Paving the Way to What’s Possible

So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” – Christopher Reeve

In 1987, Ronald Reagan declared March as National Disabilities Awareness Month. Since that time, there have been huge advances made—both theoretically and practically—around integrating individuals  with disabilities into the workforce and into the community. It has been a long, evolutionary process that included passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education that is tailored to their individual needs.

And yet, there is much more work to be done. Stereotypes, stigma, and assumptions remain.  The number of unemployed among those with disabilities still remains way too high.  And possibly the most problematic—there remains a pervasive underestimation in all that people with disabilities can achieve.

Can you imagine how different the lives of adults with disabilities would be if, as children, their circle of support including educators, the medical community, clinicians, encouraged aspirational thinking? Encouraged them to dream?  To strive to achieve what others called impossible?  How different would their lives be if we helped their families also believe in all that was possible?   If, instead of limiting expectations we fed them?  If instead of hinting at no, we shouted an unequivocal yes!

Every day we at The Fedcap Group are working to change the long-term outcomes for people with disabilities.   Our work is founded on the following principles:

  • We believe in the Power of Possible–that people of all abilities can contribute in profound ways to making this world a better place;
  • We believe that it is our responsibility to help those we serve dream big dreams—to aspire to greatness;
  • We believe that it is our responsibility to provide tools and resources to support these aspirations; and
  • We believe that it is our responsibility to help parents and other caregivers develop the skills to advocate for and encourage their loved ones to achieve their dreams;

Every day, I have the opportunity to interact with people with a diverse array of abilities. I see the contributions and I hear story after story of how diversity of skills and abilities in the workplace increases productivity, perspective, creativity, and innovation.

I believe that we are better when we surround ourselves with people who had their eye on a dream, had to work hard to get where they are and are seeing their dream become a reality.  I find this inspirational and it motivates me to keep striving.

Let’s be the one who paves the way, not the one who creates the road blocks.   

The Case for Socially Responsible Investing

Ten years ago, The Fedcap Group launched our first Solution Series—dedicated to addressing issues important to Business in the 21st Century.  These sessions have brought together over 2000 representatives from business, academia, foundations, government and advocates.

On Tuesday morning, March 26, from 8-9:30 a.m. at the Westin NY Grand Central Madison Ballroom, The Fedcap Group will be hosting what I believe will be one of our most compelling and topical Solution Series to date: Socially Responsible Investing: The Moral Case for Impact Investing.

As a society, it is clear we can no longer ignore the pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges that threaten the future of our generation and those to come. In my own lifetime, the world’s population has grown by billions; our climate has grown warmer and is subject to unpredictable disasters; poverty, starvation, and economic inequity are plagues that affect many more communities than just a short generation ago.

As business leaders, as investors, and as stewards of public funding, it is in our collective best interests to mobilize our capital for the long term public good. This investment approach—known as Socially Responsible Investing—or Impact Investing—provides a vehicle to make a sound and tangible difference.

One socially responsible investment framework that is gaining momentum as a system and as a structure integrates Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations into institutional and private investing. ESG evaluates and measures the impact of how a company manages its various resources and the relative risks inherent in business operations—including environmental factors such as water, energy, and air quality, social factors such as diversity and human capital, and governance issues around ethics and integrity.

More and more businesses are investing in socially responsible ventures with favorable returns. Google, for example, invested recently $1billion in renewable energy products. Coca-Cola in investing $1 billion in help support and develop business skills in women and minority-owned suppliers.

On March 26, we will be hearing more about the case for Socially Responsible Investing from three nationally recognized experts at the forefront of this investment framework.  I invite you to register for this free forum that will lay out the foundation for the moral, the practical, and the profitable case for Socially Responsible Investing.

Click here or on the date saver below to register now.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Solution Series SavetheDate

Good Mistakes are Good for Business

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.  –James Joyce

Most people fear making mistakes at work. They worry they will be seen and judged as incompetent or unintelligent or they worry they may lose their job. This fear keeps people from experimenting and trying new, bold things. In contrast, as a leader, one of the things I count on from the people who work with me is that they make mistakes. And, I count on them to make really good mistakes, not bad ones.

