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leading for impact with Nouman Ashraf

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Sometimes due to lack of resources, it can be hard for small organizations to refocus on impact. What have you found working with organizations that are some of the challenges that you help them overcome?

The first challenge that I think is absolutely pivotal is the challenge of mindset. Do you as a leader in a sector, a leader within your organization, a leader within a community, do you see yourself as a shaper? Or do you see yourself as a taker?

So I think if you see yourself as a taker, what you do is you do your best. And I think doing your best is not bad. But it's not the same thing as being at our best. When we are at our best, essentially, we're playing with nothing else left in our gifting. Like we're giving it our all. I think that that's a different way of thinking about the world because it's saying, I am a shaper of the context in which I find myself.

So I'll give you a very trivial example of that. And that is my definition of leadership. It’s not positional. It's not a title. But it's one that says anyone who has decision rights is a leader. So the person who did the catering for your meetings, they're a leader, because they have a choice, right? They could just put the salad in there and leave it. Or they can be artistic with the way in which they present the salad. They can have little labels that talk about ingredients and they can put doilies on the trays, they can actually have both white and brown sugar, or they can just do the bare minimum and all of those things, right? Actually, incrementally cost wise it doesn't cost you a lot financially. The cost is actually your attention.

We love to talk about learning by doing, by putting ourselves out there, even if it's not perfect. I find that people are so focused on getting it right, that they get frozen with inaction. So how do we overcome that?

I think you're talking about another mindset challenge. And that's the growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. When we actually take on a growth mindset around any endeavor in which learning is involved. And I would argue learning is possible in every single situation. I think we have to first have the courage to step out of our comfort zones. For me, I'm gonna say learning only happens when we leave our comfort zone.

I think you have to put purpose before process. That's the key to impact. But there’s an asterisk. The asterisk is this, that your purpose has to be clear to you. You know that Simon Sinek line, “start with why”? I want to go deeper than that’. We must know why our Why is OUR why.

How do we know or how do we develop our Why?

I think you have to ask a question which says “what does the world lose out on if I don't show up as the most refined iteration of myself”. It's simple as that. Right? Because I think that all of us know when we're giving it our all, and all of us know, when we're actually cutting corners. And I think that the real reward for excellence is not acknowledgement by others. It's knowing in our own heart, that we have an extra one. So if we just look for external validation, we become praise junkies. And that's not really helpful because all we're looking to do is just go for another hit of dopamine, Trying to just put the flash instead of substance sometimes go back to the same places where we get the accolades, and not really addressing the issues where we have to grow.

So how do we then learn to be our best?

So the first thing I'm going to say is absolutely instant impact. So impact to me is an outcome measure, not an input measure. So I can say to you as a professor, that, you know, I'm doing my best, I'm teaching eight courses, I do multiple sections, and I'm across programs, undergraduate and graduate and executive education and so on, so forth. These are input measures. But when I say to you, that I have a 100% participation rate when it comes to my course evaluations, and people come back. So that was really helpful.

There's two things here that I tested that I need to make explicit. One of them is openness to feedback, not praise, but feedback. So for me, I don't wait till the end of term. For instance, I asked people the three questions based on this conversation. What might you tweet about today? What's your one big takeaway? In other words, two, what are the positives of this interaction? What things did you just love? And three, what might you change about this interaction?

I'll attest to that. You asked me those questions when we did our pre call for this podcast. I love how you build that into everything you do, and I'm going to tie that back to that, you know, being at our best is not just about the board meetings or the big funder meetings. It's about every interaction you're having and how we're showing up. Serving and focusing on the people that you're there with.

Now, one other advantage of this insistence on feedback, Cindy, back to being at our best is that it frees up this mental energy that we engage in, which is around guessing how that interaction went. I think that that sometimes comes from the inability that we have to put ourselves out there in a way that's out of my comfort zone.

So we're focusing on impact, we are open to feedback. What other things do we need to continually develop as leaders?

So let's make that distinction, right. All of us have on a weekly basis, on a daily basis, sometimes longer. We have a “to do” list.

But what about our to-be lists? Right, because we are human beings, after all, not human doings. Now, I believe in the importance of goal setting, and I believe in setting objectives. And I believe in meeting them and exceeding them. But I also think that we need to have a to-be list and in that to-be list, we have to have a kind of one golden rule and then my golden rule is that, that leadership work is people will work. If you can't love them, you can't lead them.

It's not that you have to love everyone that you lead. But everyone that we lead, there must be something that we'd love to see grow and to develop.

To me, a leader meets people where they are, but doesn't leave them where they found them by the time they're done with them. So it's actually this idea of being open to where people are. And the next piece is that being discerning about how we elevate the conversation through that interaction in a way that people are left better off? Let me tell you the opposite of this for a second. So I am saying unequivocally that in whatever we do, we must never diminish the humanity of the other. Even if we were to firstly disagree with them on core issues.

Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership


You may also find it helpful to review our conversation with Paul Nazareth around creating meaningful connections with others

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano