Sunday, August 2, 2009

Conference Workshop: Overcoming Internal Obstacles to Success, Part II

I'm finally getting back to the No Kill Conference 2009 and finishing up my summary of the best workshop I attended, which was called Overcoming Internal Obstacles to Success. From what I have seen, most of the obstacles to shelter success are internal, and the way forward to pushing through these obstacles is right in the hands of that shelter's leadership ... mainly the shelter's director.

Still, the ultimate responsibility goes higher than that. This director is a hired person. In a privately run shelter, the non-profit's board of directors hires the executive director, and they are ultimately responsible for this person's performance. In a municipal shelter such as our own, it is our City and County leaders who hire the executive director and are responsible for the way the shelter runs. In our particular case, a shelter oversight board was formed that consists of three representatives from City government, three representatives from County government, and two non-voting members -- the City manager and the County manager. This board appointed a chairman of the board, but it does not assign officer roles similar to those of a non-profit board.

The board's agent-in-charge at the shelter facility is their executive director. That role is of utmost importance. The tone and leadership set by this person permeates down through the rest of the employees and then to the public this facility serves.

At the No Kill Conference 2009, we had the luck to hear presentations by this nation's top executive directors, and one of these is Bonney Brown from the Nevada Humane Society (NHS). She came to NHS from Best Friends, and she brought all that positive energy with her. She is also an avid reader of management books and gives leadership much of her time and effort. Her slide presentation on overcoming internal obstacles included lots of great quotes such as this:

"I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a 'transformer' in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader." -- Stephen R. Covey

Leaders like Brown overcome adversity and obstacles by working hard at doing so and trying their best to always remain calm, professional, and courteous and keep their personal feelings out of the equation. That is not an easy feat, but she offers some tricks of the trade to help others accomplish this.

She said it starts with acknowledging some basic things. You have no control over others, yet the way you respond to others is important, and self-control is a must. Being defensive in the face of criticism gets you nowhere, no matter who is offering that criticism. It is best to ask lots of questions, ask the person for advice and what they'd do, and then reflect that back. Focus on the content, not emotion or feelings. That said, it is important to empathize with the person. Thank them if you can, and assume sincerity on their part (even if you suspect they may be lying or being malicious). Look for the common ground.

If you did mess up, offer a sincere apology and explain how you'll address the situation differently in the future or how you'll address the situation with your staff. Take ownership and responsibility. You can then ask the person to let you give or offer your view of the content. Look for what will make it better.

In the face of very angry or negative energy, try your best to stop it and redirect that energy into a more calm and positive place. Never give angry or negative energy in return. Being calm yourself will help calm the whole situation down. Demonstrate goodwill by really listening and talking less (especially at first). This is a very preventative measure as well. You never want to let a conversation escalate into an argument; this does not make you look like a positive leader to anyone -- that person, your staff, or anyone else that is around.

Whatever the resolution is of the original content, share your plan. Share success and congratulate the person or persons who are part of the success.

Most important is this bottom line for any shelter leader wanting to turn things around: