Mars Lang is my business partner, and she also plays any number of indispensable roles within sea change, including serving as our in-house organizational leadership guru. Following is her very first blog post, but hopefully the first of many.

Compelling reading!

While catching up on my neglected professional journals I came a cross a particularly good issue of the Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2007. It has three articles in it that are highly relevant for non-profits. The first is “The Four Truths of the Storyteller” by Peter Guber, where he clearly lays out four important qualities that all stories should have, in order to lead, inspire, convince and educate. He talks primarily about oral story telling but the “truths” equally apply to writing. It is a useful frame to use when thinking about your next newsletter, action alert, or fundraising e-mail.

The next article is “Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box” by Kevin P. Coyne, Patricia Gorman Clifford and Renee Dye. The title of the article almost made me skip it as I have an inherent mistrust of brainstorming, I usually find the process tedious. Fortunately they address just that concern in the article. The article gives step-by-step instructions on how to structure creative sessions in such a way that innovative and useful ideas are generated, while getting everyone to participate, not just the noisy few. I intend to try it out our next staff retreat and I will let you know how it goes.

The third article is about the under recognized roles that followers play in organizations. “What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers”, by Barbara Kellerman, focuses on employees in large corporations, but much of what she has to say can be equally applied to a non-profit’s e-mail list. She breaks followers up into five groups based on their level of engagement. The scale ranges from “feeling and doing absolutely nothing” to “being passionately committed and deeply involved” and the categories that she breaks out are: “isolates, bystanders, participants, activists and diehards”. Each group has their strengths and weaknesses and it might be a useful exercise to look at your e-mail list through that lens and develop a communication strategy that is appropriate for each segment. Say for instance, try to reactivate your non-openers who could be thought of as your isolates, or getting your openers but non-action takers to actually take an action, roughly the equivalent of what she calls bystanders. Then most of all don’t alienate your diehards, through neglect or tone deaf messaging. These are the followers who passionately care enough to use their internet powered megaphone to shout, and it is your job to make sure that they are shouting the right thing.