I have just finished my first full day at Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management, a weeklong course I am attending thanks to the largesse of the Harvard Business club of San Antonio. The course takes advantage of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, which has helped conceptualize and provide frameworks for understanding the different “business” of the nonprofit organization.
As might be expected, this effort has produced some pretty amazing outcomes at Harvard and here is a taste of what we can expect this week: FRAMEWORKS for Strategic Thinking; DESIGN thinking; Entrepreneurship; Leading Change; Scaling Impact, and working with Boards. The best things I got out of the introductory sessions last night:
- As we move from inputs to outcomes in our social mission, we move from auditable claims to aspirational claims. We need the latter because they are motivational, but they are a bear to quantify for donors.
- Nonprofits are three circles in a Venn diagram of MISSION; CAPACITY: and SUPPORT. The sweet spot where all three reside is generally small.
Many of the case studies we are looking at – and today they varied between the space shuttle Columbia, a hospital in Massachusetts, a training school in Pittsburgh and a call center in Israel – could be better understood by following these two frameworks.
Frameworks are important.
My biggest takeaway today involved the greatest challenge a leader is faced with: going against human nature. Our natural human impulse is to seek certainty, affirmation and conformity. What a leader needs goes against our nature: ambiguity, dissent and a process to make the right decisions. It is a questioning, uncomfortable process of constant examination.
My second takeaway is that leadership is, in fact, a process, not a person. It is the process of bringing a new unwelcome reality to an organization and helping them adapt to it. This has brought me back to thinking about strategic planning and the many Board roles I have occupied in my life, and even this blog from three years ago, which references those earlier ones and focuses on the nature of my field – heritage conservation.
Interestingly, I am one of only two people in heritage conservation – and one of only a couple from the South, out of 161 participants from five continents. And I am very fortunate indeed to be here. More soon.