Personal Strategy = Personalizer: A role framework

Personalizer: High self-awareness and low role-awareness... grantmakers who get distracted by their personal reactions and lose sight of what’s ultimately important in a given work situation.

Case in point: A grantmaker at a large foundation is personally pained to decline a proposal. She fears being the straw that will break the back of a fragile nonprofit doing important work and finds herself postponing the turn down. Recalling this and similar situations, she explains: “I sometimes find myself acceding in the moment with a smaller grant or asking for revisions in hopes that it will be a better fit because [saying No] makes me feel like a monster.”

Analysis: This grantmaker brings awareness of self but not of role to a stressful situation. Without the guidance her role offers, she cannot leverage her personal assets constructively. So, instead of mobilizing her compassion to acknowledge the pain she knows her decline inflicts, she lets her compassion pull her off task. By reflecting more thoughtfully on her role in situations like this, she might be better able to anticipate how her weaknesses might unsettle her. Greater awareness, for example, that she tends to feel some discomfort with her own authority might help her maintain her sense of accountability for what is really important. Instead, she ends up personally committed and highly collaborative – hallmarks of high self-awareness – but to the wrong goal.

As participants in our workshops pointed out, low role-awareness can lead to other unproductive behaviors, short of total capitulation, in saying No to grantees. Some grantmakers procrastinate because the task stirs up too much anxiety and uncertainty. Others give mixed messages, praising a grantseeker’s work while turning them down, thus leaving the grantseeker uncertain about how to improve a proposal.

Some fall prey to a different personalizer problem: grandiosity. The folk wisdom of the field has long recognized the problem and reminded grantmakers that people are laughing at their jokes, returning their calls, and seeking out their advice partly because of the role they inhabit. If they lose sight of that dynamic, grantmakers can become over confident, less inclined to healthy self-doubt, or blind to weaknesses in their work.

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