Balancing Passion with Math

     Having led and mentored a number of  non-profit entities and as well as entrepreneurial for-profit ventures there is a common thread I see that interferes with our ability to become adaptable, sustainable and innovative in the new global economy.  It is simply the balance of our passions with the algorithms and math required for continued existence.

     From the age of five I have always been passionate about reading. I will freely admit that entering Grand Valley State at age 17 majoring in improvisational theater and broadcasting that my passions mainly centered around self.  America in particular has an obsession, even a disease with self, which is not an excuse for any one individual's behavior or my own.  When I was a child . . .  It may be in part why Dutch Social Psychologist Geert Hofstede added indulgence versus restraint as a sixth dimension in measures of culture after many years with just five dimensions.

     As I became an adult several years later thanks in part to my wife and the birth of children, those passions became family and community. A passion for Christ was re-awakened as well.  Having an abnormally high sense of injustice though my passions during a number of organizational community leadership positions around the turn of the century led to two problems:  A lack of control over the appropriateness and timing of what came off the tongue; and a blinded focus on overcoming perceived injustice and community impact which neglected other areas of organizational governance.  Fortunately we've all been given brains that can continue to change and learn as long as we live, breath and exercise regularly.

     In a number of meetings and phone conversations with non-profit leaders recently as well I continue to see some of those same issues.  Requiring my graduate students in Organizational Leadership to work with local organizations we often see two main types of boards:  Completely passionate with little fiscal expertise or lots of expertise and no passion.  There is a third leg often missing from that stool as well in effective training of board members in governance, values, responsibilities and expectations.

From Management Reset by Lawler, Worley & Creelman
     The two most recent organizations I've been asked to advise have different missions but similar obstacles.  After much listening a number of questions each faces one of the most common failures of non-profits who often consider their "client" to be those segments of society for whom they perform some service.  The most important client for any non-profit is the donor, whether individual, organizational or governmental.  If you're not taking take care of the donors and meeting their needs as your primary customer, you wont' have the funds to fulfill the mission of the organization.  End of discussion and eventual death of the entity.  Given the global fiscal difficulties understanding this is crucial.  That also doesn't mean that we chase finances to gain funding for things that fall outside of our mission, vision and values.  That also leads to failure.

     If we push too far into organizational efficiencies like TQM, Six Sigma and Lean we diminish the individual and group passion that drives us to go beyond the difficult norms many firms face today to create a more equitable and profitable future.  If our passions overwhelm our sense of responsibility to the mission of the organization and strong governance we'll hinder individual and organizational development and may run ourselves out of business.  I don't have a problem with efficiency and spend a lot of time helping others improve customer service levels.  Balance is what's required though for individual and organizational sustainability. That's one of the reasons that leaders such as Google and Microsoft don't expect their employees to be devoting 100% of their time to their specific jobs, and more organizations are including exercise opportunities into the work day.  To achieve a healthier work life balance (another of Hofstede's measures).

    We must do the same with the organizations that serve to improve the quality of life in health and education to provide for the crucial services that teach others to develop. Beyond just giving them something to eat for the day or teaching them to memorize facts and figures for Friday's test that they can't remember the next week.  After all, as the U.S. Supreme Court so wisely ruled, "corporations are people too, my friend," which means organizations have the ability to change as well (they always did). Self-analysis and change are messy and complicated whether as individuals or organizations. Yet if we haven't started with self-development and set the example, how can we expect followers and other stakeholders, and thus the organization as a whole, to do so?

     Today is as good a day as any to run the passion versus math scale and see where we are.  If we don't know there's an imbalance, the cliff drop given the changes to global finance as well as state and federal funders, isn't that far away.  Finding one's passion for life and humanity is the focus of Wofford College President Ben Dunlap below.  Finance, Lean and governance can be taught and we're never too young to learn.

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