Start Where We All Agree

As we prepare for next week’s official launch of The Pollyanna Principles, I’ve been using the Possibility Journal I started last week to address every task on my to do list and every meeting in my schedule. While it has been insanely busy getting ready for the launch, that one step has made every task more joyful than I could have imagined. Every task has resulted in something beyond any of our expectations.

As I have wondered what it is that has created those off-the-charts results, I am realizing that focusing on possibility is just plain practical. Why practical? It addresses a question so simple I smacked myself in the head for not realizing it sooner:

If the devil is in the details, why is that where we start most conversations?

Isn’t that something? The details – solutions to today’s problems as well as the baggage we bring to those discussions – that is the point at which we all disagree, the point at which our fears kick in, the point at which we are thinking about how this will affect ME and MY ORGANIZATION and MY CLIENTS.

On the other hand, our desires for what is possible in the future are where we all agree.

We all want our communities to be safe and thriving. We all want our own lives to be safe and thriving. We want life to be healthy, vibrant, robust, humane.

That is what my Possibility Journal did for me. By addressing each task by asking, “What is possible here?” I was skipping right past “the devil” and heading FIRST to the point where we all agree.

From there, it was easy to walk backwards and ask, “If this is what is possible, how can we achieve it?” And the answers were not only uplifting and energizing; they solved the problem along the way to achieving that positive result.

Nick came into my office yesterday, saying, “Susan just called. She says she needs to be talked down. And man does she ever sound like it! You’d better call her fast!”

Susan is the first Executive Director in an organization that started as a family’s philanthropic endeavor and grew beyond what the family alone could do. The board is a typical founders board – all family, with all the control issues (and fear issues) that so often brings. Susan has been in her position a total of 5 months. The board is livid that she is projecting a $200,000 shortfall in the first draft of next year’s budget. They immediately assume that $200,000 will have to come out of their pockets, as that is what has always happened in the past.

The board is therefore doing what boards so often do when they’re scared, and what is especially common in founder-driven organizations; they are blaming Susan for the shortfall, and micromanaging her to death. (By the way, if you’re having micromanagement issues, this article will help. It’s called, “Why Boards Micromanage and How to Get Them to Stop.”)

I let Susan rant for a bit, and then I asked, “Susan, what is possible here?”

It was as if a breeze had blown the clouds out of the sky. Susan barely took 5 seconds to reply. “What’s possible?” Pause. “I guess what’s possible is I raise the $200,000!”

From there, we could talk more calmly about the real issues. We discussed that it wasn’t really the $200,000 – that it was the board’s issues of fear and control, and that those absolutely needed to be dealt with. We talked about what was possible there, too – that it was possible to help the board from a place of compassion for their predicament, rather than seeing the board members as multi-headed demons hell-bent on devouring Susan’s soul. And we talked about the fact that if Susan could raise the $200,000 as a first step, the board would be in a much safer place to consider other things.

By the time we got off the phone, Susan was planning how she could engage the community’s support for her work. She had already sketched out a plan to raise not just the dollars, but all sorts of support. The whole call lasted 15 minutes.

We really do all want the same thing. We all want what is possible. When we start our conversations at that assumption – that place of agreement, that place of success – we have a way better chance of creating details that avoid the devil altogether.

This will apply to money and micromanagement. It will apply to anything else. So what problems have been making you crazy? If you want to share them here, perhaps we can begin finding what is possible for those as well!

For a step-by-step guide to building a Board that reaches for what is possible, click here.

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