The unseen link between organisational health and impact for non-profits

Non-profit organisations operate within a complex ecosystem. They navigate many challenges and opportunities as they strive to achieve their missions. This complexity often poses hurdles for leaders, demanding a delicate balance between strategic growth and maintaining a healthy organisational culture. In this article, Mergon Foundation’s Ian Conolly discusses the critical link between the health of an organisation and its performance, shedding light on the importance of nurturing vibrant and healthy organisational practices.

Jim Collins, in the foreword of the book Engine of Impact, says ‘it is substantially more difficult to build a great social sector organisation than to build a great business corporation of similar scale. And that is why the best-run, most impactful non-profits stand as some of the most impressive enterprises in the world.’

‘The best non-profits are truly spectacular,’ said Kim Jonker in a conversation about this book. ‘They will take your breath away.’ ​And yet most non-profits limp along, operating far below their potential impact.​

Research shows that 80% of organisations perform better when they prioritise growing the health of their organisation. ‘Think about it for a moment,’ says Ian, ‘if you’re a vibrant organisation with teams that are united towards a common mission, a clear strategy and great leadership, a natural outflow will be an increase in performance.’

Higher engagement and productivity can result in many benefits. Funding is one such example. If an organisation approaches a donor for funding, and the donor experiences the organisation as one with a clear strategy, strong team dynamics, a healthy internal culture, and good governance, they are far more likely to see it as a good investment opportunity.

The challenges leaders face

If you’re a non-profit leader, chances are that you’ve shed some tears over the years. Leading is tough. Leaders get misunderstood, judged, hurt and exhausted. There is a need for revitalisation and a supportive community for non-profit leaders, especially because so many leaders are feeling isolated in their journey. Not only that, but they also have pressure from funders who want to see the numbers… the impact of the work on communities… and while this is well-intentioned, it often compels organisations to stretch their resources thin, potentially leading to unhealthy organisational environments.

Says Ian, ‘For us at Mergon there has been an increasing awareness of, and a focus on, the health of leaders and of organisations. We believe that healthy leaders leading healthy organisations have the most sustainable impact. We know that when an organisation is healthy the maximum energy can be focused outward on mission impact.’

Three core practices of healthy organisations

A few years ago, Mergon Foundation built the OSP Scan (Organisational Self-Perception Scan) as a tool to serve our partners. The question we asked is ‘What does a healthy organisation look like?’

After much research, we recognised three practices that healthy organisations do that help them to thrive, namely People Practices, Thinking Practices, and Governance Practices.

Building sustainable organisations - Mergon Foundation

‘The first thing you usually notice in a healthy organisation is a thriving team. There is great leadership and a clear mission, a sense that everyone is in it together,’ notes Ian.

‘In addition to having great people on your team, healthy organisations tend to have great strategy and clear thinking around where they want to go. If the team is strong, but your strategy and thinking are limited, your mission impact is going to be held back. On the other hand, if the strategy is clear but the team environment is toxic, you won’t achieve your impact potential, says Ian.’

He adds, ‘The third practice involves governance, which means using controls and measures to ensure accountability to all stakeholders for our decisions, to ensure we’re achieving our desired impact, and that we have external oversight enabling us to stay on track.’

When these three practices are strong, we see organisations start to thrive.

Nine core areas of healthy organisations

Ian explained that these three practices can be further divided into three core areas each, totalling nine in all.

People practices: Leadership, Mission & Vision and People, Teams & Values

Thinking practices: Communication & Identity, Funding & Strategy

Governance practices: Operations & Finance, Governance & Oversight and Impact Management

Hallmarks of healthy organisations

With these nine areas identified, the Mergon Foundation launched the OSP Scan. This tool has already guided 618 participants from 80 organisations through the process over the last three years, providing valuable data that enhances our ability to better address our partners’ needs moving forward.

The priority of growing healthy organisations

We conducted a survey of over 100 non-profit organisations from 21 different countries in Africa. We asked them to rate their current organisational health and how important growing a health organisation is for them. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with 94% saying that strengthening their organisation’s health is either growing in importance or already a work in progress.

We also asked what topics would be most helpful to the leaders for the growth of their organisations. Our survey found that developing a fundraising strategy, planning team capacity, and learning how to raise up great leaders were the top three areas, highlighting consistent needs across these organisations.