  • Good Mistakes are ones that are the result of bold action.
  • Good Mistakes lead to better solutions and ultimately, better outcomes.
  • Good Mistakes are the result of creative thinking and innovative ideas.
  • A Good Mistake is not a failure, it is part of an incremental path to success.
  • Admitting a Good Mistake makes you able to tell great stories to your colleagues—it makes you interesting. And the telling of it  demonstrates humility and vulnerability.
  • A Good Mistake provides one with a lens of compassion for others who too, have tried mightily and failed.

Surrounding myself by people who are bold, who take action, and who learn from their mistakes means the organization never stagnates—we never accept status quo.

Bad mistakes are ones that are the result of lazy or sloppy thinking. They reflect poor critical thinking, inattention to detail or simply lack of caring.  Bad mistakes are the ones people should be very concerned about making.  They are  avoidable, and they can indeed cost people their job.

Key to transforming mistakes into good learning is the willingness to admit the mistake. This is essential to differentiating good and bad mistakes. When an individual is willing to admit their mistake and grow from it, it betters the team and the entire organization.

As a leader, I invite my staff to share their mistakes, as certainly, they hear mine all the time.

What do you do with your mistakes? How do you handle those of your staff?

Beyond Motivation: Inspiration as a Deliberate Practice

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.               –Simon Sinek

There is no question that the individuals who work in the companies of The Fedcap Group are motivated. Embedded in their desire to work is a drive to serve the mission by creating opportunities for those we serve to achieve their dreams.

The challenge for those of us who are leaders is to inspire our motivated workforce to greatness. 

I believe that inspiration is contagious.  When people hear the authentic conviction of their leaders—they trust it and want to emulate it.  For me, inspiration comes from a number of sources. I consider plumbing these sources an intentional practice, a deliberate part of every day. In turn, I consider the practice of inspiring others as a critical aspect of my job.

I am inspired by reading, by learning.  I am inspired by the experiences of others.  I am inspired by intellectually stimulating conversations.  I am inspired by stories of grit and determination.  I am inspired when I see someone accomplish something they never thought possible.

When inspired, I look for ways to channel this sense of possibility.  I challenge staff to think bigger.  I invite them to stretch their skill set, their knowledge, and their practices.

Each year I spend time with our Leadership Academy Class in order to inspire them to develop a bold vision for their careers.

We established Wednesday Morning Buzz as a forum to share with every staff member in the agency, articles that I find interesting and inspirational.

We launched Fed Talks as a way to inspire staff to step out of their comfort zones and see risk as an avenue for learning and innovation.

We established a virtual Innovation Garage as a platform for inspirational thinking.

We developed monthly Brown Bag Lunches to share inspirational approaches to our day to day work.

Inspiration is how people stay motivated and strive to realize their best work, build their skills, and innovate new solutions for tough problems.

What inspires you? How do you ensure that you stay inspired? How do you inspire your staff—even those you may not see every day?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Strategically Sequencing the Engagement of Great Thinkers

At The Fedcap Group, whenever we are contemplating a new idea to solve a problem, we are deliberate in our approach.

We begin by gathering the most optimistic, creative, positive people both internal and external to the agency. They are invited for their optimism, their confidence that new ideas can work, their belief in all that is possible. We pose a series of clear, bold, and penetrating questions intended to drive new learning and discovery. We spend a lot of time framing the questions. At this phase, we are much less interested in getting to the right answer than we are asking the right questions.

And then we invite these creative thinkers to go at it—building on each other’s ideas and inspired by the idea that we really can change the world. There is little more exciting than a group of positive thinkers who believe in the power of unseen and untested solutions.

Once an idea is formed, we then invite another group of smart, creative people into the room. But this time, we invite people we know to be the pragmatists—the realists—who will argue with us, identify the flaws in our thinking, pose many questions, and who will help us identify the pitfalls and risks we might not have considered in our initial enthusiasm. All too often, people can overestimate the benefit of an idea or a project or a solution, but then underestimate the cost or consequence of whatever it is that we are proposing to do.

