your transformational journey.

Benefits to Nonprofit Boards
Board members become stronger ambassadors for the organization in the community
•Increased levels of trust, interaction, and engagement among board members
•Aligned vision for the future
•An ability to engage in “generative” board discussions that leads to innovative solutions
•A stronger organization, staff feel and know that the board supports their work
•Increased community support, people want to be part of successful organizations
•High- caliber and representative members of the community
•Increased resources!

A New Paradigm
When we shift the focus from “what’s wrong” to “what’s right” and ask questions of possibility, new solutions arise. This approach moves people away from “fixing and blaming” to “inspiring and creating”. The first approach separates and leads to communication breakdowns and the second approach brings people together so they can build on each other’s strengths and often create greater than expected outcomes.

Problem Solving-Solution Finding

Frequent Board Requests
Organizational resources might be declining, a vision may not be as compelling as it once was, leading board members to feel less committed and passionate about the cause. I often receive requests to:
• Enhance personal connections among board members
• Create a compelling forward-looking vision in support of the mission of the organization
• Gain clarity about board and staff responsibilities and roles
• Gain a shared understanding of the elements of a high-performing board
• Move forward in a more energized and exciting way

My Approach
When Boards are muddled, they are not exceptional. I work with boards and staff to help them discover their strengths and the things that are already working. I guide them through an engaging process that builds relationships and trust, encourages new thinking and gains commitment to co-create a new vision with strategies for making it a reality. As a certified Board Governance Trainer with BoardSource, I put boards on the path to becoming exceptional.

I am adept at conducting organizational assessments, meeting with the executive directors and staff, board presidents and board members to co-create meeting designs and facilitate lively outcome-oriented gatherings on visioning, governance best practices, strategic planning, relationship building, and organizational commitment.

My board retreats are highly engaging and successful, and I plant seeds of possibility and excitement. I give boards and seniors leaders tools and techniques they can use immediately to begin transforming their organizations. The ability for boards and staff to begin to work in new ways is counterculture in a world that is mostly about fixing what is wrong instead of seeing what is right and building on it. My work promotes a different way of being in the world and requires practice and consistency in asking new questions. Now is the time to re-imagine new possibilities because nonprofits are key players in shifting how communities see themselves.

Success Factors
Client provides:
-Sponsorship and support
-Information and conversations as needed to develop meetings and support services as needed
-All meeting logistics including space, tech support, flip charts, food
-All outreach and communication with participants
-Staff to assist in capture retreat proceedings and prints resource materials
Consultant provides:
-Meeting design and development
-Facilitation services
-Projector and laptop
-Resource materials
-Documentation of the meeting including Summary Report including next steps

Transitioning from the Command/Control Model to the Inclusive/Engaged Model

A question I am contemplating: How do we live in times of increasing uncertainty without holding on and grasping?

It seems we as humans need order and defined structure especially as the world becomes more uncertain.  Command and Control models in organizations are one way to do that because they can create a sense of order even as the ground is shifting underneath them.  To maintain the illusion of order in the face of chaos, organizations create a hierarchical world based on status, title, power, and money, even as the world is calling out for a new way of being.  As our technology and knowledge continue to expand at an exponential rate it becomes more clear that the rigidity of the hierarchical model is at odds with what leaders say they want from their staff.

Organizational leaders often say they want innovation, break-through thinking, new ideas, collaboration, silos to be broken, more trust, more engagement, a vibrant workplace, and more resilience.  All great words and often said with meaning but how can this happen in reality when it requires that leaders give up the traditional model of control, status, and power?

A critical challenge:  Provide leaders with the tools and knowledge that can help them make the transition from the Command/Control model to the Inspired/Engaged model. Demonstrate how it is in their own self-interest to make the shift to a more flexible way of being. In fact, their very survival depends on finding ways to bring the gifts, strengths, and talents of all staff members to the table.

More ideas and tools on how to help organizational leaders make this transition to the  Inspired and Engaged Model.... to come!

Social Profit Organizations; A Better Way to Talk about”Nonprofits”

Collaborating is everythingAs mentioned in my earlier blog post, I attended a workshop to on being a Professional Interim Executive Director. The room was full of highly skilled and engaging people and we had very lively discussions.

I was especially struck by the discussion of our language as it relates to “nonprofits” as if they are not valuable because there is no profit.  In our culture, value and success are defined by ROI (return on investment).  How does one measure value?

Do we define nonprofit success by  X number of people served? OR X number of houses built?  OR Can we begin to think in new ways and redefine “value”?  Can we think beyond output and document unexpected outcomes and the learning that is taking place in addition to outputs?

What about the social value of re-weaving the fabric of the community? When “nonprofit’ organizations keep society functioning they are adding value.  When “nonprofit” organizations step in when the private sector or public sector can’t or won’t they are adding value.

And so one member of our cadre suggested that our language needs to be revisited. Instead of calling organizations “nonprofit” we should call them social profit organizations. This naming so resonated with our group that by the end of the session we were all calling them SPOs.

It made me wonder what it would take to introduce this kind of language into our culture so that it becomes mainstream and social profit organizations are seen as equal partners with foundations, corporations, and governments all in services of a greater good to achieve greater than expected outcomes.

This is worth re-thinking!

Are You in Need of a Professional Interim Executive Director?

frustration at workWith the increasing demands for nonprofit organizations to deliver impact, maintain financial sustainability, build community engagement, recruit talented and committed board members, maintain networks and relationships throughout the community, and build staff capability, it is no wonder that executive director burn-out is on the rise.

I attended a gathering of nonprofit consultants sponsored by the Vitalyst Health Foundation in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago and I am pleased to announce that I am part of a cadre of consultants trained be a Professional Interim Executive Director for nonprofit organizations.