It is exciting to see that leaders of non-profit organisations are increasingly prioritising the growth of their people and organisational capability. As we gather data and understand the needs of leaders in a deeper way, we as funders can partner together to advance mission impact through healthy organisations.

Introducing FiftyFour

Now with a clearer view of their organisational strengths and areas requiring attention, leaders were left asking, ‘How do we take practically take the next step in growing our organisation’s health?’ Quite simply, ‘where to from here?’

As a team, we began imagining ways to support them in taking this critical next step on their journey. That’s when an idea of a learning platform started to emerge. We envisioned a place of connecting and learning from seasoned leaders and practitioners with specialist skills in a core area; people who, having gone before us, understand the challenges leaders face. It would be a space for practical equipping and capacity building, fostering a community of peers on a shared journey towards advancing their organisational health. It was in this collaborative vision that FiftyFour was born.

An online learning and capacity building platform, FiftyFour is designed to guide leaders towards growing healthy organisations that will have impact for generations to come. As a collaboration with the Mergon Foundation, MacClellan Foundation and 3W Foundation, the FiftyFour platform is currently undergoing substantial pilot testing and will be launching broadly to non-profit leaders in 2024.

Built to serve leaders to grow their organisations, the platform centres on four pillars: assessment tools, impactful courses, connection with other leaders, and data & research. These benefits provide leaders the opportunity to assess their needs, access applicable learning, learn from peers and understand data from their region that can inform their growth.

All this is free to leaders, wherever they may be around the world! Register and start your learning journey today at www.fiftyfourcollective.com.

Cultivating the wisdom of perspective

In this article, Mergon’s Ian Conolly speaks to us about the power of perspective, and how developing our focus can lead to greater clarity of purpose, unity and effective leadership. He unpacks three practical ways that we can nurture our perspective intelligence and cut through the complexities of leading an organisation to keep the mission front and centre. Here are Ian’s insights on the wisdom of perspective.

I entered the thick forest, snug along the mountain side, the many years of growth and cycles of seasons evident in its founded place. The aged trees pressed longingly towards the sky, letting the cool dampness of the air linger beneath, sheltered from the hot sun under their canopy of branches. Meandering along the winding autumnal leaf strewn trail I enjoyed the coolness of the air and the closeness of the impenetrable growth that crowded into the side of the route.

 Emerging from the wood into more open ground, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun. As my eyes adjusted, I could at last see the trail winding its willful way up the side of the mountain and, in the distance, finally ascending to a glorious summit. I pressed forward towards the heights with a renewed sense of energy for my now visible destination.

In the thick of the woods there is so much growth. The air is denser, the soil richer and water retention greater. This is where life and the constant rhythm of work happens. The trees and plant life bring much richness; however, they also limit visibility and so the destination seems remote, intangible, perhaps even unattainable. When following the route, progress can be difficult to measure. There is no easy view of how far you’ve come or where you will end.

As leaders we spend significant chunks of time in the forest. It’s where we must plant ourselves and invest our energy, leading others through on paths that may be unfamiliar to them. When we spend time in the thicket of leading and growing organisations it can be very difficult to see the journey we have walked, the progress we’ve made, and to plot the route to our destination.

One of the traits of great leaders is that they clearly hold perspective: where have we come from, where are we now, what is our goal, and, vitally, what is our next step?

Perspective intelligence – an essential leadership capability.

If we can’t see the bigger journey and our next step, we become disoriented. It becomes difficult to know where to focus our time and energy now, and to be sure of which of the many demanding tasks I should give my attention.

Back on my hike through the forest, if my orientation was poor, I would have no idea where I was in the forest and, when meeting different route options, I might well have chosen poorly, resulting in the pursuit of a wrong route, lost time and possibly not meeting my goal at all. Limited perspective in leadership can quickly take an organisation off track.

So how do we keep perspective in the thick of the day-to-day? Here are three ideas that are worth considering applying:

1. Lift your eyes up

At the end of each week pause and remind you and your team of the destination, some key next steps to get there and why the world will be a better place when you arrive. Tell the stories of how what you are doing is making a difference. Learn to articulate the value of the destination well and most of all, make sure you remain passionate about getting there. If you don’t carry a fire for the goal, your team won’t either. Build a rhythm of meeting simply to lift your eyes, especially when launching a big project and you are under pressure.

