I am in love with a new (for me) TV show. I’m sure you’ve heard of it since I’m late to the game — “Ted Lasso” is about a lovable American leader of a troubled English soccer team. But really the show provides an example of how to go through life as a force of quiet, confident leadership.
I love it for so many reasons, but in particular, a scene from the show’s first season has been sticking with me lately. In the scene, Ted is about to win a dart match with a jerk who cockily underestimated Ted’s abilities. Ted quotes Walt Whitman, who opined: “Be curious. Not judgemental.” Simple, but incredibly profound.
And it made me wonder: What if all of us, but in particular social change leaders, adopted this powerful approach? In essence it’s another way of shifting from a scarcity to an abundance mindset, isn’t it? Because judgement — of money, of board members, of funders, of ourselves — is just another way of claiming “not enough.” If we are judging something, aren’t we inherently finding it wanting?
But if we instead approach a “problem” with curiosity, haven’t we in that very second, snatched back our power? Haven’t we wrestled the lack of “enoughness” to the ground and opened the door to some other possibility?
Give it a try, like this:
Be curious about a lack of money
This is the ultimate scarcity play, right? “We never have enough money”, or “We just aren’t able to attract the funding we need”. These are all judgements. Judgements against your fundraising ability, against the value you are creating, against money itself (which, by the way, just wants to be your ally. So what if you tossed judgement aside and instead asked “Why don’t we have the money we need?” “What could we do differently?” “Why do some organizations attract endless abundance?” Curiosity (just like the word “Yet”) can be a bridge to greater opportunity, greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t, greater money flowing to you, greater abundance.
Be curious about your errant board members
How often do we judge our board members for not being “enough”? Some don’t do what you asked, or don’t show up to meetings, or get in the way, or just aren’t helpful. But instead of simply complaining about their annoyingness, how about asking “Why?” What if you sat down, one-on-one with each of your troublesome board members to ask them things like “Why do you serve?” “What about our mission gets you jazzed?” “What do you think your greatest contribution to our work could be?” I have found that often the unhelpful people in our lives don’t mean to be so, they just have never been given an opportunity to do better. Curiosity can open the door to a more productive relationship.
Be curious about your demanding funders
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard nonprofit leaders mutter under their breath, or openly complain (out of earshot) about funders who are so frustrating. I get it, I’ve talked often about the dysfunctional power imbalance between funders and grantees. But rather than staying stuck in judgement about those funders, approach them with honest, open-ended questions that could result in deeper understanding and equality between you. Questions like “What about your mission resonates with you?” “How do you make your funding decisions?” “What would an equal partnership between us look like to you?”
Be curious about yourself
And perhaps the harshest judgement thrown around in the social change sector is from social change leaders to themselves. If I know you at all, my guess is that you are your own worst critic. What if you turned any judgement against yourself on its head by asking yourself things like “Why am I frustrated?” “Why am I feeling so worn down?” In that act of investigating your current situation, you might just offer yourself the space to recognize that your brutal pace, or putting everything on your shoulders alone, or not having enough staff just isn’t sustainable anymore. Perhaps in being curious with yourself, you might just give yourself the greatest gift — an opportunity to ask for (and receive) more.
To me, making a shift from judgement to curiosity is not just a more humane approach to the world (although it is absolutely that). It’s a shift in power. Instead of being the victim of circumstances you don’t like (and thus pass judgement upon), you become a powerful investigator, who uncovers new understanding, new approaches, new connections that can transform your work.
And speaking of transforming your work, don’t miss this month’s free training in our Moving From Scarcity to Abundance series, all about raising Capacity Capital (the money you likely desperately need to grow and strengthen your organization). Register here.
Photo Credit: Chase Clark