Monthly Archives: June 2005

Distributive Leadership

Okay, this isn’t technology related, but I’d love some feedback on this, so it’s going out on the nptech tag. And, since this topic is right out of my job, note the disclaimer that my opinions do not represent the opinions of SF Goodwill in any official or unofficial capacity.

My company, Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, is deep into an organizational change process, and I’ve been given particular responsibility for facilitating the creation of a leadership development group (I am not the current group leader, but I was, and the CEO keeps looking right at me whenever the subject comes up…). This isn’t a generic thing – the idea is that there should be a diverse group of staff (different jobs, different levels of responsibility, ethnic/gender diversity) that rotate into strategic planning sessions with executive staff and, on occassion, board members and other organization strategists. My team’s task is to come up with the plan for how we recruit the members and what we do to prepare them to contribute healthfully at high-level meetings.

So, some background – our CEO has an immensely impressive background, having, at times, headed up an AIDS foundation; the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Families; the Omidyar Foundation (started it up with Pierre), and other things. She is a guru on corporate management and organizational change; a visionary; and a natural agent of change and imagination. Our staff, most of whom work in our retail thrift operation, are often hired out of our programs to assist the poor, homeless, and ex-offenders; many speak English as their second language; and are not likely to be well-versed in modern business rhetoric. None of this implies that there aren”t natural leaders and innovators among them – just that they aren’t likely to be prepped to participate at a lingo-driven, high-level business strategy session. So the trick I’m wrestling with is, how do you properly orient them to be able to participate with the executives?

There are really two big things we have to overcome:

  • The language barriers (both rthnic and rhetoric based)
  • and the confidence barriers, in it that some of these potential leaders have been with us for ten to thirty years, but nobody has ever asked them to participate in strategic thinking at the highest level, or given them any expectation that their opinions would be valued.

So we’ve identified some books; we are banking on mentoring as a strategy; we have access to some online training; and I think we have a strong recruitment plan about 90% worked out, one that combines open enrollment with a referal/evaluation process to insure that everyone is able to let us know they’re interested (the first evidence of leadership potential) with enough room for us to determine if they’re ready for it. A big concern is that we don’t want to set our staff up to fail.

So, say you were me: what tools (online, books, etc) would you use to help prep people to participate in rhetoric driven strategy sessions?

What exercizes/methods would be effective in helping them build their confidence to speak up in meetings with the highest level of management? We have already done a lot of thinking on this, and realize that it’s necessary to create a safe environment outside of the office, with an outside facilitator, but there must be some focused ways to teach people how to take that kind of risk. If we teach them all there is to know, but they still feel uncomfortable speaking up in the meetings, we haven’t accomplished our primary goal.

What do the execs and mentors need to know/be explicitly trainined in? I think it’s a two way street.


NPTech Phase 2

About six months ago (give or take a few months) Marnie Webb got together with a few other people as interested as she was in, flickr and the possible intersections of RSS, social networking and non-profits, and started an experiment. What if they all, started tagging bookmarks of interest to non-profit technologists with the tag :nptech”? The idea picked up. People joined in. The attribute expended to flickr, furl and other tag-based information systems, and to technorati‘s stab at pasting tagging functionality on top of the blogosphere.

The best way to see the result of this project (until yesterday) was to go to Technorati and search for nptech. The resulting list of blog entries, flickr photos and links are all on subject.

So, on Monday, Marnie and I had lunch, and we decided to do something that, once we mentioned it, seemed kind of obvious. What if we were to set up a site that aggregates all of this information and allows us to communicate and collaborate around it? A very logical next step. We have the nptech tagging presence; we have a google group about it, but a web community puts the information and the people all in one place, with forums, blogs and other tools available to support moving beyond research sharing into collaborative action.

So we dove right in. CivicSpace is a customized repacking of the Drupal Content Management System – the one developed to support Howard Dean’s presidential run. It’s a great fit for this, because it has powerful aggregation and communication features — I’ve set up Drupal sites at Goodwill and for smaller communities. I put up a copy on my server (entry to follow on my recent server upgrade, which has kept me pretty quiet here) , And Marnie and I have started pulling information in and inviting alpha-testers on board.

So, you’re invited to alpha test at

It’s pretty raw right now – we will be improving the appearance and tweaking the functionality. that’s why it’s alpha. But there’;s no reason why you can’t jump right in and read the aggregated nptech information, post some thoughts, suggest some feeds, or, if you’re artistic, send me a much better logo for the site than the one I put up there last night.

More on the Blog vs. Website topic

I’m going to piggyback off of Sonny’s work and strongly recommend that anyone who is thinking about setting up a web site for their organization put aside a half hour or so to read this collection of inter-related blog entries on the topic:

Blog v Web Reve

This conversation goes into much more detail both about:

* the technical advantages of blogging platforms

* the strategic advantages – don’t skip Marnie Webb’s comments: blogs may be obsolete but blogging isn’t.

* the general pros and cons.

The main point that I would add (after reading this) is that it’s not just an apples/oranges decision, and it’s not just about which is easier to manage. It’s about which web you want to invest in:

* the current brochureware web, which gives you a static place to refer people to for information about your organization; or

* the social web, the thing the web is becoming, which has built in feedback loops and a referral system that can dramatically build awareness for your cause.

Another theme here is that you can’t be put off by the hype about blogs. It’s not about blogs – it’s about the communications platform. This is Marnie’s main point, and I don’t want anyone to miss it. This is what is completely relevant to social organizations, and the main reason why the idea of subbing a blog for a professional web site is so powerful. Blogs are not, contrary to popular definition, personal online journals. they are nodes in a gigantic network, and the quality nodes bubble into the public consciousness with a free, natural publicity system. Commercial advertising isn’t allowed here – the value system that generates exposure is based on content.

We (non-profits) have great content. So, the simple metaphor – if our message were an automobile, why would we park it in the driveway rather than take it out on the highway?