The order of invitations matters. I have learned the hard way that you never invite the pragmatists to the first meeting—they will stop the creative flow. And in the second meeting, you need to guard against letting the optimists drown out the voices of those who see legitimate risks.

Good problem-solving needs both. I believe that the strongest organizations possess the internal and external connections to solve important societal problems.

I am lucky in that I work alongside a team of extraordinary thinkers who help me lead and who inspire the best thinking of all of us. Together, I think of us as a team of realistic optimists, knowing that we share one thing in common—a commitment to sustainable and relevant impact and a commitment to the Power of Possible.

Critical Thinking: Unpacking Our Biases

Recently, I was presenting to our Leadership Academy Class on the topic of critical thinking.  I thoroughly enjoy these discussions with up and coming leaders within our organization.

The discussion was rich and full of wonderful exchange.  I am always curious about happens when one takes a step back and truly assesses one’s own thinking. It is a fascinating process and it is a commitment to bringing a “beginner’s mind” to every situation.

One of the most compelling parts of the conversation was around the topic of bias.

We all carry biases and prejudices with us   They come from our upbringing, from our culture, from our education, and from our experiences. Many people think of bias and prejudice as a bad thing—something to be eliminated.  Not only do I think that is impossible, but I believe it misses the point.  We are not a blank slate—hopefully we have had a life of learning, of contemplation, of reflection that has formed a lens for how we see the world.

What is imperative is that we understand our biases and how they act as a filter, sorting the value of information and ideas according to our frame of reference. For the most part, people hate cognitive dissonance.  They reject information that does not align with their understanding of the world.  Once we know this about ourselves, this should open our eyes to the likelihood that if biases go unchecked, we might end up missing vital information. Critical thinkers are loathe to make decisions without vital information.

I shared with the class that while I have several very intentional approaches to informing my biases, one of my most effective is to ask many, many, strategic and pointed questions.  Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that when they present an idea to me, the time will be filled with answering questions.  This is because when I hear information, it naturally falls into my framework (fraught with missing information), and questions help me acquire a level of understanding that is required to make an informed decision.  This process is at the heart of my approach to critical thinking.

How do you assess your thinking? How are you at your own metacognition? What do you have yet to learn to help you think better about your thinking? As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Mitigating Risk: Eliminating Collective Lethargy

Disasters often happen because of limits to the human imagination.  As such keeping an open mind is a critical quality of good risk management.

–Mike Lutomski, Former NASA Risk Manager

In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia suffered a horrible loss. After what was deemed a successful mission, the shuttle unexpectedly exploded upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew were killed. It was a terrible disaster.

In retrospect, and after significant, transparent analysis, it was clear that the accident was the result of a technical issue.  It was also determined to be part of a cultural issue at NASA. What had seemed to be a minor problem—some pieces of loose foam—was dismissed as trivial and a waste of time and money to address.   To call out the issue would have meant raising an irritating flag and so no one spoke up.

This is an example of what can happen in any organization—I call it  “collective lethargy.” This is where those who know that we may be doing something that is not in our best interest—or worse—that we’re doing something that will put us at huge risk—say nothing.

The only way to combat collective lethargy is to instill risk management as a positive and active consideration in everyone’s job—no matter what level of the organization.

Some might suggest that incorporating risk management at every level is too complex. However, I see it as a function of culture and the result of great curiosity. I ask the staff at The Fedcap Group to consider three ways to incorporate risk management into their daily lives:

First: fix it! We are all stewards of the organization. We need to be proud of it as it reflects each and every one of us. If there is trash in the hallway, we don’t wait for a custodian’s shift to clean it up. We pick it up.  If we see water on the floor, we wipe it up.   We own it. If we see someone who needs help—even though it’s not our job necessarily to greet them, we help them.

