Virtual Administration

Empty office

An all-volunteer nonprofit or with only one employee has many administrative challenges. How do we share information; e.g., calendar, schedules, assignments, rosters, documents, policies, procedures, etc? Sharing by e-mail becomes cumbersome. How do I know I have the latest version? How do I keep track of my official messages among my personal?

There are options, some better than others.

One option is a shared cloud drive such as Dropbox or Google Drive provides a place to store documents. It is easy to create an account. However, it requires planning a file management structure and document naming conventions that all users would recognize. It also requires planning and administration regarding document reliability; e.g., access to edit a document. In addition, some information such a calendar or a roster, which should be quickly accessible, requires finding the document and clicking or downloading to open.

A more robust option is to create a secure extranet site limited to registered users. The website could be designed to provide quick menu links to calendars, rosters, notifications, newsletters, policies, procedures, agenda, minutes, etc. to the nonprofit’s board of directors, volunteers, staff, etc. For example, one click on an option in the extranet menu could open the organization calendar, another link could filter the volunteers calendar.

WordPress and its plugins provide significant flexibility to design and develop an extranet site that meets the information needs of the nonprofit.


I have been involved in implementing corporate-wide information systems, logistics management, and strategic planning. The one truth in participating in or managing a project regardless of size and complexity is, the devil is in the details.

Project management skills and tools are necessary to manage a project from the broadest scope to the infinitesimal detail. Why do I keep being unpleasantly surprised when dealing with vendors and others, who should be practicing the simplest form of project management and do not? Sometimes it’s the simplest thing, like not tracking or following up on an order that should have been received days ago. Other times it’s something larger like not understanding a user’s request for a list of steps that need to be completed before a system can go live.

Project management does not require producing PERT or Gantt charts. It does not require flow charts or mind maps. Basic project management requires understanding the full scope of the work; the knowledge and skills required; the resources: human, tools and finances required; and the time frame and schedule.

The project manager can use any tool or technique to plan, organize, monitor, and control the project. The appropriate tool or technique depends upon scope and complexity, as well as the project manager’s familiarity with the technique.

In the case of the simplest issue of tracking an order, an annotation on a calendar to follow up on receipt of an order might have been sufficient to monitor completion of the task.

In the case of the request for information about implementation, a list of phases, tasks and time frame would be sufficient. The lack of that information hinders the user from preparing a workload plan by not providing an understanding of the full scope of implementation work, knowledge and skills, resources, and time frame and schedule required.

Execution without planning, monitoring, and controlling can produce results – but not necessarily the intended results at the intended time and not necessarily effectively and efficiently.

“If you are succeeding in everything you do, then you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough. And that means you’re not taking enough risks. You risk because you have something of value you want to achieve.” (John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward)

On the other hand,

The planning fallacy, “[i]n its grip, managers make decisions based on delusional optimism rather than on rational weighting of gains, losses, and probabilities.”  (Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman, Delusions of Success: How Optimism Undermines Executive’s Decisions, Harvard Business Review, July 2003)

Planning fallacy is not limited to cost overruns, errors in timelines, loss of shareholder value.  Planning fallacy can also result in loss of lives, as in the decisions by the the United States to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Risk is everywhere. You can’t avoid it. You begin your day with risk, you can get hurt getting out of bed. The question is, how do you assess risk?

“Embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not really moving forward.” (John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward)

On the other hand,

Lovallo and Kahneman write, “In planning major initiatives, executives routinely exaggerate the benefits and discount the costs, setting themselves up for failure.”

“[B]usiness leaders routinely exaggerate their personal abilities, particularly for ambiguous, hard-to-measure traits like managerial skill. Their self-confidence can lead them to assume that they’ll be able to avoid or easily overcome potential problems in executing a project. This misapprehension is further exaggerated by managers’ tendency to take personal credit for lucky breaks.”

“Managers are also prone to the illusion that they are in control….They see risk as a challenge to be met by the exercise of skill, and they believe results are determined purely by their own actions and those of their organizations.”

Failure is bound to happen. The question is, how do you ensure that your decision making process moderates optimism and other biases to reduce the opportunity for failure?

The following three articles provide options for addressing and mitigating decision making biases.

In The case for behavioral strategy, Dan Lovallo and Olivier Sibony present the case that developing a “process for strategic decision making requires an understanding of the biases the process needs to address.” (McKinsey Quarterly, March 2010) The article presents some common biases and options for countering them.

“[O]ne of things an unbiased decision-making process will do is ferret out poor analysis. The reverse is not true; superb analysis is useless unless the decision process gives it a fair hearing.”

“Improving strategic decision making therefore requires not only trying to limit our own (and others’) biases but also orchestrating a decisionmaking process that will confront different biases and limit their impact.”

“[P]opulating meetings or teams with participants whose interests clash can reduce the likelihood that one set of interests will undermine thoughtful decision making.”

Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony provide a decision quality control checklist in The Big Idea: Before You Make That Big Decision... (Harvard Business Review; June 2011)  The checklist has 12 questions in three categories:

  • questions the decision makers should ask themselves,
  • questions they should use to challenge the people proposing a course of action, and
  • questions aimed at evaluating the proposal.

A third option is the premortem, a technique was developed by Gary Klein. (Performing a Project Premortem, Harvard Business Review, September 2007)

“A typical premortem begins after the team has been briefed on the plan. The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Over the next few minutes those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure — especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic.”

Of Charisma and Teams

Team-building-prototype / hikingartist / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A friend and I were having a conversation about leadership while talking about how a new, grassroots organization would survive and thrive. We were specifically discussing whether this organization needs a charismatic leader to instill enthusiasm and energy within current members, as well as increase membership of community activists.

Our conversation broadened to discuss whether charisma is the secret ingredient in the leadership recipe. Is there a formula or algorithm to determine the amount of charisma needed to be a leader? Maybe eye of newt, wing of bat, and a tablespoon of charisma.

We inherently react positively to someone who has charm or personal magnetism – who smiles and has a positive attitude and energy, or a twinkle in the eyes. But charisma is more than charm. Charisma is a relationship skill (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Why You Need Charisma, HBR Blog Network, September 11, 2012).

There is no one type of charisma [Got Charisma?], like effective leadership, charisma is situational. In this organization, it seems that the organization needs charisma (relationship building) so that “all feel that they are special and will have their particular needs met, yet also feeling that they are all in it together, drawing strength from association.” [Kanter]

Rather than searching for the one charismatic leader, I think that the organization should focus on the desired outcome as quoted from Kanter above. Charisma is the eye of the beholder, it is what one attributes to another. A charismatic leader for one organization may not be effective for another organization. Ask a Republican if Clinton has charisma, or a Democrat if George W. Bush has charisma.

There is an opportunity for the organization to use the strengths of its members. Perhaps there’s a relationship builder among the members who can step up to that role to raise and maintain enthusiasm and energy.

While enthusiasm and energy are key ingredients in the formation of an organization, as well as during its maintenance to a lesser extent, in order for the organization to be sustainable, its members need to internalize the vision, have a commitment to the mission, and feel as a significant, integral part of the team.

In addition to motivating members, the organization needs other leadership functions. One way to look at the organization’s leadership needs is from the view of eight leadership archetypes presented by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries in The Eight Archetypes of Leadership in the HBR Blog Network, December 18, 2013.

  1. Strategist – provides vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organization forms and generate future growth.
  2. Change-catalyst – re-engineers and creates new organizational “blueprints.”
  3. Transactor – identifies and tackles new opportunities, thrives on negotiations.
  4. Builder – creates something new and has the talent and determination to make it come true.
  5. Innovator – focuses on the new and solves extremely difficult problems.
  6. Processor – sets up structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.
  7. Coach – gets the best out of people, creates high performance cultures.
  8. Communicator – great influencer, has considerable impact on the surroundings.

While working on its programs, the organization could work on leadership development of its members using their strengths to meet the various leadership and management needs of the organization.

“Working out which types of leaders you have on your team can work wonders for the effectiveness as a group. It helps you to recognize how you and your colleagues can individually make their best contributions. This will in turn create a culture of mutual support and trust, reduce team stress and conflict, and make for more creative problem solving. It also informs your search for new additions to the team: what kinds of personality and skills are you missing?”

toolKitPeter Bregman (“Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail,” Forbes, 7/11/2013) wrote, “I have never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership. … What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical. … There is a massive difference between what we know about leadership and what we do as leaders.

The goal of any leadership development program is to change behavior. After a successful program, participants should show up differently, saying and doing things in new ways that produce better results.

What Peter Bregman wrote about the goal of leadership development applies to all training and development, and it’s the major weakness of non-technical training and development programs. That is, how does an organization ensure that the training and development is applied and whether it makes a difference in the organization? Not merely whether the participant has gained the skill or knowledge, has the participant applied it and is the skill or knowledge appropriate for the organization? The lack of post-training and -development  assessment particularly irks me because the typical response to program failures is – they need more training. But, I digress.

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote that there is no such thing as a generic leadership development program or plan since each person brings unique experience, skills, and knowledge to the position. In addition, each leadership position, within core competencies, has unique requirements. For example, the organization’s structure, culture, and current situation may contribute to making certain developmental priorities over others.

A first step in creating an individual leadership development plan is an assessment of the leader based on core competencies. [I provided a composite of leadership core competencies in my prior blog post.] It’s important to begin with a 360° assessment: feedback from self-assessment, subordinates, peers, and higher management. Which competencies produce positive results, which are weak, which result in negative effects? It’s important that the assessment address each vector; for example, communication with subordinates and higher management may be weak while communication with peers is not.

An individual leadership development plan would be prepared based on the results of the 360° competency evaluation. Developmental activities to improve a competency may be based on factors such as preferred learning styles, availability, cost, and priority.

In addition, it may be worth considering complementary developmental activities for subordinates, peers, and higher level management. For example, if the the leader needs further development in planning and organizing, it might be beneficial to address complementary planning and coordination development for all levels of the organization.

My last blog post included a table of leadership competencies (Leadership Development Models) from Zenger Folkman; 2013 Executive Coaching Survey; Departments of the Army, Air Force, and Navy; and federal Senior Executive Service. It was my attempt to determine the commonality in competencies. There is nothing immutable with this arrangement of competencies; these were my choices on that day. Looking at it today, I might rearrange some of the competencies.

The table indicates considerable agreement on leadership competencies and I have spent the last several days working to integrate these leadership competencies.

I first decided to eliminate some competencies.  The first quick three eliminations are:

  • Integrity and honesty – This is a character trait rather than a competency. It doesn’t mean that I don’t expect a leader to have integrity and be honest; of course, I do. I expect a leader to do everything with integrity and honesty.
  • Conflict management/resolution – This is a skill that may be needed in building and maintaining relationships, or in collaboration and teamwork. I think it’s more important to focus on the positive outcome; that is, building and maintaining relationships.
  • Self development, preparing self, assesses self, continual learning – While I expect a leader to be a continual learner, I think that it is not compelling enough to be included among the core competencies of a successful leader. Can a “lack of competence” in self development or continual learning adversely impact a leader?

I then took a look at grouping competencies into clusters. I decided on the four core competency clusters:

  1. Working with others
  2. Delivering results
  3. Organization stewardship
  4. Technical expertise

Within each cluster, I’ve selected core competencies and provide example behaviors.

Working with others

1.  Communicates persuasively and confidently

  • Speaks and writes clearly
  • Articulate spokesperson for the organization
  • Negotiates effectively

2.  Builds and manages relationships

  • Develops professional relationships
  • Fosters and environment of trust, integrity, honesty, and respect
  • Resolves conflicts

3.  Develops others and teams

  • Coaches and mentors
  • Facilitates collaboration
  • Promotes teamwork
  • Promotes training and education

Delivering results

4.  Problem solving

  • Uses appropriate analytical tools
  • Uses appropriate problem solving techniques
  • Encourages creativity and innovation
  • Makes sound decisions
  • Monitors problem resolution

5.  Planning and organizing

  • Aligns policies and operational plans with strategic plan
  • Aligns organization resources with plans and policies

6.  Inspires and motivates others to high performance

  • Encourages and supports high individual performance
  • Encourages and supports high team performance

Organization stewardship

7.  Strategic thinking

  • Translates organization’s vision and mission into strategic initiatives
  • Aligns goals and objectives with strategic plan

8.  Builds coalitions

  • Promotes the organization
  • Acts as credible and convincing spokesperson
  • Develops and manages partnerships

9.  Manages resources

  • Manages financial resources
  • Manages human resources
  • Monitors resource allocation and usage

10.  Manages organizational performance

  • Ensures execution of strategic plan
  • Ensures delivery of organization’s mission
  • Champions continuous improvement

Technical expertise

Technical competencies are unique to the leadership position. For example, an executive director of a very small nonprofit may need to knowledge of fund development, budgeting, accounting, and the nonprofit’s operational area. An executive director of a nationwide nonprofit may need a broad operational knowledge.


Leadership Competencies

Thanks to the world wide web, I have been searching, reading, and organizing over the past few days.  Because of my experience with all of the military branches and federal civil service, I collected their lists of leadership competencies.  I also found a list of 16 leadership competencies compiled by Zenger and Folkman that I first found addressed in Making Yourself Indispensable (John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, and Scott K. Edinger, Harvard Business Review, October 2011).  I finally included the skills from the 2013 Executive Coaching Survey that I discussed in my blog post, Leadership and Management, the Balance.

What resulted is fascinating. (Note: After several attempts at building a table in this blog, I gave up and inserted two images of the table.  A more legible view of the table can be found in a PDF file, Leadership Development Models.)
Leadership Competencies
Leadership Competencies

Zenger Folkman – Zenger Folkman Blog, http://zengerfolkman.com/category/blog

CEO Coaching – 2013 Executive Coaching Survey, Stanford Graduate School of Business Center for Leadership Development and Research and The Miles Group

Department of the Army – Army Leadership, Army Regulation 600-100, 8 March 2007

Department of the Navy – Navy Leadership Competency Model, Center for Personal and Professional Development, http://www.netc.navy.mil/centers/cppd/News.aspx?ID=1
Core competencies: A – Accomplishing Mission, B – Leading People, C – Leading Change, D – Working with People, E – Resource Stewardship

Department of the Air Force – Leadership and Force Development, Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1
Leadership competencies: A – Personal Leadership, B – Leading People/Teams, C – Leading the Institution

Federal Civil Service, Senior Executive Service – U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Guide to Senior Executive Service Qualifications
Core competencies: A – Fundamental Competencies, B – Leading Change, C – Leading People, D – Results Driven, E –Business Acumen, F – Building Coalitions

The next blog post will look at synthesizing a core set of leadership competencies from the above.

%d bloggers like this: