Monthly Archives: February 2020

Leading Versus Managing

Whether you are a visionary, facilitator, or practitioner, you need enough time to play your role. Each role must engage in the entire Transformational Map: articulating a vision to others, aligning with other leaders and facilitating a shared vision, helping yourself and others learn whatever is needed to achieve the vision, and building policies and program structures that will embed the vision into reality. Realistically, three to four days each week are needed to provide leadership to people through all four stages of the Transformational Map.

Many leaders find themselves saddled with management responsibilities. They are busy with budgets, personnel issues, and administration. If one is spending the majority of time in management, there is no way one can lead a transformational process to change the culture of an organization, a community, or a system. Sure, some management is unavoidable, but leaders must have time to read, write, think deeply about ideas, and then discuss those ideas with others. Leadership is needed in order to create a shared vision that makes people feel they can achieve something great.

Transitioning from manager to leader requires careful planning. The first step is to decide such a transition is important and then to find ways to delegate management to others. This might require re-prioritizing budgets, raising funds to hire a manager, and letting go of low-impact programs. Remember, high-impact programs change the community’s and organization’s mind-set from poverty management to poverty reduction. Which of your current programs are doing that, and which are not? What can be done to either bring programs from low impact to high, or to eliminate programs in order to free up time and resources?

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Collecting Stories to Guide Circles USA’s Future

For more than 20 years, the Circles USA network has pursued this mission: to inspire and equip families and communities to end poverty and thrive.

As a fairly new executive director joining an established organization with a respected history, I’ve been learning about the challenges and successes in our past. Now, I’m inviting you to join me in a reflective process to refresh our vision for the future.

Guiding questions:

  • What is the nature of this unique present moment — the zeitgeist — as it relates to poverty?
  • What social, cultural, political, and economic forces are shaping how we understand poverty in this unique moment?
  • What experiences from our work illuminate what’s most important for responding to poverty today and in the future?

To probe these questions, we’re collecting stories from Circles USA members and partners. Stories are integral to the Circles method. We ask all of our Circle Leaders to consider their own stories as they develop a unique plan to escape poverty. So, gathering stories from our entire network to guide us into the future is consistent with the method. From these stories, we aim to identify new ways to support the next generation of diverse leaders committed to ending poverty.

Your story can be submitted in writing or other media like video/audio recording or photo collage. To be interviewed, to submit your written or multimedia story, or to nominate someone with an important story to participate, email me at Thanks in advance for your engagement and vision!

Story prompts:

Participants can choose to answer any combination of questions that resonate. Here are questions about your personal journey and aspirations:

  • How did you come to the work of poverty alleviation?
  • Tell us about one moment that shaped your commitment to ending poverty.
  • What breaks your heart about the issue?
  • What motivates you to continue seeking change?
  • Paint a picture of poverty five years from now: Is it worse or better? What has changed – any why?

And these prompts ask about your relationship to Circles USA (CUSA), if relevant:

  • How did you come to be involved in CUSA?
  • What does the organization mean to you?
  • What words or language would you use to describe the CUSA organization (its mission, values, culture, and leadership)? Is there an experience or story you can share that speaks to your response?
  • How might the CUSA network expand to more fully reflect the diverse demographics of those experiencing poverty across the U.S.? And how can the CUSA Board and/or leadership better reflect that diversity?
  • Paint a picture of CUSA five years from now. What does the organization look like? How might it be different from today? What has changed – and why?

~Jamie Haft, Executive Director, Circles USA

PS: Thanks to Christy Vines of the Ideos Institute for collaborating on this strategic planning project.

Having Enough Friends

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” – Aristotle

Harvard’s Happiness Research Points to Quality Relationships

An 80-year longitudinal study by Harvard revealed just how important caring relationships are for health and happiness. “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains,” Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger said in his TED talk.

A University of Kansas report published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships by associate professor of communication studies Jeffrey Hall states that it takes roughly 50 hours of time together to move from mere acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to go from that stage to simple “friend” status, and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone a close friend.

Close friends provide us with an emotional immunization from some of the suffering in life that we might experience otherwise. A good friend can give us comfort, guidance, perspective, and resources when we need it the most. Investing some of our 112 waking hours a week in developing and sustaining close friendships is time well spent. When we have enough friends, our sense of belonging is satisfied and we are happier.