Second: create a risk profile.  A risk profile at its best is full-on scenario planning. What is the best case in the operation of this program? What is the worst case? What are the factors I can’t see in front of me? What are the consequences of those factors? What has happened in the past that I should be aware of?  This is where our imagination must come into play. There is no scenario not worth considering.

Third: go where you need to go to be heard. If you feel that you are not being heard for some reason, then raise the issue again, and again until you are heard. Imagine if one of the technicians at NASA who was worried about those pieces of foam had pushed harder.

And, mitigating risk every single day—means bringing our best integrity and execution to our work—being proud of what we do and proud to be part of an organization that every day is changing and improving the lives of those we serve.

Striving for Excellence: A Lesson in Courage

Excellence is a moment-by-moment way of life.

–Tom Peters

 

Any leader worth her or his salt will tell you that they strive for excellence. In conversations with many people about the concept of excellence, I have discovered that some leaders will equate excellence with perfection. And yet, we all know that there is no such thing as perfection. But there is such a thing as excellence. It is, as organizational guru Tom Peters has said, a moment-by-moment way of life. It is ever-changing and ever growing. It is the best mechanism for dealing with ongoing and often, overwhelming, change. And excellence is contagious.

Just how do we inspire excellence in ourselves and in our teams and those we serve? How do we encourage dedication to a shared and bold commitment to solving tough problems? How do we remember to revisit yesterday’s idea of excellence, to know for certain that it will be very different from today’s?

Striving for excellence—and “attaining” it—lies in ongoing acts of courage.

The courage to pursue excellence begins with building a bold, crisp, and clear vision that reflects a common and agreed-upon set of values. That vision is met with organizational strategies and structures to hold it in place. Excellence is built when a leader will truly listen to points-of-view other than her own and question habitual thinking and familiar patterns. Excellence is built on taking risks that might mean failure—and having mechanisms and structures in place that will keep the organization safe in the face of total course correction if it becomes necessary. Excellence means standing firm for what we believe in—and understanding that criticism is a by-product of that stance. Courage requires standing steady. And excellence requires us to have the courage to be willing to dive into the mess and to state, unequivocally: this is how it’s going to be.

Only by flexing these muscles of courage and by building them day in and day out will we truly be able to solve the problems we set out to solve every day. Anything short of excellence lands us in a place of mediocrity and falling short of honoring the integrity of those who support us and those we serve.

My job is to call for excellence, to model the courage I require, and to ensure that the strategies and structures are in place to uphold our agreed-upon vision. It is only by aspiring to a new excellence every day, by calling forth the courage to take risks and model both strategic and practical integrity, will we enliven and realize the Power of Possible.

Leadership as a Value: Doing What’s Right

On this celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded and once again inspired by his simple, yet profound statement: The time is always right to do what is right.

As a leader, people are counting on me to make smart, well-thought-out, and consequential decisions—to do the right thing. I am responsible to our staff, our funders, the people we serve, our board, and to the public at large. And so, every day, I ask myself: Am I doing the right thing?  I have the responsibility to make decisions every day, and with that comes the responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

I have always believed that leadership is an evolution of thought, of skill, of insight.  I don’t believe that there is such a thing as finally “arriving” at leadership competence. I can’t imagine what that could possibly look like.  It is certainly not a role, nor a title.  The longer I am a leader, the more I become convinced that leadership competence is most clearly characterized by how accurately one assesses a situation.  The depth of the questions, the understanding of the situational nuances such as cultural constructs, politics, social constraints, and logistics—when understood—lead to smart, or at least smarter, decisions.

Some leaders believe that their job is to seek consensus. That has never been my focus.  People can come to consensus around the wrong answer. Once again, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, who said: A genuine leaders is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.  By creating a process where people are driven to work toward the right answer, not simply agreement, there is a stretching of vision, of minds and hearts.   There is an excitement.  There is the possibility of doing the right thing—more than we ever could imagine.  We actually make a real difference–eliminating poverty, inequity, stigma.

And so, as we celebrate one of the world’s greatest leaders this week, I invite all of us—no matter what role we play, wherever we work—to heed his timeless and profound advice: The time is always right to do what is right.