Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty

Joy, Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Marwa Morgan, Flickr

Generational Poverty

Generational poverty is a real issue in our world. While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Leaders are certainly not the only answer to addressing such issues and breaking the cycle of poverty, but leaders are important partners along the way. I’m passionate about training leaders, so I’m particularly drawn toward the conversation of empowering leaders to think intentionally about their role in this vital conversation.

From Nonprofits to Business

Engaging generational poverty is not only a topic for nonprofits, governments, NGOs. It is also a topic worth the engagement of leaders from multiple sectors. Many companies are moving toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in an effort to play a part. One global example I’ve especially appreciated comes from the Indian-based Tata Group whose founder believed: “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder, but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence.”

Local Models

Some of the best models I’ve observed are not in large-scale corporate CSR initiatives or multinational NGOs. I certainly value large-scale efforts, but sometimes the models that are most helpful for learning are the smaller and local examples.

So what are effective models for helping to break the cycle of generational poverty?

Here are two I’ll highlight:

A Few Blocks Away…

A few blocks away from where I live, I’ve had the opportunity to see Urban Ventures play a role in breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Minneapolis. Leaders from Urban Ventures often say they do three things in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty—jobs, families, and education. They orient their programs around job training, support of families, and support of children in their educational development. Through these targeted three areas, Urban Ventures is providing a proactive strategy around which partner organizations like businesses, foundations, churches, and other community groups may come together and break this cycle locally.

To Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti

Generational poverty shows itself internationally as well, often in more stark forms. I have the privilege of working on the board of HCDF (Haiti Christian Development Fund), and through this connection have a front row seat to one of the best models of community development I’ve seen. Inspired by and started out from the community development work of John M. Perkins (founder of the Christian Community Development Association), HCDF launched in 1982 to bring its model of community development to the Fond-des-Blancs region of southern Haiti.

Agricultural Project

HCDF Agricultural Project

With a passion to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti, HCDF has a 30 year history of working to develop and empower the people of Fond-des-Blancs. Through their approach to K-12 education, church-planting, micro-lending, agricultural initiatives, and intentional leadership development, the Fond-des-Blancs community is experiencing transformation.

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What Can I Do?”

So what can you do to help address generational poverty?

First, look around you for organizations like Urban Ventures and HCDF who are actively engaged in holistic models of addressing generational poverty. Partner with these local groups.

L’Exode School

L’Exode School

Second, look beyond your context and be a part of global solutions. HCDF is a powerful example of community development done well. Would you consider a donation to the agricultural, educational, or leadership development work of HCDF as you look to your year end giving? If so, please go to HCDF.org where you may donate online and join me in supporting this important work.

Manage with Realism — Lead with Optimism

Hope_Darren-Tunnicliff

Photo Credit: Hope, by Darren Tunnicliff, Fllickr

Hope…

People and organizations thrive on hope and optimism. Hope helps to orient people toward the future and inspire hearts and minds to action. Optimists choose to see the proverbial half glass full, and look for opportunities with a spirit of positivity.

Regarding optimism, Winston Churchill noted: “For myself, I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Similarly, Churchill declared: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”

Biblical authors also point to the power of hope noting that because of the love of God “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).

Hope is powerful. It holds a vital place in the life of organizations and the work of leadership. But hope alone is not enough. Hope and optimism must be blended with realism for leaders and managers.

One of my guiding leadership principles is this: Manage with Realism—Lead with Optimism.

Manage with Realism

Pessimism is exhausting. Always seeing the glass half empty and only looking at problems drains life from people and organizations.

But realism is an alternative that need not be pessimistic. Organizations benefit from managerial attention to details. Engagement with detail is best carried out from a place of realism—engagement with real strengths, real weaknesses, real opportunities, and real threats (…a “SWOT” analysis with realism). Healthy leaders and managers do not avoid reality, they face it. Healthy leaders and managers need to manage with realism.

Lead with Optimism

The story does not end with facing reality and managing with realism. Leaders and managers also need to inspire hope and optimism in the hearts and minds of people. Leaders and managers need to manage with realism and lead with optimism.

Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” Managing with realism is not the end of the story. Leaders help their people see light in the darkness and hope in the midst of reality by leading with optimism.

As Helen Keller noted, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” and “nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” To inspire our people toward achievement, leaders must inspire with hope and optimism.

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Rather viewing realism and optimism as being at odds, organizational success depends upon leaders and managers attending to both. How are you doing on these fronts? How is your organization doing? Are you managing with realism and leading with optimism?

 

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

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One of the favorite lessons I’ve picked up studying leadership and management from the thinking of Peter Drucker is this:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress!

While not necessarily a direct quote from him (at least I don’t know where it is), I picked this particular lesson up from a documentary on his life. Those close with him reported that he often challenging their practice around these themes:

Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress…. Are you being busy, but not productive?

