RONALD REAGAN ON CHARACTER AND DECISION MAKING

In that decision making is so important to leadership and governing a nonprofit, and that I have an abiding interest in the leadership of our country’s Presidents, I was delighted to run across a portion of a post-presidential address Ronald Reagan offered at the Citadel Commencement in Charleston, South Carolina in 1993. His words are nonpolitical, wise, and informative for all of us.

Sometimes you see, life gives us what we think is fair warning of the choice that will shape our future. On such occasions we are able to look far along the path, up ahead to that distant point in the woods where the poet’s two roads diverge. And then, if we are wise, we will take time to think and reflect before choosing which road to take before the junction is reached.

But such occasions, in fact, are rather rare. Far more often than we can comfortably admit, the most crucial of life’s moments come like the scriptural “thief in the night.” Suddenly and without notice, the crisis is upon us and the moment of choice is at hand – a moment fraught with import for ourselves, and for all who are depending on the choice we make. We find ourselves, if you will, plunged without warning into the icy water, where the currents of moral consequence run swift and deep, and where our fellow man and yes, I believe, our Maker are waiting to see whether we will pass the rope.

These are the moments when instinct and character take command, for there is no time, at such moments, for anything but fortitude and integrity. Debate and reflection and a leisurely weighing of the alternatives are luxuries we do not have. The only question is what kind of responsibility will come to the fore.

And now we come to the heart of the matter, to the core lesson taught by heroism, for, you see, the character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined.

It has been determined by a thousand other choices, made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past – by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation – whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter.

It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away – the decision that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness; habits of self-sacrifice or self-indulgence; habits of duty and honor and integrity – or dishonor and shame.

Because when life does get tough, and the crisis is undeniably at hand – when we must, in an instant, look inward for strength of character to see us through – we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.

Quoted in Lead Like Reagan by Dan Quiggle, pp. 125-127 (2014, Wiley)

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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GOOD DECISIONS

It is reported that a successful businessman was once asked, “To what do you attribute your success?” “Good decisions” was his brief replay. The interviewer probed. “How did you come to make good decisions?” “Bad decisions” was his answer. We learn by experience.

As you make decisions as a leader here is my list of eight principles of good decision making. Good decisions:*

  • Support an organization’s mission
  • Are consistent with the organization’s values
  • Follow a solid understanding of the issues involved
  • Often engage a measure of outside guidance
  • Consider alternative choices
  • Make the best choice for the long-term good
  • Are made in a timely manner
  • Are supported by all members once the decision was made

I suspect my first real exposure to these principles came as a college history major, reading and reviewing Harry Truman’s two volume memoirs. I was impressed by Truman’s willingness to make good decisions in difficult times with difficult choices. Historians agree that he truly lived out the maxim that leaders make good decisions.

For leaders in faith-based organizations and ministries, there is one more principle. That is to make decisions that you, or a governing board, believe to be in accord with your faith, with what is often called God’s will. That is a challenge, one worth considering carefully. Each faith tradition may answer the “how” differently, blending holy scripture, prayer, contemplation, and tradition. My friend Jack Peterson, former president of Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, has written a book called Discernment for Boards: an Ignatian approach that I find to be quite thoughtful. You can find it at Jack’s website www.managingformission.com

Go decide. But do it with care.

*Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Nonprofit Boards, p. 51

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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MAKE UP YOUR MIND

In business I am always having the opportunity to watch nonprofits make a decision on whether or not to engage a consultant, and if so, with what kind of timeline. Some organizations know what they want, look at their options, and make a decision. Done. Others take time, wanting to be sure they make the best decision possible. Then there are those who need to shuffle through layers of people and groups to finally make a decision everyone will own. Finally, some just can’t seem to make a decision at all. Being on the receiving end of a decision is for me, often frustrating.

President George W. Bush called himself “The Decider.” President Harry Truman’s first of his two volume memoirs used the title “Year of Decision” recollecting the many decisions he had to make during the ending of World War II. Leaders make decisions. That’s what they do.

Or that’s what they are supposed to do. I have observed on many occasions that leaders sometimes seem unable to make decisions. When that happens, circumstances overtake the situation and decisions are made for them. Often the results are negative, and leadership has failed.

So what decision do you have to make today? Better yet, what decision are you putting off? It may be time for you to lead through decision making.

How do you make good decisions? I’ll leave that for my next post.

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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THEODORE ROOSEVELT ON COMMITMENT

This week’s presidential quote on leadership comes from Teddy Roosevelt.

 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.

 

Commitment!

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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LINCOLN ON COMMITMENT

As a student of United States presidential history as well as leadership, I always enjoy talking about there the two intersect. So I offer you two famous quotes on commitment, with this week’s coming from Abraham Lincoln. 

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words.

It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of, the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism. 

Commitment!

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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PURSUE EXCELLENCE

We’ve come full circle. Excellence has a lot to do with how we define success. For John Wooden, it was about “knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” That is excellence. And excellence requires putting into place some markers, benchmarks that help you know if you are gaining greater excellence and becoming more successful. Some markers are quite objectively measured. Others are rather subjective.

 

Once you and your colleagues have determined what excellence looks like, you are ready to determine the steps you need to take to get there. The steps to excellence, the path you will follow in the pursuit of excellence, are critical.

 

Define success. Get focused. Move upstream. Build reserves. And pursue excellence. Make those moves as part of your drive to future success.

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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BUILD RESERVES

Most of us were taught that we need to save some money for the future, so we have something in reserves. When I found myself running a foot race, I remembered that I needed to save something for the end. We need reserves in so many walks of life.

During the 2008 great recession, the organizations that found it easiest to succeed, were the ones that had unrestricted cash, or money available when less money was coming in the door. I’m often asked what sum that should be for a nonprofit. How many months of budget should be tucked away in what is often called a rainy day fund? There are no right answers. But for starters, I suggest 30% of your annual budget. The first 10% is there for cash flow needs. The second 10% is an emergency fund. And the third 10% is available for opportunities. Whatever the percentage, those seem to be the reasons for building some reserves.

When I was a professional foundation grant maker I found that the majority of nonprofits, especially smaller ones, didn’t have a lot set aside. But those that did, it seemed to me, were the ones that were most successful. Perhaps there is a correlation. And perhaps building reserves is another move we need to make for future success.

If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.

Board Essentials Book

And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com

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