2. Have a clear destination

Of course, we can’t talk about the destination if we don’t clearly know what or where the destination is. This is somewhat obvious. It is hard though, particularly as we are often learning and building clarity on the destination as we go. When I emerged from the forest I could see the summit of the mountain, but I couldn’t see what it looked like on the top. It’s not possible to see all the detail of the destination, so be wary of going into too much detail. Paint the picture with broad brush strokes but be clear about where you are going and why the world will be better as a result.

3. Define the next step

Looking ahead to the top of the mountain I could not clearly see the route to the top, but the path for the next few hundred meters was very clear. It is helpful to have 5-year strategic plans and longer term documents…without too much detail. We can’t map out each step to a 5-year goal so don’t spend too much time putting a very long term strategic vision document together. Do take time to map out a detailed route for the next 7 days and some specific goals for the next 90 days. Short term focus and clarity gives much more of a sense of agency.

There is power in focus! Looking up at a destination that is far away can be overwhelming but seeing something close by gives us a sense of its achievability. Before we know it, we have completed many short-term goals and suddenly the final destination begins to feel within reach.

If you are leading an organisation, take time to step back, gain perspective and remind yourself of the importance of the work you are all doing together. Without perspective intelligence it is difficult to break the journey into manageable bite size chunks and keep your team focused and happily on track.

Ian is currently involved in developing the FiftyFour Collective, an online learning platform aimed at supporting non-profit and ministry leaders in growing the health of their organisations. This initiative is a collaboration between the Mergon, 3W, and Maclellan Foundations, with plans for a launch in late 2023. Stay updated on its launch and discover what it has to offer by following our social media channels.

The Magnificent Exit – a look at leadership transitions

At some point or another, every leader goes through a leadership transition: a handoff from one senior leader to an upcoming leader or team. This is a critical moment for any organisation, which can either erode momentum or catapult an organisation into its next season of growth.

In his new book, The Magnificent Exit: Mastering the Art of Leadership Transitions, Mergon Foundation’s Neil Hart delves into the traits of exceptional leadership and successful leadership transitions, looking to Jesus, the master leader, as the ultimate example.

Having time studying Jesus’ methods and techniques for raising up leaders, and drawing from the collective wisdom of diverse leaders, he brings us seven insights into what he believes to be ‘Christ’s pattern for us to follow’. Here is an overview of the chapter entitled ‘How to raise leaders’.

Belong

‘Jesus called his disciples to a connected lifestyle,’ writes Neil. ‘He asked them to belong before he asked them to believe. “Follow me” wasn’t a statement of faith as much as it was a statement of family. Jesus’ first step in developing his leaders was cultivating belonging.’

He notes that although character is critical in leadership selection, there are many characteristics that do not tend to emerge in the normal settings of our modern-day working life. ‘For example, you may never see how someone treats their spouse or children. You may never know how they live out their faith or what they delight in when they’re running free. Prioritising quality time outside of a work setting is therefore essential to know and grow leaders.’ He encourages leaders to ask themselves, what characteristics do I look for in new leaders? What would have me trust someone implicitly?

Envision

‘Nobody follows you through the darkness unless they believe that light will eventually break through,’ writes Neil. ‘The first step to raising a leader is not to give them your vision but to fill them with a vision to which their heart can respond. If you’re trying to convince people to serve your vision, then your vision is either too small or doesn’t need another person to serve it. If your vision plays an important part in the coming of the kingdom, then others will already be prepared for it. When you cast that vision, you should see people’s eyes sparkle as they recognise that this is why they were born. This is the first step in raising a leader,’ says Neil, ‘and Jesus demonstrated it.’

Affirm

Jesus showed us that encouragement, above all, yields the best results. But, Neil notes, there’s a stark difference between flattery and encouragement: ‘Flattery is excessive or insincere praise that will most likely be used to further someone’s own interest. Encouragement, on the other hand, is not always easy. It requires us to cultivate an eye for seeing what God has placed in people and then calling that to the surface, repeatedly and tenderly.’

Jesus taught us to appreciate and nurture the power of diversity: ‘Have you thought about how diverse his team was?: Fishermen, a freedom fighter, a tax collector—each bringing an authentic expression of who they were.’ Neil reminds us that Jesus worked with these differences and shaped them to create true leaders who would eventually be martyred for that vision. He adds, ‘They learned who they were through affirmation. They connected hearts because they knew they were seen, really seen.’