As a PIED (don’t you love the acronym?) I am not part of your organization’s past or your future and have no agenda. As an interim, I steward your organization to its next chapter while giving the board breathing room to reflect on where the organization is going.  I can address immediate challenges while working with the board and staff to create a strategic framework, and set the stage so the next executive director will be successful.

In addition to being a sponsored by the Vitalyst Health Foundation, I also hold certifications in board governance training with BoardSource; project management, PMI; meeting design and facilitation, the Grove; and leadership coaching, International Coach Federation.     Check out my bio for more details. 

If you are in need of an interim executive director, please get in touch. I have the ability to travel and can take on engagements of any length of duration.                        


Thriving in Challenging Times; The Adventure Continues

Zonta District Logo_Horizontal_Color_XXMember Rotator

I am a lead presenter at the upcoming District 8 Zonta Conference, an international women’s service organization dedicated to the betterment of women and girls throughout the world.  I will be engaging participants in activities to discover individual strengths and engage in  “whole room” conversations to discover organizational strengths while teaching the basics of Appreciative Inquiry.  We will employ a series of  techniques that support thinking globally and acting locally.  Most importantly we will discover new connections, new possibilities and renewed energy for creating an even more vital organization.

The District 8 Conference is from Oct.1 – 4 in Grants Pass Oregon.


Full Cycle Appreciative Inquiry supports Organizational Transformation and the “What Works” Movement

I  am grounded in the Appreciative Inquiry model and philosophy and have been working on refining my work and making activities clear for each phase of the model.  After years of working with the model, I have figured out ways to enhance it so that positive change becomes institutionalized and transformational.

The Discovery and Dream phases are great when it comes to igniting possibility and getting people excited about a compelling future that is organic and emergent, however it does not go far enough.   AI plants the seeds of possibility and I love that but  the model can do even more when it comes to strategic planning, project implementation, project assessments and leadership coaching.  AI is scalable and supports the notion that leadership resides at all levels of an organization, it can be used at the executive, management, and project team levels of an organization.

I am attaching my Full Cycle Appreciative Inquiry model so you can see how I am working with clients and can use AI at any point in the life cycle.  Let me know your thoughts and be sure to contact me if you have an interest in learning more about my model.  Just click on the diagram below and you will see key activities for each stage of the AI Cycle, including Appreciative Evaluation. Be sure to check out the book by Tessie Catasambas entitled ,”Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry”.


Invest in people, create an enlivened future

The World logo

It is time to redefine the word “invest.”

It is not just about money. It is about heart and it is about time as well. When we talk about investing in the people of an organization, it is particularly courageous and daring in these times because it is a strategy of hope and possibility that inspires growth and prosperity.

No one can deny that we have been and continue to be in challenging economic times with accelerating technology and global connectedness. It seems we are faced with two choices: a) The Fear Model: hunker down, get small, cut back, and disinvest in the people, or; b) The Possibility Model: embrace the new, create, innovate, expand, and invest in the most treasured resource; the people.

Organizations are faced with balancing their priorities everyday; important choices that will determine their future viability. We look around today and see the same story played out over and over again in organizations that choose to hunker down — and, in many cases, while still making profits, at the expense of already stressed employees. We see health insurance eliminated, no or reduced 401K, no or limited wage and salary increases, and reduced hours. People feel less and less valued and that they simply don’t matter. They are treated as if they can be replaced by someone else who is desperate for work.

The quality of many workplaces is in a downward spiral where low morale has settled in. And in many cases, employees still work to provide the best customer service they can under dire circumstances.

The overarching message is “Be grateful you still have a job!” But what happens in the long run? We get smaller and more fearful and try to hang on to what we have.

But what if we could make a shift and start to turn things around? What if we could move to a sense of possibility, expansion and action by thinking differently and asking different questions when it comes to supporting and developing people?

I was struck by this quote from Peter Baeklund, a leadership coach who heard this exchange between a chief financial officer and a chief executive officer:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The power of this response cannot be missed. The CEO recognized the power of investing in people as being essential to the survival of his company. It was not just a “nice to have;” it was critical.

The value of any organization resides in its people because this is where creativity and inspiration lives.

By simply maintaining the status quo they are not just standing still, they are falling behind and will become dull, uninspired and eventually lose any forward momentum. It is just a matter of time.

Why not build an organization and re-ignite the passion that started it all in the first place? Yes, technology changes the way we work and automation has replaced massive numbers of jobs. And in all of that, we must see new and emerging opportunities and innovation. There are always new chapters to create, new needs to be filled and new innovations that build on the ones that went before. Such an approach assumes growth, expansion and vitality but only if organizations are willing to leave fear behind.

Investments in people can take many forms: •Training onsite (technical and people skills). •Paid time-off to attend relevant educational courses including leadership development. •Business training offered through the Small Business Development Center. •Job rotations within organizations and at customer sites. •Job Shadowing. •Scholarships. •Share training (pooled resources from various organizations). •Community leadership activities.

Aside from education and training, other investments in people can be simple no/low-cost activities that immediately shift the morale in workplaces and help to create an enlivened and productive environment. Something as simple as a “good morning!” might start someone’s day. Or, how about telling people you appreciate them and thank them for something they did right.

Maybe the “boss” could rotate through different functions within the organization, (not exactly “Under-cover Boss”) to gain new perspectives and appreciation for the staff. How about starting a shift or a weekly meeting with the questions such as; “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” or “What worked really well on this project last week?”

Making a living wage is the essential building block and all human beings need to be appreciated, valued and know that we matter. Let me know about a time you really felt valued at your job. These examples will give us all inspiration and ideas!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at Southwestern Oregon Community College and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission