Stop Sign: Lack of Belief in Each Other

If this is the sector that was supposed to change the world, how come the world isn’t dramatically different? What’s stopping the sector from reaching its considerable potential to create significant, visionary improvement in our communities?

This series is all about the stumbling blocks we have found – Stop Signs along the road to creating an amazing future for our communities and our world. (To see other Stop Signs in this series, just click here.)

Last week’s Stop Sign was about what happens when we don’t believe it is possible to create more significant change in our communities and our world.

This week, I have been reminded of a related stumbling block: what happens when we don’t believe in each other. And if we acknowledge that one of the critical components of creating a better future is that we link arms and work together, believing in each other could come in quite handy!

STOP Sign: Lack of Belief in Each Other
There have been several instances this week that have reminded me how important it is that we believe in each other, and how often we forget to do that!

One of these incidents was a conversation with a fellow consultant in the Community Benefit Sector.* Because our approach to governance has been evolving over the years, she asked about our current thinking. I told her we have realized there is a ton of stuff out there on the mechanics of being a board member – classes on fiduciary obligation, on the interaction between board and staff, and etc.

But what we have found is that no one is teaching boards the piece that will ensure they have what it takes to create amazing communities: How to hold themselves and their organizations accountable for creating that very impact! I told her that our focus these days is on teaching boards how to govern their organizations towards making a considerable difference.

Her response was exasperation. “They can’t do what they’re doing now, and you want them to do more?”

Another incident involved boards as well. It was a thoughtful conversation with individuals from an organization dedicated to the assumption that every single child is capable of success. Watching the amazing things their organization had been doing with the very kids our society tends to write off was energizing!

However, when the discussion turned to their local boards, these advocates of every child’s possibilities voiced the same frustrations as my consultant friend:  “Some boards just don’t want to learn.”

We have had similar encounters with funders this week as well, talking about their grantees as if they had funded the lesser of evils, rather than enthusiastically supported community change. And I know I have shared here and elsewhere the story of the leader of a nonprofit resource center who told me she needed me to come bash some heads together in her community, because, “We have had workshop after workshop, and the organizations in our community refuse to change!”

So here’s what I’m wondering about the Stop Sign this week. We believe so fervently in our clients – in the people whose lives we know in our hearts can be changed for the better. What would the impact be if we believed in each other that much?

If we start believing that boards are capable of learning and changing and leading amazing organizations; and we make the assumption not only that that is what we want all boards to be, but that that is what THEY want to be, what might happen, all because we firmly and enthusiastically believe in their ability to be the change they want to see?

If funders believed so fervently in their grantees’ ability to change the world, how might they work more closely with those efforts, to ensure that success? And if nonprofit resource centers believed in their community organizations’ ability to create significant change in their communities, might they perhaps teach different subjects? Might they encourage, and convene, and engage leaders, rather than talking down to them (and talking trash about them) and then offering more of the same workshops that haven’t worked in the past?

And while it’s easy to default to considering the way funders think of their grantees, here’s one: Grantees, do you believe in your funders? Do you believe they want the very very best for your community? How about your government contracts – do you believe those in control of those contracts want the very best for your community? What might happen if you engaged and encouraged them?

We all know the difference it makes in our own lives when we know there is even just one other person who believes in us. Education program after education program has shown the almost immediate impact on kids when the adults around them show they believe in them – and Hollywood just eats that up, with movies like Stand and Deliver, and OT Our Town.

The power we have to believe in each other is infinite. The effect is incredible. Every day we see what happens when we believe in our clients. Now let’s see what happens when we start to believe in each other.

* Curious about our use of the term “Community Benefit Sector?” Click here to learn more.

2 Responses to Stop Sign: Lack of Belief in Each Other

  1. Hildy,

    BRAVO! Just like your article on Impossible Beliefs, I fully appreciate the sentiments in this article.

    In the scope of my experience I would fully agree that releasing the foundational belief that we truly do not trust and believe in each other has been a challenge for our industry.

    In fact, I venture to comment (from a place that is as personal as it is professional) that our industry does not exclusively hold the rights to perpetuating this way of being!

