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stepping into your leadership with Kathy Archer

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Running a small nonprofit can be pretty lonely. Very often, whether we're the executive director or a senior manager or leader in the organization, we don't have peers in our role. We don't have people we can connect with, and really support each other in a meaningful way. In small shops, we're often the only ones responsible for our area of work. And that can be hard, especially when we feel like we might not be as competent, confident, or content with ourselves as leaders in the work that we do.

In today’s podcast, we’ve invited Kathy Archer, a leadership development coach, to share her insights on how to lead your small nonprofit with confidence.

Myths that Kathy wants us to walk away from:

  • Leaders know everything. The most effective leaders are learners and they not only focus on professional development, but they focus on personal development. You can continue to grow and learn all of the stuff you need in your organization, your field, your sector, but as you move up the ranks, there's a lot of inner growth that needs to happen as well.

  • Small nonprofit employees can’t have leadership skills. Leadership is not about job title or job description. This is about becoming the person you want to be and as a leader. You can think of your future career path and make a decision. Forget about the victim mindset and take responsibility for your own learning and growth.

Kathy’s Inner Guidance Cycle in Mastering Confidence as Nonprofit Leader

  • Pause – Stop and pay attention to your thoughts. As leaders, we're always on the go, like whacking moles or sending emails and going to a meeting and we're getting this done and taking this off the to-do list, but we never step back and stop. The first thing we should do is step back and pause.

  • Ponder – Consider the messages in your thinking. True pondering is forward motion. Stop a moment and check where you're attuned to your body or your body sensations, your thoughts, and where you want to be. Think about your goals. Ask yourself: how do I want to develop? What do other people say? What's the feedback? What are my own desires? What's the direction my career wants to go?

  • Pivot – Shift your thoughts. This is the stage to think about the direction you are going and to review your goals. Break it down into those more reasonable steps so it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

  • Proceed – Move forward again, intentionally and mindfully. This stage is actually doing the work you said you were going to do and recycling that process again. Pause, think about your goals, review, and proceed.

Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode

Post your favorite quote on social media to share with us!

“The most effective leaders are learners and they not only focus on professional development, but they focus on personal development. And so you can continue to grow and learn all of the stuff you need in your organization, your field, your sector, but as you move up the ranks, there's a lot of inner growth that needs to happen as well. And so we have to align the two.”

“Instead of pondering we regurgitate... "this is ridiculous, I can't believe they did this, this is never going to work out." We just go around and dig that deeper and deeper. True pondering is forward motion. So here I am. Stop a moment and check where you're attuned into your body or your body sensations, your thoughts. And where do I want to be? Because if I just keep digging that deeper, I'm just going to get crankier. “

Resources from this Episode


Cindy W.: Running a small nonprofit can be pretty lonely very often, whether we're the executive director or a senior manager or leader in the organization, we don't have peers in our role. We don't have people we can connect with and really support each other in a meaningful way. In small shops, we're often the only ones responsible for our area of work.

And that can be hard, especially when we feel like we might not be as competent, confident, or content with ourselves as leaders in the work that we do. And I've seen that come up with so many people in our sector that I decided to invite my friend, Kathy Archer to the podcast. Kathy is a leadership development coach. And she has some really great insights to share around how we can set ourselves up as leaders to support ourselves really to be our own best friend and hype person and help us navigate through the times when we don't feel super confident or we're feeling really challenged in our ability to get the job done.

So I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you are listening to The Small Nonprofit podcast where we bring you practical down-to-earth advice for your small organization, because you are going to change the world, and we are here to help.

It's such a pleasure to introduce you to Kathy Archer. Although you may not, you may know her already because she has a podcast as well called Surviving to Thriving. And Kathy is a certified leadership development coach and also the author of the bestselling book, Mastering Confidence, Discover Your Leadership Potential by Awakening Your Inner Guidance System. She was in your shoes at one time, she felt exhausted, scared, frustrated, and not sure if she was measuring up to her role in the sector and her confidence really wavered. So she decided to do something about it. And she's gone through that journey herself, and now is teaching organizations, leaders, and organizations how to step into their role as a leader, again, with confidence, with that, I love the inner guidance system, we have the tools within us, we just have to access them, tap into them. And that's exactly what we're going to talk about today on the podcast. It's such a pleasure to introduce you to Kathy. Kathy welcome to the podcast.