Test

‘Scripture is filled with the tests God has provided—never to fail, but to strengthen,’ he writes. ‘Abraham was tested with faithfulness to trust God. This happened through many circumstances: a delayed promise, the offering of Isaac, foreigners, Lot, a beautiful wife, and the spoils of war. Joseph was tested with greatness. This happened through dreams, favouritism, slavery, prison, lustful temptations, and eventually facing his family. The list is long,’ Neil says, ‘but the point is clear: Test those leaders with whom you want to work. Test them repeatedly so that they can be shaped by the hand of God in all these circumstances. This was Jesus’ technique for separating the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’

Correct and commission

Traditional testing methods only offer two outcomes – success or failure. But Neil suggests that Jesus taught a crucial lesson beyond the test: ‘Jesus showed us that failure is not final; it is an active ingredient in our development. If we try and minimise failure, then we fail as leaders to develop people thoroughly,’ he writes. ‘We must commission our potential future leaders with work even if there’s further failure to come. When we commission up-and-coming leaders and allow them to make mistakes, we create perfect opportunities to correct them in a loving way. They will make mistakes, either then or at a later stage when the stakes will probably be much higher and the consequences far worse.’

Release

‘It’s not enough to raise leaders. We must release them,’ he writes. ‘The generosity of senior leaders is seen in how open their hands are with those they raise. Will they direct them only toward their agenda or that of the kingdom?’

Neil recalls the account of Luke 9, where Jesus sent out his commissioned disciples without cloaks or money. Then in Luke 10 he instructed them to take a moneybag and knapsack. The difference in each scenario, he notes, is that they needed to be equipped differently. ‘Of course,’ he writes, ‘the key factor for their equipping is the Holy Spirit (“Wait until you are clothed with power from on high”). Likewise, we must ensure that we don’t release leaders without proper equipping. Whether we minister the infilling of the Holy Spirit or provide finances or teams and so on, we must send them with the very best of whatever they need to succeed.’

Leave

‘When your time comes, how will you leave?’ Neil asks. ‘How will you create enough space for the next generation of leaders to thrive?’ Neil notes that so many leaders struggle to let go in fear that the next leader or leadership team will fail or do things differently.

Jesus, on the other hand, suggests that leaving is essential, and good leaders plan well for their exit:

Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

‘Here, Jesus makes it clear that these rough-hewn humans, these fishermen and zealots and tax collectors, would be able to be all that he called them to be—and now much more because of the Holy Spirit. He knew they would lead out of their authentic and unique personalities like Peter did, imperfect but passionate. Complete leaders plan to leave while they’re still leading. They do it well, and they do it with joy.’

If you would like to read  more about raising up leaders and mastering the art of leadership transitions, order your copy here.

The Magnificent Exit: Mastering the Art of Leadership Transitions is available on christianbooks.com and amazon.com as well as all major Christian bookstores in the United States.

Developing a rhythm of continual evaluation and strategy

In this episode of the Elevate podcast we hear from Dr Steve Patty as he highlights two important aspects of organisational health, namely Strategy and Evaluation. His passion is to invest in people’s development – a pursuit he considers to be ‘one of life’s greatest joys and most sober responsibilities’. Through his consulting firm, Dialogues in Action, Steve is dedicated to helping people and organisations evaluate their impact, multiply their influence through leadership, and design strategies to make progress on their mission.

People often think about Strategy and Evaluation as separate ‘events’. Leaders would typically set a day aside to focus on strategic planning at the start of a project or initiative and, once the project is wrapped up, they conclude that a report is needed for funders, boards or other stakeholders to evaluate the impact.

‘It becomes a once or twice-a-year event and when it’s done, people often stop thinking strategically and evaluatively,’ explains Steve. He instead encourages teams to make Strategy and Evaluation part of their culture so that they continually think strategically, pay close attention to the difference they are making, and continuously consider what adjustments are necessary to have even greater impact. ‘This creates a culture of learning, instead of just a couple of events on Strategy and Evaluation,’ notes Steve.

Connecting the dots between Strategy and Evaluation

Strategy and Evaluation should be seen as two symbiotic processes that work interdependently to achieve an outcome. Evaluation comes before Strategy, but it also embeds it at every stage of the organisation’s life cycle.

