When you first dip your toe into starting up any new venture, pure necessity compels you to become a Jack or Jill of all trades. Along with being both the prime mover of a mission and the voice of a vision, you’re often also the one to keep the books, pay the bills, manage risk, build systems from scratch and generally write the operational rule book. Those habits aren’t always easy to let go of. Even as Community Partners grew, it took me a long time to finally appreciate the full value of building a strong and capable team.
And with that, I found I had a new job.
I became responsible for the professional growth of others. I was also now steward of an organizational culture, one that would value and invest in developing a strong staff. As that slow dawning grew brighter, I realized that an important part of my job was getting out of the way so others could lead, too.
What an eye opener! Suddenly I had to question my expectation that any new idea I had could take shape at the turn of a dime, let alone happen at all. Here were the people I’d hired already working hard on the program and finance demands of a growing organization. And here I was, continually asking them to take on something new without considering their current workload. Even knowing I was incapable of doing it all, I expected that, of course, they could. I have it on good authority that at times is was simply crazy-making.
That’s when I started to understand that having a staff was one thing, but having colleagues was something entirely different. Having colleagues means investing not just in salaries and benefits, but extending real trust to each person according to their role, their competence, their potential and their ambition. It also means considering each as a person with a life, a family and those ordinary yet individually profound concerns most humans have about finding a dignified and decent place in the world to contribute, belong and be seen.
When re-reading the original business plan for Community Partners that I wrote back in 1991, one word stands out for me. That word is “welcoming.” That’s what the original board of directors and I wanted: a welcoming place open and inviting to those passionate enough to put their minds and their hearts in service to improving the lives of others – the social entrepreneurs we serve and the staff who support them.
I see my job today as energizing the full meaning of that word “welcoming.” That means keeping an open door, open mind and open heart for all of my colleagues, not just the five key managers and executives in whom I place absolute trust and confer with routinely. It means working together with others to build a place, a culture, a mission in which everyone feels a part and sees their best self bettered. It means trusting our board members to oversee and understand what all of these busy people working at Community Partners do every day. And, above all, it means honoring in every action the confidence vested in us by project leaders, funders, and the myriad of friends who count on us to understand and stand up for the communities and future of the Southern California region.
Ripples of Colour by Scott Cresswell