Kathy A.: I'm so excited to be here and excited to talk and learn from you as well as have a little conversation.

Cindy W.: Yeah. I'm so excited because it's early January right now. And we're all coming off of the, hopefully, amazing holidays. We all have. I hope everyone had a good break, we always think of January as a time for new year's resolutions and a time to reflect on our goals for the year and right around now those intentions start waning. They started to slowly, we gave back into our old habits. And so we're going to chat about how that, how we can avoid that, and how we can set some meaningful goals and stick to them. So specifically around learning, so let's talk about, let's start by just talking about the importance of continued learning and what working with clients around some of the challenges they may face in realizing their own personal and professional goals.

Kathy A.: Yeah, the most effective leaders are learners and they not only focus on professional development, but they focus on personal development. And so you can continue to grow and learn all of the stuff you need in your organization, your field, your sector, but as you move up the ranks, there's a lot of inner growth that needs to happen as well. And so we have to align the two. And often our performance appraisals, if we've had them in our organization, so many people haven't even had a performance appraisal, or haven't even set, work-related goals. But if you have, that's part of it. But I think I, as I say, as a leader, there's so much more to your growth and development. And so we need to step back and go, what is it, how am I growing as an individual? How am I becoming a better leader? And then, yeah. What are the goals I'm setting and how am I going to achieve those goals this year?

Cindy W.: So how do we, in the absence of, let's say some of those performance valuations because even if we have them chances are they're not that effective?

Kathy A.: No, they're not.

Cindy W.: How do we take a step back and identify the areas that. Not just that we want to grow in, but that is actually going to help us be better at all the other areas that we want to improve in. It's easy to say, okay I want to learn how to be a leader more, but how do we be more specific and identify those gaps for ourselves?

Kathy A.: So with the people that I work with, I really helped them go through what I call an annual analysis where it's a step back. I have a whole worksheet in my membership site that walks them through everything from emotional intelligence, leadership skills, productivity, like what are, what are all of the things that you're dealing with? And yeah. How are you actually doing with those things?

Decision-making, sticking to the wellness boundaries that you want to set all of that stuff that leaders talk about, but struggle with, how are you doing with that? I also talk about how do you get what's called feedforward? Yes, we can look back. But what are the people around you want this year from you? And so part of that is, sitting down yourself and doing some self-analysis, and part of it's going out there and asking other people, but it's also starting to think about, yeah, I've got the flavor of the month training. I've got all the required training to meet, but then what else is it? What is sort of the core competencies of leadership things? Like, how am I at strategic thinking? Okay, so if I'm not so good at strategic thinking, How do I learn that? What does that mean? How does that show up?

Cindy W.: So one of the things I've always struggled with balancing is how do you grow the things you're good at? And how do you manage the deficits? Because sometimes I personally mind development has been like, okay, this is going well, let's double down on that. And not even try on the things that I'm not good at because that's okay. And then sometimes it's the opposite, which is I actually need these skills. How do I build on those deficits or fulfill them? And. The other stuff is working well. So how do we prioritize or make decisions around those I'm conflicting feelings.

Kathy A.: So I tell people is focus on your strengths and there's, I use the virtues and actions, strengths finder, or the Gallup strengths finder, fi figure out what your strengths are. And then, the thing about your lesser strengths or your, deficits are bringing them up to competence. So I think sometimes we think, oh, I have to really learn this and understand it, and, for example, Excel okay, I don't know, Excel, how do I figure out Excel? You gotta be competent at it, but you don't have to excel at it. And I always say, bring your weaknesses up to a level of competence and then delegate it, hire out for the, for your deficits. Find somebody who can fill those gaps. And I think that's where we often get struggled in struggle in non-profits is we think that's not their title and that's not their role. And that doesn't fit in their job description. But if they're good at it, then let's use people's strengths a little bit more.