    That said, I do know that it is work like what you and I are doing which is shining a light toward other possibilities. And one by one, others who are looking for that light are finding us (much like we found each other) and ARE joining in!

    I guess a question I keep coming back to though, which I repeatedly use for myself as a thermometer is… What is my/our motivation? In other words, I find myself challenged to not only examine “what” I am doing, but “why” I am doing it.

    I’m not usually one to get into the “why” questions much because they only wind up being crazy-making questions that lead backwards instead of forwards… And I don’t necessarily believe that everything that takes you back, leads you forward.

    But in this case, I believe there is value in asking ourselves “why” this topic is even an issue at all.

    If I may speak candidly, we can say that our motivation is about the bigger picture (mission, vision, values), and the impact we want to have in the community vs. just building a better organization to survive in the marketplace. And I have no doubt that you and I fall into that camp sincerely, and from a place of complete passion and integrity.

    But at the crux, whether we are talking about the perspectives and beliefs of Coaches, Consultants, Funders, Resource Centres or Community Benefit Organizations (CBO’s), if we’re honest about the core belief that is simultaneously and jointly in operation, the one which circumvents all of our best intentions, at the core, it is about our motivation to “change” “the other guy”.

    Think about it… How do you respond when someone presents themselves to you from the get go as wanting to change you? Because in their eyes, you just “don’t want to learn” or “refuse to change”? Because no matter how you slice it, that is what we’ve been communicating with each other…

    The Boards and Staff of CBO’s want the industry to fundamentally change, and the Consultants, Resource Centres and Funders want the CBO’s to change…

    There’s so much finger pointing around what we need the other guy to “do” first… the question is, who is going to see that when you point a finger there are three pointing back, and take responsibility for who we are “being” in the “now”?

    There is a key distinction at play here… May I suggest that it’s less about starting to believe what boards are capable of learning, and changing into – a “doing” orientation… and more about (as you touched on) firmly and enthusiastically believing in their/our ability to, as Mahatma Ghandi said “… BE THE CHANGE we wish to see in the world” – and not just in the future, but as they are perfectly, NOW?

    Hildy, you said “We all know the difference it makes in our own lives when we know there is even just one other person who believes in us”. And you cited movies around adults believing in children and how the public “eats that up”…

    As much as we want to “hold the space of possibilities” for others to enter into, much like we do for a child (and, I might add, aren’t as quick to do with adults or especially organizations), what makes that space safe and appealing enough for ALL OF US to enter into, ultimately comes down to releasing the judgement…

    On who we have been, and perhaps more specifically and importantly…

    On how much we have given that history unconditional and undisputed power to dictate who we are being now, and who we have yet to be.

    The question that begs to be answered then is – “how” do we do that? And at risk of playing too much on your Hollywood example, let’s go there…

    It is about getting excited about who we are being NOW. Asking ourselves what gives us satisfaction and joy NOW? And what can we do NOW, WITH the vision, skills and relationships we have at our disposal which assist us to create the future we are living into, TODAY?

    It’s a both/and again, not an either/or… As much about releasing what isn’t serving us as identifying and creating what we want instead. It’s about living with a vision into the future, and living it today…

    And that can manifest in a variety of ways from participating more closely in each other’s work, to learning and teaching different subjects – as you phrased it, taking on the role of encouraging, convening, and engaging each other as leaders rather than talking each other down and talking trash about each other.

    I for one look forward to working with you as a colleague toward this possibility. And to assist others to see for themselves, if that is what they choose to see and be, that such a “happy ending” truly IS possible!

    In Spirit,
    Tracey Sisson
    Licensed Belief Re-patterningTM Practitioner
    Calgary, AB Canada

  2. Wow, Tracey. Please keep pushing pushing pushing at the envelope! As you note, when there is this much finger-pointing going on, it is an indication of one of the prime assumptions of the work we are doing at the Institute – the assumption that “Systems fail before individuals fail.”

    The answer is, in all its simplicity and all its complexity, that we change the system. Should be a snap, no? 🙂 But seriously, changing the system is possible, simply because it is not impossible. That is what the Institute is working to do, and that is why I am so pleased to have you on board for the ride!