Personal Strategy = Natural: A role framework

Natural: By combining high role-awareness and high self-awareness, a grantmaker can produce the effective personal strategies we associate with the natural.

Case in point: An experienced grantmaker, new to her job with a large family foundation, is charged with terminating a multi-year initiative that has provided large grants to a group of long-time grantees. Intellectually, she understands her role: To advance the new strategy, respect the foundation’s history of collaboration, and give the grantees plenty of time to plan. Still, she procrastinates.

Looking back, she realizes that she simply dreaded the task at hand. While she was excited about the new initiative, she knew that the current grantees had not anticipated that their program support could end. Her first meetings with them had confirmed her fears. The grantees were profoundly resistant to taking the next steps. Although she understood why, she also found their resistance irresponsible, which triggered a familiar and unconstructive response: “I hate pushing people when I feel they’re not doing what they should be doing. I get resentful. In this case, I disguised my resentment by going through the motions. I remember being annoyed and going into neutral.”

To her credit, she paused to take stock of her role and the way her personal reactions were undermining her effectiveness. She committed her self more actively to the work, using both simple gestures and more complicated skills. She noted aloud that grantees’ feelings that the foundation was derailing them might be making collaborative problem-solving difficult: “I know you’re not feeling too warm and fuzzy about the foundation right now.” She used her own experience as a former executive director to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation. She also recalls “taking a risk” by candidly addressing the group’s apparent resistance: “I really feel you don’t want to believe this is happening. How can I help you get past it?”

Analysis: Her actions engendered more candor and trust among the grantees, which in turn enabled the grantmaker to draw on yet other skills, acquired as a consultant and facilitator. She proposed an intensive transition planning process, bringing the same energy and expertise to the termination of the past program that she would apply to the launch of the new one. As this scenario shows, even naturals don’t always slide intuitively into exactly the right quadrant of the frame- work. More typically, they do just what this grantmaker did: work their way toward an effective personal strategy by analyzing their own reactions and behavior in a swampy situation.

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