Drawing from his consultancy experience, Steve adds: ‘Think of Evaluation as a disciplined way of paying attention to people. It’s a kind of reflection and awareness concerning the people God has entrusted to leaders to serve. Good evaluation is about asking the questions, ‘How are people doing? Are they growing? Are they walking with the Lord in ways that are richer and fuller?’ As we commit to this kind of introspection, we shape our strategy accordingly and cultivate a culture of inquisitive learning. 

Honest evaluation

‘It takes courage to evaluate honestly,’ says Steve, ‘and to shift the spotlight off us and onto the people that God has given us to serve, to ask ‘how are they doing?’

As you ask questions about people, try to pay attention to how it is affecting their mind, behaviour and emotions. ‘You can learn a lot by asking those kinds of questions, by  listening carefully and asking for the Lord’s guidance and discernment as the spotlight’s on them. Remember that you’re not asking them what they’re thinking about your programme, but rather how they are doing as a result of it,’ says Steve.

Tips on strategy execution

Of course it’s one thing to commit your strategy to paper, it’s yet another to systematically execute this strategy. Leaders may have the best of intentions but faced with the multiple and ongoing demands of running an organisation, may often fail to implement their intended plan and vision.

‘A helpful mental model that takes a lot of pressure off,’ notes Steve, ‘is to think about Strategy in an experimental way.’ He explains that the pull of the status quo is usually so strong that it can be overwhelming to just do everything in one big move. Instead, he advises, think of making small incremental changes to your current systems or behaviours. You don’t have to overhaul a project or introduce a brand new programme. Rather make small-scale adaptations that can generate new data and begin to shift your strategy in a different direction. ‘Make a point to then debrief those experiments and before you know it, you’ve got momentum going in that direction,’ he says. He reminds us that experimentations should take place within the context of operations, but never with people. ‘Yes, your programme and strategy does impact people,’ says Steve, ‘but this mindset pulls the experimentation back on you instead of too much on others.’

Three questions to help grow your strategy

Steve shares three simple yet highly effective questions for leaders who want to grow their skills in Strategy and Evaluation:

  1. What is currently working well in your strategy approach? What are those things you must not lose, even when changes or adjustments are needed?
  2. What is currently not working in your organisation? Where are there redundancies, inefficiencies or old practices that have inhibited growth or stifled creativity? What are the things that are holding you back, not only from good strategy, but good development? Now may be a good time to let them go.
  3. What new capacities are being required of you, given the needs of people around you as well as what God is calling you to?

To have maximum impact, Strategy and Evaluation needs to becomes part of an organisation’s culture. Leaders also need to have the courage to evaluate honestly, ask the right questions, and to humbly assess whether the hard work is truly having the desired impact. It will not happen overnight, but through careful and ongoing application, your organisation will develop healthy rhythms for Strategy and Evaluation and unlock its dynamic future.

To learn more strengthening your strategy for impact, listen to the full podcast here

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

The art of cross-cultural leadership

A leader’s role is never easy and leading people from different nations and cultures requires extra wisdom, humility and patience. In this episode of the Elevate podcast we hear from Edwin Fillies, co-founder of Nations 2 Nations, a ministry of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Edwin is part of a team of international leaders of YWAM, which trains more than 25,000 people every year. This experience, combined with the diverse list of countries in which Edwin has resided, has given him exceptional insights into multicultural environments. 

The art of cross-cultural leadership

The Biblical narrative and story of redemption started in Genesis in a garden,’ says Edwin, ‘but it will end in a city, filled with ‘a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Revelation 7:9). This means to say, from the beginning, God’s heart has always been for the ‘every’ and the ‘all’’.

‘Even as the world is becoming more global, it is becoming more tribal,’ he continues. ‘People inevitably link their identity to their ethno-linguistic roots. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to understand and honour that which uniquely shapes and makes them who they are.’

The importance of hospitality in leadership

For many of us the word ‘hospitality’ is typically associated with a specific act or moment of receiving and entertaining guests, with kind and generous liberality. Edwin however suggests that hospitality is something far richer:

‘It’s about cultivating a heart that is hospitable and open to others.’ In Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 5, Paul brings this concept to life through the application of a colourful Greek word, xenophilius: a combination of two words, meaning ‘strange’ (xenos) and ‘love’ (phile). Edwin explains that in this context, ‘hospitable’ literally means ‘loving the stranger’ or ‘loving the foreigner’ – in essence ‘loving what is different’.

