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If you are a mission-driven, collaborative leader
looking to be adaptable and make wiser decisions faster,
you’re in the right place.

Let’s get clear

Nice to meet you! I am a dynamic strategist, bestselling author and world class facilitator who has served as a trusted advisor to hundreds of mission-driven organizations in Canada and internationally for the past 25 years. I bring intellect, enthusiasm and varied experience in strategy development and adaptability to my speaking, writing and mentoring. I am a skilled communicator, with a particular gift for helping leaders make wiser decisions faster. They appreciate my insight, enthusiasm and varied experience.

My focus is on energizing mission-driven CEOs, leadership teams and Boards by helping them increase their adaptability and clarity. Specifically, I offer keynote speaking, strategic planning facilitation, training in adaptable leadership, adaptability assessments and executive coaching. 

What’s new?

Wiser by Choice

Interested in a leadership book club where you don’t have to read the books? Join me for Wiser by Choice. Feed your curiosity and stay up-to-date on the latest business thinking from bestselling authors, without leaving home and without reading the books!

Winter session: January 20, February 17 and March 24

ELASTIC: Stretch without snapping

People have become used to feeling stretched. Where are you right now? On the verge of snapping? Being asked to snap back into a shape that doesn’t fit you anymore?

Join me on December 14 or January 10 at 12 p.m. ET for a FREE 45-minute conversation about the finding just the right level of stretch — and the learnable skills that can help us get there.

Thoughts

Elastics Snap Back…Sometimes

By definition, elastics snap back to their original shape. Until they don’t. Sometimes, stretched too far for too long, they simply remain limply in that extended state, unable to stretch much further, retain their previous shape or even meet a challenge in between. They’re done. 

Elastics Snap

Continuing our exploration of an elastic metaphor of wellbeing from last week: when pulled too far too fast, elastics snap. Moreover, as I was reminded by a friend last week, if they are already stretched tight, elastics are more vulnerable to stress. When stretched elastics get a nick in them, they are far more likely …

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Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside

Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside are longtime colleagues, first at Plasticity Labs and now at YMCA of Three Rivers where they lead YMCA WorkWell with a mandate to build healthier, thriving organizations. Jim Moss is the Leader of Community Development at YMCA WorkWell and is the former founder/CEO/Chief Happiness Officer at Plasticity and a former professional lacrosse player, while Dr. Dave Whiteside is the Director of Insights at YMCA WorkWell and YMCA of Three Rivers and the former Director of Research and Insights at Plasticity. Dave and Jim are unique among those profiled here as they are collaborators rather than clients. I regularly use their research in my work as it offers relevant, evidence-based, recent Canadian data.

Energy and elasticity

“I love the metaphor of elastics because, like us, an elastic can stretch and then, if it’s healthy, come back to its natural shape,” says Jim. “At the same time, an elastic just sitting on the counter has no purpose. An elastic needs to be engaged to be useful.”

“We are at our best when we’re not comfortable but not too uncomfortable, either,” says Dave. “You want your elastic band to be stretched just enough.”

For Jim, who sees energy as a kind of currency, a big question is: “Am I expending realistic energy in terms of efficiency so that there’s forward action on goals? How am I feeling at the end of the week—am I tired but looking forward to next week? Or am I sapped and not sure I want to do that again or not feeling like it was worth it?” In other words, are people’s elastics stretched too far or not enough.

Jim reflects on what YMCA WorkWell has observed about how organizations can help their people find the right amount of stretch. “In the work we do, we learn about how culture should provide an efficient structure for us to accomplish shared goals, giving us a good return on our energy investment. When culture is weak or inefficient, everyone has to work harder than they should to accomplish goals. If that continues, people burn out, spending more energy than they should.”

Depletion and burnout

“Today, there’s a very interesting macro-trend we’ve observed in the data and with our partners that I’ve never witnessed in the past,” says Dave. “Currently we’re seeing two groups of almost equal sizes in organizations. One group is incredibly burned out, has no energy at all and wants to have everything taken off their plates. The other half are people who are incredibly energized and raring to go. There are few people in the middle.”

