Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Kate Barr is one of the stars in the firmament of nonprofit organizations in Minnesota – or, anywhere, for that matter. I have known her for years, first for her appreciation of the arts, particularly dance, but also for her stellar leadership of the Nonprofits Assistance Fund. As a former senior banker, Kate is versed in the "can't-argue-with-certain-basics" that should underpin all nonprofit organizations. Her background has given her expertise in how to use the tools of finance and good management to make things happen and get things done.

I wish often that I could channel Kate's wisdom which she shares periodically and succinctly in her blog. The best I can do is link to her posts in the column to the left. Her latest offering, "Who Said Leadership Was Fun?" sums up a great deal in a small space. Some excerpts:

The Minnesota Council on Foundations invited Judith Alnes from MAP for Nonprofits and me to contribute an article for their current issue of Giving Forum.... When I read the article in print today, this statement in the conclusion really jumped out for me:

Those of us in leadership roles should remember that this time will be judged by the actions we take or the actions we fail to take.

That’s a lot of weight being carried by leaders of nonprofits....

Sometimes, being a leader requires you to take responsibility for tough problems and be held accountable for the results.... If you’re the one who has to stare at the budget column or read the letter informing you of a funding reduction you know what this feels like....

This is a time to learn a new leadership approach or adapt well developed leadership practices. I have some ideas about what needs to change and I hope that you will weigh in as well.... [Read the whole post.]

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My two cents: Who was it that said “Know thyself”? This seems particularly necessary in a time when so many organizations are dealing with existential issues and fighting/hoping for survival. When we cannot change the world, we only can change our perceptions of and reactions to it. I always have found that when I make myself vulnerable and open to the worst possible outcome I find great strength and energy. Still, it can be challenging to maintain a posture of openness in the presence of inertia or the absence of reciprocity. One needs an immersion and grounding in the realities of his/her organization’s “numbers” and in the limits of one’s individual capabilities, knowing at all times what is the bottom line. With and without other people, I ask two questions: What is the worst thing that could happen? If it happened, can I live with that? If the answer to the second question is “yes,” then anything short of the worst is a gift, and I can live with it. GP

1 comment:

Kate Barr said...

Firstly, thanks for such generous compliments. I will sing of your talents and gifts in return. Your two cents add a lot - to me they boil down to courageous leadership. This is the time, but it won't be easy. I've recently been seeing the pain and toll of isolation felt by many nonprofit directors. For those who are stepping forward to ask the really hard questions about expenses, core assumptions, and survival, it can be really lonely. I know that you and others can send messages of camaraderie and hospitality.