Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Riding the Elephant


Riding the Elephant

A Guide for Leading a Non-profit

“An emotionally intelligent rider knows how to distract and coax the elephant without having to engage in a contest of wills.”

Nate Klarfeld


Since leaving the position of Board Chair for the Stonewall Library & Archives I have been deluged with many local and national non-profit leaders and paid staff asking me for advice. Through blessed volunteers, a stellar new executive director and development manager, luck, and some very hard work, during my administration The Stonewall became a national GLBT treasure with innovative national touring exhibitions in a new home in a publicly supported space. During some of the most trying economic times we raised through public and private donations an unheard of $700,000.00 in less than two years while maintaining a program of over 20 programs a month, organizing touring exhibitions, and sponsoring a national festival of GLBT writers.

OK, now my arm is sore from patting myself on the back. The truth is a Board Chair’s accomplishments are dependent on his volunteer board, the paid staff, the planetary alignment of governmental support, and his or hers willingness to what I call “Ride the Elephant.”

Human thinking depends on metaphors. We understand new or complex things in relation to our understanding of something we already know.

This metaphor of riding an elephant came to me a year or so after I left my term limited tenure at The Stonewall. I had already had lunch, dinner, walks, late night conversations with no less than eight different executive directors, presidents of boards, and disgruntled donors of various non profits both straight and gay. I looked back at my experiences and while watching TV one night, I saw a man riding an elephant and suddenly the parallels popped out.

If you try and ride an elephant you quickly learn that you can’t make it do what it doesn’t want to do. The rider can pull the reigns, scream, prod the lovely beast, but ultimately you will end up with a disgruntled animal and a worn out rider. The first thing the rider of the elephant must know is 1) He or she can see things from a little bit higher perspective than the elephant 2) He or she can talk to other elephant riders 3) He or she can read maps. That about sums up the skills of a Board Chair of non profits. If you try to make the elephant do something it does not want to do…YOU WILL ALWAYS LOSE.

In riding the elephant you and the elephant both learn to adapt. An elephant can achieve more tasks and move more cargo with a good rider who helps the elephant make better choices. Gently coaxing the elephant in your desired direction with immediate and relevant positive reinforcement will benefit both rider and elephant. An emotionally intelligent rider knows how to distract and coax the elephant without having to engage in a contest of wills.

The rider cannot decide to change and then order the elephant to go along with the program. Remember that if you go head to head with the elephant you will always lose. Lasting change comes from advising, listening, observing the jungle before starting out on the journey.

In the end, both you and the elephant will be better for the relationship.

Have a peaceful week

Nate Klarfeld

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Power of Intention




The Power of Intention

How powerful are our minds? One of the clich├ęs of the 1960’s was that we only use ten percent of our brain power. Fifty years later we have psychoneuroimmunology, metaphysical studies by MIT engineers that prove we have power over inanimate objects, and even Oprah tells us The Secret is believe it and you can achieve it.

But can we? If someone sweet and kind dies of cancer do we now quietly accuse them of not having a positive attitude? When a business fails, a real estate deal goes sour, or a love affair doesn’t blossom, we have a new tendency to blame the victim in a pernicious and indefensible way; He or she just didn’t have the right attitude about it. They didn’t keep positive energy up. The danger in this new instant judgment is that most of the time it is not only wrong, but it hurts. Shit happens people! And it’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react to it that makes you a valuable person.

I do believe that your self-talk, self-image, behavior feedback system does affect your day to day outcomes. If you wake up and tell yourself you are ugly/fat/lazy you will look in the mirror and ‘see’ yourself that way. Your behavior; slouched shoulders, bad food choices (why bother?), attitudes towards others all play into this feedback system. The power to change lies in the power of intention. Do you really want to change? Or are you getting enough support from yourself and others around you NOT to change. Are all of your friends underemployed, in toxic or non existing relationships? Chances are you will find this your new equilibrium and new normal. The longer you stay with this circle of bad self-talk, poor self-image, repetitive bad behavior, the more people with like minds you will attract and you begin to live in this well of misery loves company…and you get a lot of both.

I recently finished the P90X home fitness routine. I found it a bit boring, but stayed with it for the 90 days. The results were great. My body looks and feels years younger. I loaned the program to a few friends, neither of whom ever opened the box. They saw my results, knew it only took 45 minutes a day, and I gave it to them FREE! Two other friends ordered the program (a couple of hundred dollars with the equipment) and have committed themselves to the project. What’s the difference? Are the two friends I loaned the program to lazy? Not really? But in giving it to them free, there was no commitment, they had nothing to lose, so they lost nothing. We are all afraid of loss. Every time we enter into a transaction we lose something in order to gain something. It could be money, time, love, etc. The intention of giving something (money) creates a new power in our minds so that we want to get something in return. (By the way the two friends that didn’t open the program said they would join a gym because they needed people around them, so far they are still ‘looking’ for the right gym)

There is nothing out there new, just new ways of looking at them.

Have a peaceful week

Nate Klarfeld