It feels like right now we are surrounded by can’ts. We can’t be near most other humans, we can’t travel as we used to, many can’t find work, we can’t really plan for the future because things seem to change by the minute. The can’ts seem to be everywhere.
The sadder part is that in the nonprofit sector the list of limits has always been long, and now is only growing longer. You can’t raise a surplus, you can’t hire as many staff as you truly need, you can’t move forward without a majority of your board fully in agreement, you can’t contradict a funder, you can’t get too political.
But, what if the majority of your nonprofit’s limiting beliefs you face as a nonprofit leader could be overcome? What if you could sidestep some of the hurdles standing in your way simply by choosing to do so?
Stay with me for a minute.
A client of mine recently so backed herself into a corner with a list of “can’ts” that she was immobilized. She’d had an idea for a pivot her organization could make that would allow her to provide services to her clients in a necessarily new way (given the pandemic) and would also potentially attract new and bigger funding, while providing some new collaboration opportunities with a couple of other organizations. She had been pretty excited about the whole thing, but a board member started questioning the project, and my client began second guessing her idea.
She started to see a string of can’ts in front of her: I can’t convince funders to fund this, I can’t collaborate with these new organizations, my staff can’t figure out the technology solution to this new way of delivering our programs. Over the course of a few hours she had so bombarded herself with the can’ts that the idea that once lit her up now left her in the land of the impossible.
But she didn’t have to stay there.
I worked with her to overcome her list of can’ts. We went back to the initial impetus for the idea to see if it still excited her. It very much did. So we strategized some ways to overcome the board member’s fears, to begin testing out the new idea, and to get her staff energized. She’s now going full steam, talking to funders, getting her board invested, and moving her staff forward.
So when you find yourself facing a list of your nonprofit’s limiting beliefs, try these questions to see how you might move forward:
Who is telling me that I can’t?
So often in the nonprofit sector, leaders forfeit their own power to a board member, a funder, a staff member, an expert, a policymaker — someone (anyone) else. Certainly you are not an island and much of the nonprofit sector runs on consensus, but what we need right now more than anything (except a vaccine) is true leaders who are guided not by what others tell them to do, but what they know is the right path forward. So if you are letting someone else prevent you from moving forward, reclaim your own power. And figure out what you think is the next right step.
What does my gut say?
And you find that next right step by going deep. Take a pause, find some quiet and figure out what you believe, deep down, is the next right step. It may well be to follow what others are telling you to do, but it may not. However, I promise you this, your true power comes from tapping into your gut more often, getting in touch with what you as the leader knows to be the right direction. Often I will ask my clients “What does your gut say?” and they will immediately blurt out a response that shocks them. It’s as if their gut was right there ready to provide direction, if only asked. So ask.
Am I letting fear make this decision?
As I have said many times before, fear makes really poor decisions. If you are keeping yourself from doing something because you are in fear, take a big step back. Instead of focusing on what is lacking, or what gives you anxiety, see if you can instead find the positive, the opportunity, the expansive decision in the situation. If there is a path forward that feels energizing, exciting, inspiring, that is likely the right one. So take it, and leave that troublesome fear behind.
While it feels like the world is closing in around us lately, it is not. There is still much we can move forward. So imagine what you want to accomplish and leave the can’ts behind.
If you need help figuring out how to overcome the limits in front of you, let me know.
Photo Credit: Austrian National Library