This “Druckerian” insight holds a place in my office physically, and a place in my thinking frequently. In our lives and work it is easy to stay busy. In my American context, life is full, busy, and constantly in motion. If motion is the measure that matters, then things are great here!

More than Motion

But motion really is not what matters most in the flow and practice of leadership.

Organizations do not simply need leaders who look busy. Organizations do not need leaders who are simply constantly in motion. In contrast to this, organizations need leaders that help their communities make progress toward vital organizational goals. Organizations need leaders who are being productive, making progress, and are advancing what matters most to the community they serve.

These are simple questions, but ones that brings significant focus to my life and leadership.

  • Am I confusing motion with progress?”
  • Am I being busy, but not being productive?”

Our communities do not ultimately need busy executives. Our communities need leaders who are are guiding our organizations and making progress toward goals that matter. I encourage you to join me in applying this Druckerian wisdom in your day-to-day work, life, and leadership. Don’t confuse motion with progress!

People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People

People, Viewminder, Flickr

Photo Credit: People, Viewminder, Flickr

People or Production

In management studies, there is a rich history of work engaging the importance of focus on people and results.

— A Concern for People is characterized by leaders or managers emphasizing and recognizing the needs of followers, and then working to meet followers in these areas of need.

— A Concern for Production or Results is characterized by leaders emphasizing organizational objectives and what the best pathways are for meeting these goals and objectives.

Engaging Leadership Style

The “Ohio State” studies, and the “University of Michigan” studies on these themes were complemented by what is known as Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. Based on the categories of concern for people and concern for production or results, Blake and Mouton’s categorizes leaders in the following manner:

  • Impoverished (low results/low people)
  • Authority-Compliance (high results/low people)
  • Country-Club (low results/high people)
  • Middle-of-the-Road (med. results/med. People)
  • Team (high results/high people).

People and Production

As leaders, it is easy to feel this tension between a focus on results or a focus on people. Many times, managers and leaders view it as a mutually exclusive decision. Either the focus will be on results, or the focus will be on people.

Thankfully, contemporary models of leadership are emphasizing the priority of both. Both people and production are valuable, and in fact the two serve each other in a healthy organizational system.

Chicken or Egg

But what comes first. Must a leader prioritize one over the other, even though both are valuable? Generally, transformational models of leadership emphasize change and getting things done. These approaches emphasize results along with individualized consideration as a necessary part of the leadership approach. This commitment to organizational goals is seen as the best way to meet the needs of people.

Servant-oriented models of leadership emphasize a commitment to people. These approaches emphasize a commitment to serving the needs of people as primary. This commitment to people is seen as the best way to accomplish organizational goals and objectives.

A Matter of Emphasis

It really comes down to a matter of emphasis. Both people and production are a priority. Both followers and goals are essential. But which is the best way to meet these aims. For the time being, I land on the side of emphasizing people first, and seeing this as the best way to also get things done.

Thankfully, there is a growing body or research helping us understand this relationship between goal-orientation and follower-focus.

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Pursue both. Leaders who value and develop their people will have a solid community ready to meet organizational goals. Leaders who work with their community to get things done will have healthy organizations that provide stability for their people. Both are a priority, so lead well toward both of these ends.

Perspective, Priorities, and Personal Care — Reflections on Seasonal Transitions

1st Fall Picture, DaDaAce, Flickr

Photo Credit: 1st Fall Picture, DaDaAce, Flickr

Enjoying Summer

I love summer. I love the warm weather that finally arrives in Minnesota. I love the chance to connect with family, friends, and neighbors. I love softball games in the park. I love time to get outside and enjoy nature. I love the change of pace. I love the opportunity to be with people that the normal school year busyness does not always allow.

But summer can be complex as well. Summer activities take planning and coordination. Summer activities take time away from work that needs to get done. Summer activities add a layer of complexity.

Preparing for Fall

I’m feeling this complexity especially as the summer-to-fall transition happens in late August. Summer activities are slowing down and preparations for the school year are ramping up.

For our household, ramping up toward fall is not only about the kids starting back to school. It is also about us as parents preparing for fall teaching. My wife began her teacher training this week. My fall faculty workshop begins next week. And, our kids start back to their first day of school next Monday.

Sometimes ramping up for work can feel like more of a job than the work itself. Training sessions are in motion. School supplies need to be purchased. School uniforms and clothes need to be secured and organized. Lesson plans need to be polished. Syllabi need to be finalized.

Keys for Thriving in Transition

As I’m in the heart of managing this seasonal transition and shifting gears into fall, I’m thinking about keys for managing transitions in seasons of life and work. What are some of the keys to managing transitions well? What are some keys to thriving in the midst of changing seasons?

Here are three guidelines I’ve been thinking about today:

1 — Need for Perspective

If transitional seasons are the norm, this may lead one to weariness very quickly. Thankfully, most of us experience seasons of normalcy between periods of transition. I’m in a very full two week period at the moment. One of the tactics I use to manage this busy season is simply keeping things in perspective.