Cindy W.: I love that. And I think that's a great way of looking at it. We can't have huge gaps, but we don't have to double down on the things. We've just not to know baseline. All right. So we've identified the areas. Actually, before we go into the next steps, I'd like to hear from you, what are some of the more common learning goals or areas where you see leaders in our sector need to improve, or the priorities that come up over and over again.

Kathy A.: Number one is emotional intelligence gets triggered so much. And we spend a lot of time annoyed, stressed, anxious, dealing with conflicts. And we haven't learned. And especially as women, because I do a lot of work with women leaders, we've been taught to shut our emotions off and not manage our emotions. And so that's one of the biggest things that I see people needing to learn. How do you figure out what's going on inside you and manage it? Not shut it off. So for example, I was talking with a lady yesterday and she said, but Kathy, you go into a meeting and they say you're being too emotional. Like you're a woman and you're being hysterical and you're being too passionate.

She said, how do I deal with that? And I said, but that's a trigger for you. And that triggers you to shut down or push back. And so either isn't very helpful for you. And so how do you learn to manage that? Like I got hooked, I'm annoyed. It's I can't like stop, feeling that because that's going to drag into the next meeting and the next meeting and tomorrow, and the next month, when you have a meeting with this person, that's going to be the first thing that you remember is they said you were too emotional.

And so if you can't learn to manage that emotion, then you're in trouble.

Cindy W.: Yeah. I mean, if you're listening to this, don't tell anyone they're too emotional. No. Yeah. Wow. But that's, that is a really difficult situation to navigate. I imagine that in that situation, it's probably someone like an executive director. Who's been pulled by a board member that they're too emotional, which is highly inappropriate. That power dynamic and, makes it really challenging. Yeah.

Kathy A.: So then the other thing I would say in terms of what things people need to work on are understanding their values, beliefs, morals, ethics, so they can live with integrity. So that's often again, while we're struggling with our emotions is because I value something. I have a belief in something. But I'm not living that. I talk about it as you're you have a list of things that are important to you, and then you live them. And if you have this list, but you're not living them, then you feel like crap. And so you need to figure out, what are my values? How do I make value-based decisions? How do I bring values into how I've heard has my time, all of that kind of stuff.

Cindy W.: That's a big one. I love that one. That's something that, I work on all the time and that's scary and hard, but it is so important. All right. So these are some biggies that we want to learn and develop our own competencies, and I want to say resiliency in, right? So how do we then create that? You call it a curriculum.

Kathy A.: Yeah, yes,

Cindy W.: how do we develop our skills around that? By looking at this really is an educational learning journey and right. Where do we start?

Kathy A.: So the first thing to start with is the goal was, late January, I'm assuming you've thought about some goals, but if you haven't, you need to look at what the goal is. We're teleological beings. So that means we want a target. And so if the target is, I want to lose this amount of pounds, or I want to take this many steps, or I want to raise this amount of money. But you need a target. And with some of these kinds of goals, it's harder to define them. And so you have to really think about it. Okay. If I'm more emotionally intelligent, what does that mean? How does that show up? So it might be, I can get through a staff meeting without feeling like I want to throttle somebody across the room or, fall apart and cry, that might be what the measurement that you're going for. So it's first coming up with the goal, the target that you're looking for.

The second thing is what's called your pathway. How are you going to get there? What is it that you're going to do to become a more emotionally intelligent person or to lead with integrity or be a more strategic thinker? And so if you take strategic thinking, oh, how am I going to get there? First I need to learn what strategic thinking really is, how to become I need to learn stuff, right? So that's sort of your path. So goal path.

And then the third one is tools. I always think because I'm a learner. If I don't have a binder or a book or something I'm doing, I'm not learning, right, a journal,, a pen and paper. If you're looking at, balancing your life more than maybe it's your calendar and you're ticking off, how many times you shut the laptop down at 4:30 when you said you were going to. That's a tool, right?

So it's that goal, it's the path and it's the tools. And then what I do with my students because I really make them write that down. Pray, just like you're in university or you're back taking a college course. What's the syllabus, what are the timeframes. You're going to do that in. And this becomes, I think often we wait for our organization or our board or our boss to say, here are your learning goals for the year, right? Or they'll come back and say, what do you want to learn? And you're like whatever you think I have to learn to do this position, and this is different, this might be in addition to that, but you really have to take ownership for it.

