Nonprofit Summer Exercise 8: Your Other List


Can you believe it’s almost August? This means we’re almost halfway through #NonprofitSummer … which means we’re halfway through summer… which means CRIPES IT’S ALMOST SEPTEMBER!

As much as we are still in the middle of things here, our minds wander (hard) towards a fall that is likely incredibly busy. And we start to freak the geek out a bit.

I hope that you followed some of my advice from Exercise 2 and that your Summer Cup List has been treating you well, and that the other activities we’ve been doing have been helpful. But we can only sharpen our saws so much before we need to start chopping down trees. Or zombies. Or whatever you happen to be using your saw for. Our exercise today may be a tricky one. Get well caffeinated, get limber, and put your thinking toga on.

What do you mean, not everyone has a thinking toga!?

Exercise 8: Your Other List

Remember in the Cup List exercise when I told you to make two lists? One things you could accomplish completely by yourself and things you needed other people to help with?

Get out that other list. The list of things you need and want to do, but can’t do so without the help of other team members, your ED, or someone other than yourself. Sometimes it’s a full blown collaborative project, and other times you simply need someone to give approval or pull a trigger.

My guess is that it’s probably a pretty long list. Seldom can we act completely on our own to get done our most important tasks. The business of changing the world is always a collaborative effort – and sometimes all too often committee work (*dry heave*) but this is our lot in social sector life!

Chances are that part of this list is pretty exciting. Maybe you’ve got an awesome team to work with and you’re excited to come back together after a scattered few months and get to work. Chances are there are also some that make your tummy feel a little queasy. Humans can be a ridiculous mix of traits that make teamwork as much fun as a football in the groin.

There are a billion articles online about dealing with difficult team members (including this one that I wrote a while back) but for now, I want to help you with one problem in particular – when you’re not getting what you need from your leadership to execute the awesomeness you’ve been dreaming/scheming/working on so hard.


You may want a flip chart or white board for this, or a notebook may suffice. I like to use a wall with sticky notes myself.

First things first. Look at that other list you made. Or, if you haven’t made one yet, start by listing out all the projects you’ve got going on, and itemizing tasks that you can execute completely on your own and those you need someone else for.

Now create a list of items that you need your boss’s help with – this could be simple as needing them to make a phone call to as complex as having their support when talking to the board of directors about fundraising.

I hope this list isn’t long and daunting, but it could be. Categorize each thing on the list as either easy, moderate, or difficult. Take note of how your list breaks down — are there a lot of simple items that could potentially be dealt with quickly, or are there a lot of really difficult things that require a deep dive into some further strategy?

Further organize your ideas by prioritizing. Are there any issues that are easy and important? Consider this your low hanging fruit! What about complex but less pressing? For now, I have this suggestion.

This will help you think a little more constructively about the problem. Is it a systemic issue, or a difference in work style/priorities? Is the issue that your boss has simply been too busy to help with some of the things you need, or do the two of you just not see eye to eye? What is it that you really need to do your job, and why haven’t you been getting it?

For more complex tasks, projects or problems, take some time to consider your approach. How many of these items are complex but solvable, and how many are intractable/impossible? Are these impossible problems a game changer for you? Should they be?

For simple tasks, ask yourself if you can step up into a leadership role. Are these simple needs an ongoing problem, and is there a way for you to take over this task while keeping your boundaries in check? This isn’t about you doing someone else’s job – it’s about you being able to do your job more efficiently by eliminating silos and bottlenecks in your workflow.

Don’t get your back up. It may be easy as you’re working through this to start to place blame. Do your best to approach the situation with clarity. This is difficult sometimes, especially if the frustration has been ongoing for a while.

Take the time to define exactly what it is you need. Be as specific and task-oriented. And be creative and diplomatic if you need to be.

For example, there is an ongoing need for greater information sharing, think about how this might most efficiently be communicated – is a weekly 15 minute check in required? A regular email? What is the case that can be made for this being implemented?

One of the best ways to help others give you what you need is to give them some ideas about exactly how to do that. In the book “Getting to Yes”, they make 4 great suggestions for negotiating, but I see them as 4 great suggestions for problem solving in general.

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before making a decision.
  4. Define objective standards as the criteria for making the decision.

Okay. So you’ve got your prioritized lists of things you need your boss’s help with. You’ve even got some ideas around around how to communicate your needs and offer potential solutions.

Now I want you to take a similar approach to this pool as you did with your possibilities at the beginning of summer. If you cup your hands into this pond of problems and scoop out just a few, which problems need to be solved for you before you kick off your autumn of awesome ass kicking?

Start there.

And book a meeting with your boss in the coming weeks to get the ball rolling. Pump yourself up by listening to Motorhead or Motley Crue or Beastie Boys if you need to.

And let me know how it goes.