The challenge of this split, Dave says, is, “Those who are burned out do not have the energy to match the energized group, and those with energy feel like they have to pull the others along.” Jim adds that the two groups can cause stress for each other and that people are still adjusting to this situation of imbalance. He also observes, “When you have clear role definitions on a team, you know how to play well together and you have a high level of trust that your teammates will do their job. If I start worrying about how you’re doing your job, it’s a distraction from me doing mine.”

There is also concern about those who are depleted. Dave says when people are depleted and lack energy, often they aren’t aware of how burned out they actually are. “We often talk about a ‘breakdown’, which makes it sound like one distinct moment but in reality, it’s often been a more progressive trend that they just didn’t have the self-awareness to see in time.”

How to recharge

“A rope has no elasticity at all. A fan belt is minimally elastic but when it breaks it’s catastrophic. Some polymers are almost endlessly elastic.” says Jim. “There are different kinds of elastics. Some people do great in a crisis because they thrive in that. Others do it if they have to but it’s more costly.” He notes we become more adaptive the more we focus on what we’re good at.

Dave adds an important caveat. “It’s important to make sure you’re elastic in work you really enjoy. You want to be stretched in work that matters to you, and that gives you more stretch.”

Sometimes, Jim observes, we have to “take a knee” before being able to come back healthier and excited about the work we do.

There’s also a role for organizations, Dave says: “We can tackle exhaustion that comes from cynicism and a sense of ineffectiveness by tapping into meaning. That energizes people. If people have a crystal-clear sense of priorities so they can do what matters most for them and their organization, that can be a really valuable source of energy.”

Jim adds that organizations can recharge their organizational energy in a variety of ways: a fast one is to bring in new talent, although this can result in dissonance on teams. He says, “Recharging after burnout is a slow process that takes time, so ideally you want people to be recharging before they burn out.”

Dave also observes that “COVID has been a kind of natural experiment that’s allowed us to know where we could stretch and where it’s not optimal.” Jim says, “Some have a growth mindset where they say, ‘Don’t waste a crisis,’ while others still want to retreat to safety.” The stretch has also changed people—Jim says, “I’m differently useful now. We might wish we were the elastic we were before, but we can do more if we embrace the elastic we are now.”

Managing energy

Jim observes that managers have been trained to manage in person and have strong data collection and analysis skills for in-person leadership. “There are more blind spots in managing remotely and we don’t yet have explicit tools to get the missing data because a lot of it was subconscious or instinctual.”

At the same time, that doesn’t mean managing remote or hybrid staff doesn’t work. Jim says, “It’s not because it can’t work, but because leaders aren’t doing what they need to make it work.” Dave returns to the metaphor of elasticity, saying, “Some leaders aren’t stretching enough and their personal elasticity is limiting the success of their group. They might half-heartedly embrace hybrid work, for example, while believing it won’t work, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But, Dave cautions, “This will expand the haves and the have nots. Those leaders and organizations doing hybrid for the right reasons and using the right tools and putting money behind it will end up with the top talent while those who are stuck in the old ways will be left with the leftovers.”

Emma Rogers 

Emma is the CEO of the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington. She is also the co-founder of Guelph Gives, a community charitable initiative to encourage civic philanthropy and business engagement. She formerly worked in private sector wealth management but migrated back to invest her strong leadership skills in the community sector. I have admired Emma’s energy and community commitment for many years and am pleased to be working with her on a new strategic plan.

Energy as currency: how do you get some?

“Energy has always been a form of currency but the past few years have really taught us the importance of it,” says Emma. “It’s the most valuable thing I can give someone, and vice versa.”

Emma says of herself, “I think of myself as adaptable and I thrive on innovation and new ideas. That energizes me. It’s also what drew me to the sector. I’m energized because I love what I do.  My work fuels me and gives passion and purpose to what I do and how I do it.”

She also believes that “Energy is contagious. There’s that old saying that people won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel. That’s energy. It’s what makes people willing to follow you into the unknown.”

