Leadership Lessons from Episode 3 of Game of Thrones

***May include spoilers

I am still on an incredible high from last night’s Game of Thrones episode. Knowing that some of my favorite characters lived to fight another day brings me great comfort however I would like a full survivors list in order to confirm.

The survival of humanity was in large part due to the #WomenofWinterfell. Arya is clearly the MVP and Lady Mormont should get employee of the year at the very least.

What many of us witnessed last night was a master class in leadership. Here are a few leadership takeaways.

  1. Leaders lead with or without a title
    It goes without saying that Jon is reluctant to embrace an official title but most of the warriors on that battlefield fight because of Jon Snow. Tormund and the Night’s Watch have willingly served under Jon Snow because he demonstrates his willingness to stand up for them and leads with integrity. Whether Jon takes the Iron Throne or not, his ability to mobilize people is undeniable.
  2. Leaders inspire other leaders and breed loyalty
    In addition to Arya’s epic moment during episode three, her willingness to fight to the end lit a fire under the Hound. When he was paralyzed with fear, seeing her continue to push inspired him to rejoin the fight. The Hound’s crisis of confidence (mixed with a little PTSD about fire) almost took a very needed warrior out of the struggle. People work harder for good leaders who demonstrate the behavior that is desired.
  3. Leaders cultivate other leaders
    The #WinterfellWarriors had an advantage over the Night King and his army of White Walkers and wights. Leadership in the Night King’s operation is centralized at the top. He and the White Walkers are the thinkers. The wights rise, fight, and fall based on what he instructs them to do. They have one or two thinkers.
    Winterfell however, had a common goal but multiple leaders working to achieve it. They were able to think independently and mobilize their teams as the situation changed. They were agile and able to collaborate to achieve a big goal. Successful organizations encourage thought leadership at all levels and encourage responsibility for overall success.
  4. Leaders identify gaps and help to increase team capacity
    Melisandre or the Red Women is a mystery to me. I am not sure if she is a good witch or bad witch however, during episode three, she was a leader. Her role was to build the capacity of the warriors. She sensed their needs and provided them with fire for their swords. By the way, being in the first wave of a battle formation is really a bad idea no matter how magical your swords seem. She also reminded the MVP of the night of her power and what she was meant to accomplish. Melisandre was not slaying wights but she kept that team viable and ultimately successful which is an essential part of leadership.

Simple Resolutions for Managers

New Year Be Awesome

It’s inevitable. The Monday after a holiday break and the struggle begins. You’re faced with all the professional challenges you tried to forget, or at least drown in a variety of feasts, parties, and slothfulness.

On top of returning to work, you are trying to focus on sticking to all of the personal resolutions you made for yourself. Between fitness and weight loss resolutions, living life to the fullest, and developing an artificial intelligence system that can control your home (these are seriously some of the top resolutions of 2016 according to Twitter and Google), you have little or no time to make resolutions specific to your role as a manager.

That’s where I can help.

Here are some fairly simple, easy to implement ideas for 2016. The best part is that these are not activities you simply resolve to do, they actually can be done.

1. Meet with your team to discuss goals they have set for themselves. If they have none, help them set a few. This method demonstrates an investment in the individual and can help to make future performance discussions slightly less tense. It is a great opportunity to set your staff on the path to achieving individual and team performance goals.

2. Commit to having a different team member lead staff meetings in the New Year. Let them develop the agenda and facilitate the meeting. This takes some of the pressure off you and shows that leadership isn’t entirely “top down”.

3. Launch a simple 360 Assessment for yourself. This one can be tricky because soliciting feedback means you have to be ready to accept it. If you develop your own questionnaire, however, you can focus on specific areas you want to assess or improve. This process shows a commitment to your personal development and allows your staff an opportunity to be heard.

Let the New Year serve as a chance to assess and set the course for who you want to be in the workplace. Are you a manager, coach, or leader? Make 2016 the year you decide to be all three!