Anything can be managed for two weeks, right? Perspective helps me to press in, get things done that need to be done, and to remember that this season of transition will soon level out to a new norm in a few weeks. I find that transitions require a need for perspective, and this perspective helps me to stay calm and focused in the midst of the busy season.

2 — Need for Prioritization

We can’t do everything. This is certainly true for me. I’m grateful for the many opportunities I have: serving in a job I love, time with family and friends, invitations to speak, engagement with research and writing projects, pursuing opportunities for learning, serving among communities I value, and the list goes on. But, I can’t do everything…and neither can you. This requires prioritization.

Priorities are based on perspective. As we aim to see our lives and the investment of our time will help us better understand when to say yes and when to say no. When opportunities and invitations arise, having perspective, and prioritizing based on this prospective gives a basis for decisions relate to time investment.

I’m thinking a lot about what to say yes and no to in this season of transition. Though not the only example, I sent a final “no” regarding a conference I wanted to attend in September. I valued the learning opportunity, but in the midst of prioritization, that was something that had to go as I looked to the month ahead.

How are you prioritizing in this season?  Based on these priorities to what are you needing to say yes, and to what are you needing to say no?

3 — Need for Personal & Spiritual Self-Care

I’m also reminded of the need for good spiritual and personal self-care in these seasons of transition. It is amazing what simple things like eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking time to pause for spiritual reflection do in the midst of busy seasons. I like the title of Bill Hybels’ book Too Busy Not to Pray. When it comes to good spiritual and personal care, I think there are many “too busy not to” priorities:

  • Too busy not to sleep well
  • Too busy not to eat well
  • Too busy not to exercise
  • Too busy not to pray
  • Too busy not to reflect and meditate on the Bible
  • Too busy not to spend time with those closest to me

You likely have your own list of priorities for personal and spiritual self-care. In the second point above I emphasized the need to say no to some things. Equally important in busy seasons is the priority of saying yes to what matters most—saying yes to the personal and spiritual self-care that sustains us in busy times.

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As you look to your own seasons of change, how are you managing the transitions? Are you getting the perspective you need to guide your decisions? Are you prioritizing based on this perspective? Are you maintaining the needed personal and spiritual self-care in the midst of it all?

 

Macro Change through Micro Improvements

Sunny Pebbles, Laura Thorne, Flickr

Photo Credit: Sunny Pebbles, by Laura Thorne, Flickr

I read an interesting article in The Economist recently. It is entitled Little Things that Mean A Lot, and the author argues that businesses should aim for lots of small wins that add up to something big.

New Routes to Organizational Success

The article focused primarily on the role of analyzing large pools of data in order to identify opportunities for incremental improvement. One illustration came from UPS. In America, there are some 60,000 UPS vans that drive 100 plus miles each day. If through data analysis UPS can find ways to reduce driving by 1 mile per day for each van, it is estimated that the company would save close to $50 million in fuel and related costs each year.

Although most of us are not looking for $50 million in small wins for our organizations, the new market realities in our world are calling for most organizations (for profit and nonprofit alike) to look for both big and small opportunities. Most of the “big wins” have already been identified since the beginning of the Great Recession. It is now time for organizations to up their game in finding the “small wins.”

Building a Mountain with Pebbles

One of the quotes in the article expresses the need in this manner: “It is about building a mountain with pebbles.” While most of us would simply prefer to find the mountain, the new realities of our world often translate to using a both-and approach to organizational improvements.  We need to have an explorer mindset, looking for new mountains of opportunity. We also need to have the mindset of the statistician, looking for macro opportunities within the micro dimensions of business and organizational life.

Explorers and Statisticians

How are you pursuing big-wins through small opportunities? How are you maintaining the entrepreneurial mindset of the explorer, while also seeing the details as the researcher or statistician would? This requires us to partner well with others on this journey. This requires us to build our teams with a diversity of expertise so that we can pursue growth and opportunity on both fronts.

Enjoy the journey, and keep your eyes open for macro change through micro improvements.

6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Photo Credit: mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

In a previous post, I highlighted the importance of Leading from the Front with Vision. Focusing on why vision matters, Burt Nanus provides a list of characteristics of organizations with and without vision. Here is a summary of these characteristics:

Organizations with Vision

Organizations without Vision

  • Opportunity-Driven
  • Focused on Change
  • Progressing toward Goals
  • Oriented Strategically
  • Focused on Long-Term Results
  • Proactive
  • Problem-Driven
  • Focused on Stability
  • Focused on Past Performance
  • Oriented Tactically
  • Focused on Short-Term Results
  • Reactive

An orientation toward change, pursuing opportunities, working toward goals, focusing strategically, paying attention to long-term interests, and being proactive tend to go along with visionary focus.

Based on these characteristics, are you embedded in an organization with or without vision? If you are leader, are you guiding your organization with vision?