Cindy W.: Oh, I love those. Those three, like the goal the pathway, and the tools. I'd love it. Can we lead into that? And one of the examples you gave, so let's say it's emotional intelligence because I think that a lot of people will look at that or hear that and say, yeah, okay I can learn that there's like a curriculum for this? And truly most leadership skills are that kind of journey, right? It's not like we look at a traditional, education or what have you. So how would we, using that example, walk us through the goal, pathway, and tools that you would maybe recommend to someone?

Kathy A.: So let's say that we use that example. The goal is to be able to manage my emotions during staff meetings, to leave staff meetings feeling composed, as opposed to falling apart or freaking out. And you might note, I have staff meetings once a week or once a month or whatever, and you might just create a Likert, scale and on a scale of one to 10, how did I feel falling apart, held it together. And it's just something loose like that, where you just quickly give yourself a score.

So that can be your goal is I want to move from, a two to a seven, 80% of the time, and maybe you don't even have to get that specific. You can just say, do I feel better? So that's that goal place, the pathway is like I say, first, I need to understand what emotional intelligence is, and then I need to learn how to do it. And so you might go find a course, like a mini-course. You might go to YouTube. It, you might find a book. So when I was talking with a group yesterday, so emotional intelligence is about self-regulation, which is all about willpower. And so I teach a course in my membership site all about willpower, but you might also go grab Kelly McGonigal's book on willpower. Now she really teaches you how to manage your willpower.

So those are a couple of the tools, right? And then journaling. I might need to look at what triggers me. What are my triggers in a, why? Why am I, going through 10 minutes and all of a sudden, bam, my test, the chest is tight and I want to shut the meeting down right now. Cause I'm done. Like what triggered me? What's the thought, what was the value? What was my judgment? What was my opinion? What did they say? So that might be journaling it. And so that might be what you do is you're of say this is my goal, and after each staff meeting, that end of the day, I'm just going to sit down and go, where did I get triggered? What was, what happened? Just make some notes, go back to that and go. Okay.

And then we talked about this when you were on my podcast, I teach the inner guidance cycle pause, ponder, pivot, proceed. So that's that pause piece? Like stepping back going what happened. And then that ponder around, what were my emotions or my body sensations? What were my thoughts? What are my feelings and that gives you that learning place to go, oh, I don't want to keep doing this anymore? I don't want that person to have that much power over me. I don't want to feel that lack of composure all the time. I just want to you know, shift my mindset, and so that's when you do, you start to shift that mindset and you just learn over time, how to start letting that go.

Cindy W.: I love that. And I want to talk a little bit about the pause, ponder power pause, ponder, pivot proceed so I can't even read my own notes. Let me read it, but I also want to talk a little bit about it. What could be a bit of a rabbit hole, right? With that example, I could see that process might open up more areas like that in learning and developing those skills, it might cascade into okay, now I need to learn this and I need to learn that. So it could be that some of the triggers in these meetings have nothing to do with emotional intelligence, but a different thing that I'm dealing with.

And so how do we balance, or even prior, like, how do we, yeah. How do we balance or how do we manage this process so that it doesn't become too much because we can't change? And I certainly think at this time of year, when we're looking at what we want to accomplish, and when we make our resolutions, we probably make a few too many. How do we contain this so that it becomes, or main, stays, I was going to say, maintain stems, meaningful and doable instead of spirals? And to just feel I can't do any of it.

Kathy A.: Yeah. If you think about it, if you're taking a course, it's got a timeframe, and there's the class time and maybe study time. And so it's the same thing. Create what you want. I'm going to spend a half-hour a week. That's it, right? Whatever you want to do, make it reasonable to you. But I also suggest scheduling that in because if you don't, it'll never happen. I'm going to read every Saturday morning for 15 minutes, whatever, I'm going to journal three days a week for 10 minutes, that's it.

And starting to just create those little timelines. The other thing with that is. So having somebody to help hold you accountable, look for a mentor, a coach, peers. I know one lady has, a group of EDS that get together. What is it that will help you learn and grow as well? Because it's not only a book or a journal or a course it's other people. There's so much to learn from other people. It might be simply you know, I want to expand my knowledge around this. I'm going to listen to Cindy's podcast every week. That's it? That might be your tool. It just might be that way of learning and growing, but it's a commitment to that.

And then it's that commitment to, I'm going to take one action step from every podcast I listened to, it's not that I'm just going to listen to it. And it's just background noise while I'm cooking supper. It's I'm going to action this podcast that I'm listening to.

Cindy W.: Yeah. That is. A great point to move forward on, because I think that's the other thing, right? Like very often our learning journeys might just be like, okay, I'm going to read a book or I'm going to listen to the podcast and we set up these and it brings us back to the target path or the goal, pathway, and tool. But I think let's be explicit about it. What does it take for us to actually not just intellectually know something, but to practice something, become proficient?

Kathy A.: Well, and that's what I go back to that list and live it I can have this list of all these wonderful strategies as a leader and things I need to do. And, I've learned, I need to give more feedback to my team and I need to create engagement. And, I need to follow up with my employees more regularly, got this wonderful list. But if you never actually do it, you're still, then you're still feeling that inner friction because you value it, but you're not doing it. And so than you. A piece of crap too. Yeah.

Cindy W.: Yeah. So any tips on how we can build, as you said, schedule it, which I think was a huge one. We talked about containing it. So we're not trying to do all the other things. I think the other piece is the pause, ponder, pivot, and proceed. So let's talk a little bit about how we can start to practice or put in, build these learnings into our daily lives so that again, we achieve those learning objectives. So walk us through that process and what's going on when we go through that.

Kathy A.: So I think just the act of pausing to think about your goals is the first step, right? Step back pause. As leaders, we're going. I think of it as whacking moles or sending emails and, going to a meeting and we're getting this done and taking this off the to-do list, but we never step back and stop. And so that's that pause piece, right? Stepping back.

And then that ponder piece is, what are my goals? What, how do I want to develop? What do other people say? What's the feedback. What are my own desires? What's the direction my career wants to go. Regardless of the position, I am in. That's all of that. You're really starting to think things through then that, when you start to pivot, you're like, okay, this is the, there are 20 things I could do. This is the one thing that I want to focus on. And I actually get people to think about quarterly. So three months at a time, I think a year is far too long.

Cindy W.: Agreed.

Kathy A.: Yeah. Three months at a time review every three months and regroup and reset. So we talked about that quarterly plan. And then this is why I call it a curriculum. I think if I say I'm going to read this book by, March 31st. March 20th, he'll be like, oh shit, I better read this book. So when you create the curriculum, you're like, okay, chapter one to three, I'm going to finish this week and you break it down into those more reasonable steps and you, and then it doesn't feel so overwhelming.

And then there's some inner accountability. Okay. I love the little checklist that I do this chapter this week. That's it's just like your Fitbit or your, whatever system you use, create that inner sort of tools to monitor yourself. The other thing is you can just create some accountability if there's somebody else, can we check in with me and make sure that I'm doing this?

And so you pause, you do some pondering and you think about what you want. The pivot is starting k, this is the direction I'm going. This is what I'm going to work on. The proceed part, so if you're thinking about this in terms of emotional intelligence, I pause, I step back. I look at how mad I am, that's my, my chest is tight. I'm ticked off at this person. And then that pivot is this helping the meeting go forward? No. Okay. So what do I need to do? Take a deep breath, chill out, right? So that could be in that process, but here it's getting back into action, saying these are the dates I'm going to do it, scheduling, and then getting it done proceeding is actually doing the work you said you were going to do, and so then you can recycle that again, a quarterly, like pause again. I actually tell people to do a weekly review just quick, how did I do five minutes? Where am I at? And keep going through that cycle.

Cindy W.: I love that. And I see that cycle. As not just with the developing and standing accountable to your curriculum, but also in managing your change behavior or changed habits, and so I think that it shows up it's like these two levels, which is the high level and the process, but I think it's also, we're talking about that.