More than a singular event or practice, he suggests, hospitality is a lifestyle and heart posture. It is an outward response to an inward transformation – a response of deep gratitude for Christ’s undeserved hospitality towards us. ‘As leaders we need to cultivate the same heart that is open for the ‘other’’, says Edwin.

Keeping unity despite differing worldviews 

Edwin encourages leaders to consider the pivotal role that culture plays in shaping the way we see the world and behave accordingly: ‘We all come with our own preferences and personalities. But these differences can be amplified when we engage cross-culturally, thereby creating obstacles to effective relationships.’

‘The mistake we often make is to judge what we don’t understand,’ he continues, ‘to make value judgments that don’t enhance what we want to build.’ All too often, he notes, we see this dynamic at play through the intersection of western and eastern worldviews. Where western cultures tend to emphasise the inherent rights and value of the individual over the collective, eastern cultures predominantly focus on the wellbeing of the community. Without proper understanding and appreciation for one another’s worldviews, these differences can foster a sense of moral superiority and subsequently build divides.

Edwin believes the key to bridge building is in ‘cultivating curiosity in others’ and emphasising the ‘mutuality of our differences’. Both cultures have something to offer, he goes on to explain. Through individualistic cultures we learn about self-ownership and taking initiative; through communal cultures we learn to celebrate the strength of the community. ‘It’s not one or the other,’ says Edwin. ‘There will naturally always be some tension in a multicultural environment but, despite our cultural differences, what allows us to work effectively together is relationship and a common vision.’

‘Instead of making value judgments,’ he adds, ‘we need to take interest in people – ask questions about where they are from…and work through the layers that help us ultimately understand their worldview.’

Knowing your people is key

Leaders need to know their people, including the moral and cultural framework that drives their behaviour, Edwin asserts. To illustrate this point, he contextualises this idea of ‘taking initiative’ – a typically ‘telltale sign’ of natural leadership within the western worldview – against the backdrop of other cultural worldviews.

He notes that people from individualistic cultures are usually high on initiative and therefore regarded as great leaders. In non-western/sharing cultures, however, it is not that simple – your right to take initiative depends on where you rank in the family, your age or your social standing. In essence, initiative is granted, not assumed – invited, not taken.

‘That’s why leaders have to know their people… if someone from a collectivist culture doesn’t take initiative, it doesn’t mean they are not a leader, they just need to be given permission,’ Edwin explains. He notes that he has seen this dynamic on a global scale where great leaders won’t say a word, unless they are invited to speak. If leaders don’t make an effort to get to know and understand their people, they will never get the best out of their teams.

‘People are never supposed to be objects to be used or problems to be solved – but mysteries to be explored,’ says Edwin. ‘Jesus clearly demonstrated this… to Him, people were never a means to an end, they themselves were the end goal. That’s why He said ‘I don’t call you servants, I call you friends’. ‘Understanding this relational dynamic is so important,’ he adds.

Practical tips on leadership

Edwin gives a couple of practical tips for those who lead in multicultural environments:

  1. Use language that people will understand, in their particular setting and context: Jesus demonstrated the effectiveness of using idioms and parables to communicate to people in a way that they could understand. Make an effort to understand the cultural dynamics and use stories and idioms accordingly to teach and train.
  2. Servant leadership transcends culture: Few things are as important as teaching leaders the value of servant leadership. Again, who better demonstrated this than Jesus himself? In addition, using contextual idioms may be very helpful in teaching about servant leadership. Maybe for the Basotho leader from Lesotho the idiom ‘a good prince lights the fire for his people’ hits home, while the same message may need slight tweaking to speak to the heart of a Swiss or South American leader.
  3. Authentic, indigenous leadership is key: Leadership is synonymous with being yourself: being comfortable about who you are, your history, heritage and culture. Leaders need to focus on training and raising up indigenous leaders who will naturally have greater impact in their own cultural context.

When leaders have cultivated hospitable hearts that make an effort to know and understand their people, whilst refraining from making value judgements, their leadership journey might still be challenging, but it will certainly come with great rewards.

To learn more about leading in multicultural environments, listen to the full podcast here.

