Successful Leaders Cultivate Important Habits
I love the month of April, daylight savings time and the loud chirping of birds singing in spring. And I love the Masters Tournament. No gathering of top performers is more impressive than those who congregate in Augusta, Ga., in early April to participate in every golfer’s dream week. Scoring tickets to the Masters is harder than to almost any other sporting event. More than once, I have been privileged to walk in the crowds watching these elite performers go at it, but when not there, I find myself glued to the television, watching the magic unfold in real time. As I watched earlier this month, four phenomena jumped out at me that I realized are transferable to the nonprofit world. I was reminded that successful leaders —whether in sports, business, education and or the nonprofit world—share many traits and cultivate important habits.
1. Inches Make a Difference
In the game of golf, a one-inch putt counts the same as a 300-yard drive. It is also true that to win a golf tournament you have to have a “hot” putter. The difference between shooting a 75 or a 66 is not determined so much by how far you hit it but how successful you are in putting. I watched many golfers miss putts by inches. The golfers on top of the leader board were the ones with the most putts made… often trickling into the cup on the last roll.
Top performers in the nonprofit world are those who understand that it is often that extra "inch" that makes a difference. Last week, I was with a vice president of development who told me that after an annual gala, he decided to personally call everyone who attended. Some had given that year less than $1,000, while others donated $100,000. He called each and every one. One $3,000 donor was so impressed to receive another call of gratitude that he opened the door to a foundation that could give 10 times his personal gift. Inches matter.
2. It Is Always About 'We'—Not 'me'
Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were two young superstars who played at the Masters this year. After their rounds on Saturday, they were interviewed about every shot, how they played them and what they were thinking when they did. With every answer they responded, “We used this club; we thought about this slope; we determined this speed.” Never once did either utter the perpendicular pronoun—“I.” They recognized that without their caddies, without their friends and supporters, they could not have been successful.
I look at hundreds of nonprofit resumes every year. Too often, job seekers claim full credit for success: “I raised $5 million last year.” Is that true? Do development officers ever raise money by themselves? Isn’t there almost always a cadre of individuals behind them that helped in the process? One of the biggest obstacles we see to raising money in an organization is the lack of gratitude to the people behind the scenes who prepare documents, who do research, who enter data, who generate reports and who encourage us. Top performers bend over backwards to credit those who support them.
3. Knowing How the Wind Is Blowing Is Crucial
On Thursday and Friday of the 2018 Masters, the wind was blowing in many different directions. I watched over and over again as the players and their caddies tried to figure out the direction of the wind, the strength of the wind and then calculate the impact it would have on their club selection. It caused them to pause, think, recalculate and then take action.
Similarly, in the nonprofit world, the winds blow and “life happens.” When it does, it creates a new dynamic for the individual and the organization. Knowing that dynamic is crucial to the direction one should go. A strategic assessment of your moves—and continuous reassessment—should cause you to slow down, to pause and seek advice. Very often, it is wise to pivot and refocus based on the prevailing winds.
At Crouch & Associates, we begin our work with our clients making certain assumptions. Invariably, one or more assumptions collapse because things change during the term of our engagement. Or we dig deeper and learn new facts. We have to pause to calculate which way the wind is blowing, look at changing circumstances, seek more information and then make a decision that leads to action.
I have had to do this all my life as an individual. Too many folks—when faced with changing winds—become paralyzed to take action or continue doggedly on the tried-and-true course and end up making decisions that bring negative—occasionally disastrous—results.
4. Momentum Builds Confidence
Tommy Fleetwood is a little known professional golfer from England. He wears his hair long, has a full beard and rarely smiles. On Saturday of the Masters, he hit a brilliant shot on No. 10 and made a birdie. It ignited something deep inside him that reminded him he was really good at this game. He birdied the next hole, and the next, and the next and two more. Five birdies in a row in the biggest golf tournament in the world, positioning him as a potential winner. When interviewed later, he said, “Momentum built my confidence, and I was feeling as if I could birdie every hole.”
It is abundantly clear in our work with nonprofits that momentum is crucial to building confidence. How does an organization do this?
First you must begin with clarity among staff about the organization's mission. Second, the culture has to be one of trust and fairness. And third, the focus should be on impacting lives with regular celebrations and stories shared internally.
We have seen over and over that when organizations place their focus on small successes, momentum grows. Confidence enables employees and board members to say “Money is not the issue… it is just a matter of finding people to come alongside us in our work.” Donors are smart. They see, feel and hear confidence and passion in those who work for successful nonprofits. Take a tip from the Masters and put the insights of top golfers to work for you!
Bill Crouch is CEO and founder of BrightDot, a nonprofit consulting firm focusing on the fundraising needs of community colleges. Bill honed his fundraising skills as a development director at various colleges in the Southeast, and then as president of Georgetown College for more than 22 years. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is an Honorary Fellow at St. Regents Park College at Oxford University. Most recently, he served as the senior managing partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy and Partners. A member of the national board of trustees for The First Tee of the PGA Tour, Bill serves on the World Golf Foundation’s Diversity Council. If he has a free afternoon, you’ll find him on the golf course, but Bill is happiest when in the company of his wife Jan, five children and eight grandchildren.