You gave that example in the meeting. How do we run through this little cycle at a micro level? Is there anything else you want to say about that? Because I think that piece is in my understanding of how we learn and how we change our habits and behavior is, is working on both those levels, like the high level, the broader thinking, but also catching ourselves in the moment.

Kathy A.: Yeah. In my book, Mastering Confidence, I talk about reminders to do the pause. So set reminders on your phone or your computer to if your, one of your goals is just to relax and de-stress, you might be practicing mindfulness or you might be practicing what's the emotion I'm feeling in the moment, or am I present and working on balancing task and relationship right now, or have I forgotten my people for the last six hours? And so a timer, an alarm can go, oh, it jumps you out of that. And I was listening to somebody yesterday. Strengths-based and he says, when his timer goes, his question is, what strength am I using right now? And I thought, oh, brilliant. Like just ways to pause quickly. Yeah. How am I leading with integrity in this moment or whatever you have?

Cindy W.: I do that a lot before I respond to emails or things, situations where I think I pause because especially hard emails, someone who's not being very nice and I thought, okay, what do I want the outcome of this interaction to be?

Kathy A.: Yes. That's that pondering? Yeah.

Cindy W.: And then what can I do or not do? Sometimes I just don't respond because there's no way to move that forward without making it worse. And so I back away. I've learned and practiced that a lot is to not actually be responsive and to build that pause into how I work and I've found it.

Kathy A.: I want to highlight what you just said there. How do I want this meeting to, or this outcome to be. We can get into the pondered stage and instead of pondering and regurgitating, this is ridiculous, I can't believe they did this, this is never going to work out. And we just go around and dig that deeper and deeper, true pondering and that, and the way that I think of it is forward motion. So here I am. So stop a moment and check where you're attuned to your body or your body sensations, your thoughts, your. And where do I want to be? Because if I just keep digging that deeper, I'm just going to get crankier.

Cindy W.: Yeah. I heard a great podcast with James Clear author of atomic habits. And he said as part of our learning to be, so he's the pause? Where do I want to be? Or who do I want to be? And what would that person, yeah, do in this situation and I thought

Kathy A.: What would my best self do here?.

Cindy W.: Yeah, 'cause it's very action-oriented. It's not like, how would I think or how would it be? Like what, what would someone, what are the decisions that person would make and how do I make those decisions?

Kathy A.: And that's a perfect example. So it might be what would my best self do if I was leading with integrity, how would I answer this? Who is the person I'm becoming? How would they deal with this? So that might be your tool. I'm going to ask those three questions. Before three decisions this week, that might be simply right. I'm going to use that self-reflection tool to manage what's going on.

Cindy W.: I love that. I love this conversation and I love talking to you, Kathy.

So we have this sort of 90-day goal setting and learning curriculum that presumably we rinse and repeat every 90 days. Is there any, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you think is integral to that process? Because we've covered a lot in a short period of time. But yeah. What else do you want to add to that?

Kathy A.: I think the last thing I'd want to say is, I think a lot of what we're talking about people will think of as soft skills. And they're actually critical skills. And that's what I say. As you advance in leaders, leadership, these are the things you need to learn. You've learned the basic skills of your organization or your sector or whatever you do now it's time to develop that inner growth and. There, aren't a lot of, there, you can go to university and take that next level leadership course, but if you don't have time for that, or don't want to do that, this is how you have to do it. You have to really look at what your own stuff is and where you want to go and how you want to develop that. And we're all different. And that's why I say create your own personalized curriculum. This isn't the flavor of the month or everybody's, isn't going to look the same. If I'm looking at emotional intelligence, I might learn it this way. You might learn in a whole different way. And so it's really going to say, this is about me becoming a better person and how do I do that? And if you want to call them soft skills, go for it. But I think they're critical skills.

Cindy W.: At it, for sure. I've, I have had that conversation many times, they used to work at a business school and that was the biggest factor that people try and identify when they're hiring and all that kind of stuff. It's the hardest to quantify, but it's the most critical to performance. But I also want to on that note talk, like maybe end off on the idea of professional development within organizations, because we know, especially for small org