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Growing your organisational health

Mergon Foundation’s Operations Manager, Werner Momberg, speaks to us on the critical role that strategy plays in nurturing healthy organisations and teams. In this overview of an Elevate podcast, takes us through some of the thinking that has shaped our understanding of organisational health and the tools we’re currently developing at Mergon to promote it. With extensive experience in international missions and leadership, Werner brings an expertise to the table as well as a clear perspective on what’s needed to assess and strengthen the health of your organisation.

Growing your organisational health

The energy of impact

God is most glorified when leaders and leadership teams point the energy of their people outwards, towards that which God has called them to do. If an organisation isn’t fully healthy, or if a leader is ill equipped for the task, the energy is conversely drawn inward and prevents the organisation from achieving its intended impact on the ground.

How do we ensure that we’re using our energy most effectively and releasing it towards the mission?

Werner says we focus on developing our organisation’s strategy – one that captures both the granular and bird’s eye view perspective of our organisational health.

To gain this kind of comprehensive perspective, however, doesn’t happen accidentally. It steadily unfolds, as the organisation and leader mature with time. Particularly when an organisation is just starting out, the leader may bring to the table nothing other than passion and commitment to the calling. With time, the organisation can grow, along with the complexities of stewarding that growth. As a result it starts to function like a machine or vehicle that needs constant service and maintenance. Without knowing, the leader’s focus shifts; their primary energy is given to keeping the vehicle moving forward rather than assessing its pulse and scope of impact.

Organisations are like jet engines

So how do we anticipate mission creep and ensure our leadership can grow in pace with our organisations? William Meehan and Kim Jonker’s book, The Engine of Impact, offers us some clues.

In the book the authors identify seven components of strategic leadership that they believe are essential to nurturing high impact organisations: mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, organisation and talent, funding, and board governance.  Together, these components form an ‘engine of impact’—a system that leaders must build, tune, and fuel if they hope to make a real difference in the world.

Werner draws from the jet analogy to highlight some aspects of these essential components. ‘The airflow into the engine is essentially its life,’ he explains. An organisation’s mission is much the same. It generates meaning and vision, which mobilises life. Strategy is what comes out on the other side of the engine – compressed, like oxygen, and transferred into energy that fuels the mission forward.

Jets are obviously required to insert the fuel into the engine. This ‘fuel’ refers to your financial inflow, talent (your human resources or your team) and board of governance. Thrust indicators offer a dashboard to monitor your engine’s status – much like the tools and resources we use for impact evaluation. Lastly, turbines can be likened to the leader and teams who, through courageous leadership and vision setting, ensure the organisation is continually ‘thrust’ into its mission with measurable and growing impact.

How perception plays a role

Adding to this rich analogy, Werner suggests yet one vital component is still unaccounted for: seeing the organisation’s health through the lens of perception*. You can have all the parts of your engine firing, he argues, but if the perception of the team is negative or unhealthy, the organisation will struggle to have meaningful, sustained impact.

Perception has the ability to touch every aspect of your organisation – and yet it can often go undetected. Take money, for example. Werner says, if there is a perception that the organisation does not have enough funding to do the work, the team cannot naturally nurture a culture of innovation. They will feel demotivated to think outside the box or experiment with new ideas, because they will have adopted a scarcity mentality that squelches courage and creativity.

How then can we acknowledge and measure the critical role that perception plays in organisational health?

Introducing the OSP

The Mergon Foundation has developed an organisational self-perception (OSP) scan which identifies 11 dimensions of organisational health. Over time, Werner and the Foundation team have been working through the OSP scan with a number of different ministry leaders to help them determine and evaluate the health of their organisations.

Leaders need not feel they have to be proficient in all 11 dimensions. Few leaders are excelling in every area of their organisation, Werner reminds us. The most important thing is to be willing to learn and grow and engage with your teams on these various aspects of organisational health.

‘The most important responsibility of a leader is to lead people,’ Werner concludes , ‘and to see them do well and release energy towards the mission. To achieve that, it’s not about giving tasks but working alongside others to help them make a positive contribution towards a calling.’ The OSP is a practical and valuable tool to help you do just that.

To learn more about organisational health and how your organisation can benefit from the OSP, listen to the full podcast here.

The Elevate Leadership podcast series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, Overcast and YouTube.

* Read more about the the role of perception in organisational health here: ‘Understanding and evaluating perception: the key to unlocking organisational health

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