At the same time, Emma says, it’s important for a leader to acknowledge when their own energy is depleted, and to be vulnerable enough to express that to their team and even their board. She says that, paradoxically, this is energizing to a team because it models authenticity so they can bring their true selves to the table, rather than spending energy trying to pretend to be thriving. It is true positivity and encouragement that makes people want to be part of such a team. 

“What energizes our team the most, though, is hearing individual stories of the children and youth who are impacted by our programs,” says Emma. “There’s a lot of demand and important needs in our sector but when we hear about a child with a full tummy or a youth with their first pair of shoes that no one else has worn before, that both shows us our energy has been well-invested and it energizes us to keep going.”

Elasticity helps impact

A conversation about energy quickly turns to burnout and compassion fatigue. “The majority of people in our sector, whether they are on the frontlines or not, are inundated with work right now. Our work got flipped at the start of the pandemic and we were all working far longer hours than we had before. I’m seeing significant burnout and compassion fatigue.” Additionally, Emma says, there are unexpected human demands: donor calls that might typically last five minutes are now taking an hour, sometimes because this is the first phone call a lonely donor has had in a month.

Further adding to this, Emma says, is the reality that the social good sector is devoted to making every dollar have a direct impact. “We tend to forget that those programs depend on our staff. I am a strong advocate for our staff and everyone in our sector to care for themselves. It’s a misunderstanding of the social good sector to focus solely on programs. I believe we need a change in mindset to say that it is a solid investment to care for team members and to allow them to care for themselves. If they are able to come to work as their best selves, they will be better at their jobs and then downstream a child will get a nutritious lunch and be able to participate and thrive at school and eventually go on to break the cycle of poverty and be a strong contributing member of community. This really starts with investing in a strong team and hiring enough staff.” 

 “It’s not just ‘feel good’ and ‘you should volunteer.’ We have a whole sector burning out because of limited and worn-out staff. To borrow the elasticity metaphor, at some point that elastic will snap.”

Emma works at leading by example—"Gone are the days of idolizing the workaholic on their laptop till midnight”—but is also developing a strong infrastructure and culture at her organization to support this. This includes a benefits program, counselling support, wellness days, and a culture club that plans fun team activities. These efforts are not pep rallies, Emma says, but strategic and compassionate ways to reduce burnout and increase engagement and retention. Her organization also has honest conversations with all staff and especially those experiencing burnout to find out what they need to be able to show up well at work. She also advocates for paying attention to the rhythms of work. “For us, December is a busy period, but January is slower so we take time in January to reenergize.”

Energy is a team sport

When Emma describes her team as incredible and explains how they work together, the word synergy comes to mind. “We have a culture where people are comfortable sharing ideas, and no idea is a bad one. We have regular check ins that help us know what team members are going through, and because we have strong communication and respect, the team knows we have each other’s backs.”

Emma is clear that the energy that comes from a team isn’t a question of extroversion or high physical energy, but rather a willingness to support one another, enjoy successes together, and to come up with ideas collaboratively.

Her favourite recent example of this occurred in March 2020. Before this, the organization had supported children in camps and school feeding programs, but when all of these closed along with schools, they had to alter their programming quickly. “As soon as our team knew kids were at home and didn’t have access to activities or food, without hesitation they began thinking outside the box, asking: what can we do to support these kids?” The team quickly switched their model to developing activity kits locally and found ways of getting food to local families. “It energized our community to see us think of creative solutions to support children and the economy—they said it gave them a sense of purpose at a time when we were all consumed with fear and anxiety.”

Emma believes this speaks highly to the character of the people on her team, noting that many skills can be taught as long as staff come to work with a growth mindset and a willingness to do whatever it takes. 

Mission directs energy

Energetic people can do whatever it takes—but they don’t simply do whatever. Emma says, “Staying within your mission and vision is best for the organization but it also protects that energy. Have the power to say no and give an opportunity to someone else whose vision better aligns with the opportunity. That’s how a strategic plan is good for everyone within the organization. Strategic planning also allows us to look back at what worked and what didn’t work so that we don’t try to simply go back to what was or keep doing what we’ve been doing but instead to bounce ahead.”