Explaining my time at Boy Scout camp

IMG_6356Last week was interesting. I spent much of my time at a Boy Scout camp in New Mexico and returned to the DC area to lead a public lands day event on a military installation in MD.

As a woman who’s well into her 30’s, I got a lot of questions about why I spent four days at Boy Scout camp.

“It’s work” did not sufficiently lower the questioning eyebrows.

In trying to explain this trip and other trips and events I’ve been privileged to participate in, I took a step back to think about how to clarify the programmatic work I’ve done over the years.

How do you describe what it means to be a program leader for a nonprofit? I wish it were like being an X-Man and I could name one “special” power, but the reality is, the role of lead program officer means you have your hands in a little bit of everything.

I think what I experienced last week provides a good illustration of what leading programs entails. Below are a few categories I came up with that begin to answer the question “Why were you at Boy Scout camp?”

Project Management
This element always causes confusion. People typically think technology when they hear project management but I assure you any good program manager understands the need to establish program goals, identify milestones and available resources, and establish timelines.

The fantastic thing about project management within a small to medium size nonprofit is that developing and managing project plans has to be done without all of the software available to IT project managers. In many cases, it is just me my trusty Excel spreadsheet and my much-beloved whiteboard.

Event Management
This is way more than finding a fancy venue for an awards ceremony. Managing events for a program is everything from soliciting volunteers and donations to popping tents up in the wee hours of the morning, and of course writing talking points for the Army Colonel to use when preparing his remarks.

I will say that aspect of managing programs has allowed me to be very creative and challenged me in ways that I can only be grateful for now. Three years ago, I was working with a film crew to produce a video for a program launch. Somehow it became my job to develop the storyboard for the video and work with Bob Dole’s team to schedule his appearance in the video.

Budget Management
This is an important part of project management but I call it out as a stand-alone because developing the budget for the program and supporting elements is only a first step.

A good program manager makes sure that the team is aware of the total budget and what financial resources are available for their specific parts of the project. A good program manager is reviewing and monitoring expenditures regularly and managing overages, gaps, and the unicorn situation of underspending.

People/Team Management
No one manages a program by themselves. Program leaders must be able to lead and communicate with small to large teams. You should know when to impanel an ad hoc committee when necessary and delegate to other team members without losing control of the project.

Finally, leading programs also puts you in the position to promote the organization. In so many cases, an organization’s programs are so deeply linked to many nonprofits mission, vision, and overall financial health.

Cheers to all the program leaders who perform in all the areas mentioned above and beyond.

New Year, Old Program-Tips for Program Managers

Program Management

It’s January; time to muster excitement for that program or project you inherited. It’s not a bad program. The people who work on the project are okay.  The problem is that this program has been with the organization since the beginning of time (or so it seems).

It runs smoothly and has good participation, but why would you want to go in and simply follow the steps laid out by the many predecessors before you? You want to make the program your own without discounting all of the great work that made it a “good” program.

But how?! It is established and no one within the organization is asking any questions.

You can gain some ownership over an inherited program and look for opportunities to update and refresh something that is not broken.

Here are a few strategies that can help.

  1. Host a kick off session. It is easy to assume that because a program has been with an organization for years, everyone within the organization understands what the purpose of the program is and how it operates. That is simply not true. Use this kick off session as an opportunity to gauge the organization’s understanding of the program. This opens the door for questions and allows you and your team an opportunity to resolve misconceptions about the program. If staff are confused about certain elements, I guarantee you the community you serve has some of the same questions.
  1. Assess the program’s alignment with the organizations’ goals, mission, and vision. A flagship program that runs well can be a blessing and a curse. It is great that it is not an issue but it may not have grown or evolved with the organization.  Assessing alignment can help you create an action plan for the next program year.
  1. Discuss evaluation throughout the program-planning phase. Evaluating a program should never be an afterthought and must be more than an obligatory, online survey sent to program participants.  Convene a group of staff to discuss evaluation during the preparation stage and task them with leading regular discussions around program evaluation.

You are good at what you do. Do not let an inherited or established program change your approach.