Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 November 2008

The Best and the Brightest

Wow! It’s a challenging time for nonprofits right now. Heck. It’s a challenging time for everyone.

How would you like to be the President Elect of the nation right now? I’m fascinated – and encouraged – by the team Barack Obama is putting together for the executive branch of our government. Part of my encouragement is that he is a good listener, and he is willing to listen to some great minds to help solve the myriad problems faced by the nation.

Some of those great minds were not necessarily his supporters over the last 12 months. Does this make it a team of egos or a team of rivals? Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about the latter in her fascinating study of Abraham Lincoln.

What kind of “cabinet” does your nonprofit have? Whether you define your cabinet as your key management team or your board of directors – or both – it’s important to have a diverse mix of people around you.

You need encouraging, enthusiastic people to support you, but you cannot afford to have all “yes” people. You need positive people around you, but beware of those who won’t tell you the truth about what’s really happening. It’s good to surround yourself with the best thinkers available, but beware of over thinking your problems.

History has not always been kind to the best and the brightest. Eight years ago, the new Bush administration pleased many people with its selection of leaders. Not many of those original choices get very good grades today.

Originally, the best and the brightest referred to the people chosen to work in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. David Halberstam wrote a book by that title. With the clear vision of hindsight, we can see that those leaders of the 60’s didn’t manage things all that well either.

Based on history, it may be a mistake to assume that you will ensure success by stocking your nonprofit with the best and the brightest. But to avoid getting the best and the brightest people “on the bus” may be a greater mistake.

Supportive, positive – but not non-critical – people who are thinkers and listeners can go a long way towards success. With that, there’s one more mistake to avoid.

All thinking and no action will get you nowhere.

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