New Models are Overrated


You probably didn’t expect to get an email from me with a title like this, given my penchant for breaking the mold. But I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the many conversations in our sector that celebrate wonderful new models or reforms but ignore what it really takes to bring new ideas to fruition: the talent, values, courage, and execution capabilities of leaders.

In my most recent column, “I’ll Take Great People Over Great Models Any Day,” I rant and rave on this topic. I ask, “When are we going to realize that we’re doing the equivalent of valuing recipes over great chefs, syllabi over inspiring teachers, Xs and Os over star athletes?” And to help provide a corrective, I offer six Talent Principles that have served me well over the years.

I encourage you to read the column and join me in putting our collective emphasis back where it belongs—on recruiting, developing, and retaining the leaders we need to take a sector-wide leap of reason.

And now, here are some brief updates from around the Leap of Reason community (including, we just learned, Pakistan):

  • Interest from faith-based institutions around the country in Leap’s messages of high-performance culture has delighted our team. Owing to my affiliation with Saint Joseph Academy, one of the 28 ministries of the Congregation of Saint Joseph(CSJ), I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of CSJ’s national leadership and I’ve been taken aback by their courage and willingness to look objectively at their work and find ways to assess their effectiveness. Last week, Isaac Castillo, a Leapessayist and Senior Research Scientist at Child Trends, facilitated a two-and-a-half day Managing to Outcomes workshop for leaders from ministries affiliated with CSJ. Senior leaders, board members, and staff worked together to determine how they can measure outcomes more effectively in their ministries to deliver greater benefits to those they serve. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to build on the work of CSJ and the other religious leaders who have expressed interest and see them convene a multi-denominational forum or symposium to explore how they can better know if their work is truly touching their members, congregations, parishioners? Stay tuned.
  • This month, I had the privilege of addressing the global trustees of The Nature Conservancy as well as the national leadership of the Foundation Center. It was refreshing to see these two strong organizations looking hard at themselves to respond to the changing times. Most illuminating to me was how both organizations are willing to reexamine their federation leadership structure, an important issue facing many large nonprofits. This falls squarely in the need to rethink and even reinvent how they best fulfill their missions.
  • A tip of the hat to uber-blogger Beth Kanter for sharing a great anecdote about building data-informed introspection into an organization’s DNA: “Meet Bob Filbinand Jeff Bladt who have the job title ’Data Scientist’ at DoSomething.Org. They work in partnership with DoSomething’s program staff to collect, analyze, and make sense of data…. does not consider this overhead. Building infrastructure, in-house expertise, and data literacy of all staff is critical to their success so they have invested.”
  • Sal Khan has just come out with the book The One World Schoolhouse, based on his audacious Khan Academy model and his belief that “the way we teach and learn is at a once-in-a-millennium turning point.” I have not yet had a chance to read the book, but it’s at the top of my reading list. I continue to believe that the Khan Academy could be a great model for a “John Gardner Performance Academy” that would all help nonprofit leaders rethink and reinvent for greater impact.
  • I recommend David Bornstein’s October 17 New York Times Fixes column, “Social Change’s Age of Enlightenment.” With glass-half-full optimism, Bornstein shares good examples of the ways in which organizations are using data, well-conducted studies, and evidence-based decision making to evaluate and sharpen the effectiveness of social interventions.
  • Greg Werkheiser, the managing director of the George Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship, wrote to tell us that he’s using Leap of Reason in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in Social Entrepreneurship he’s launching at the end of this month on Udemy. “To our knowledge, it’s the world’s first MOOC on the topic,” he said. “I’ll be referring students to Leap of Reason as a primary tool and integrating some of the free tools into the course materials.”
  • This month, at a national gathering of all program directors of Covenant Houseaffiliates, the facilitators led the group through exercises derived from Leap of Reason. According to our friend Steve Butz, “They took each of the questions you pose around leadership, data, etc. and discuss[ed] what it would take to build a culture of performance management. It was clear the book had an impact on that group.”
  • Congratulations to Mary’s Center President and CEO Maria Gomez, a leader I deeply admire, on her recent article in Huffington Post. The article emphasizes theoutcomes Mary’s Center is achieving for the children and family who come to Mary’s Center for high-quality health, social, and education services. I am especially proud as Mary’s Center and Maria are investment partners with Venture Philanthropy Partners.
  • James Sandman, the president of the Legal Services Corporation, recently encouraged all 134 executive directors of LSC-funded programs to read Leap of Reason. “I haven’t come across a clearer or more practical explanation of why performance assessment and measuring outcomes are so important for all nonprofits,” he said. “It emphasizes that this is all about client service—delivering the best results to the people that nonprofits serve.”

I’ll wrap up this update with a (nonpartisan) plea to all of the U.S. citizens reading this update: Please don’t forget to vote. Your vote matters!

My best,