A national survey of adults 45 and older conducted by AARP Research revealed that one in three people are lonely. The percent jumps to one in two if their income is less than $25,000 a year. The report also cited health studies that put loneliness in the same risk category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. For many, this loneliness comes with social isolation—lonely people simply do not have enough structured activity in which to engage with others. We, humans, have a tendency to keep this loneliness in our lives with more than 40% reporting that their loneliness has lasted more than six years.

How much friendship is enough for each of us is a very individual determination, but on average, people who reported in the AARP study that they are not lonely have 8.2 people who have been supportive in the previous year, compared to 4.3 people for the lonely group. When asked how many people they discuss matters of personal importance, the not-lonely group said 4.0, and the lonely group said 2.1.

Like money, the number of good relationships we need to be happy is probably less than we might think. While the brain might be able to handle up to 150 relationships at a time, those whom we really call friends are few indeed. A study by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, shows that the average person does not have time for more than five close friends at a time. If you are in a committed relationship, the number may be smaller. Her research shows that you can be happy with just one close friend.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Visionary, Facilitator, or Practitioner?

Are You a Visionary, Facilitator, or Practitioner?

All three roles of visionary, facilitator, and practitioner contribute to achieving the vision of ending poverty, and we each possess all three capabilities. The question is: Which one is most dominant for you, and how does that fact affect your leadership? How you communicate your vision will in part be informed by whether you identify as a visionary, facilitator, or practitioner.

Based on a military model adapted from a talk by Vipin Gupta, a colleague and a research physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, here is a description of the three types:

The visionary says we need to take the hill. It’s an impossible task to most, but the visionary makes the impossible seem possible.

The facilitator prepares the hill to be taken. By negotiating with the visionary and translating the vision into action, she or he turns what’s possible into something probable.

The practitioner implements the day-to-day details for taking the hill. By collaborating with the Facilitator, he or she makes what’s probable more predictable.

Visionaries can see, often with great clarity, how the world could function after the transformation. Even in the face of many unknowns, visionaries have confidence that something new is possible. Facilitators appreciate the visionary’s vision and can see it well enough to help make it a reality. Facilitators possess patience and enthusiasm to figure out the practical steps, so they can implement the plan. It is often a disaster to put visionaries and practitioners in the same room without facilitators, because a practitioner’s questions might stop the flow of a visionary’s process.

We all have habits that identify our preferences. A practitioner might say, “Just tell me what needs to be done.” A facilitator might say, “I don’t want to be in charge, but I can help organize things in the background.” A visionary might say, “Let’s do this completely differently.”

Knowing what role feels best to you is important information. If you are not called to be a visionary, take heart, you can still lead a tremendous change. As a facilitator, you can seek out visionaries who need someone like you to translate their visions to others. If you are a practitioner, you can insist that visionaries and facilitators join the leadership team to play their roles.

Understanding the preferences of your teammates is equally important. If you plug people into the wrong roles, you will end up with unnecessary difficulties. Take the time to learn how to read people’s interests and skills with regard to the roles of visionary, facilitator, and practitioner.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

The Tale of Two Mindsets

The call to adventure, as described by Joseph Campbell, the well-known mythologist, professor, and lecturer, is always characterized by the invitation to leave the known and enter into the unknown. It is a tale of two mindsets. For some period of time, we contemplate whether we are going to accept the call. We have one foot in the old mindset, and we try to dip the toe of our other foot into the unknown. The problem is, we can’t keep a foot in both worlds for very long. If we truly want to have the new experience, we must answer the call and put both feet into the unknown. Follow the yellow brick road, Dorothy.

The call to adventure that I am personally hearing is to change my thinking about money, leaving behind the past four decades of assumptions and habits. It is time for me to let go of many of them and become my own personal scientist, finding ways to increase my sense of community and deepen my purpose. What does it feel like to volunteer more often? To really take the time to study music, art, food, photography, and history? To have more time to smell the roses? To say no to money-making opportunities that seem outside of my purpose or values?

As in every call to adventure, we spend some amount of time and energy refusing it. For me this evening, I had a case of the “what-ifs.”

  • What if I retire too soon, and we run out of money, and I have to re-enter the work world at a lower rate per hour than I can earn now?
  • What if the agency that I have been leading for two decades can’t handle my working fewer hours and then things collapse?
  • What if the next generation of organizational leaders do things in ways that are at odds with my approach?
  • What if I retire and get bored and depressed with too much free time and not enough structure? Also, that’s my wife Jan’s main worry about my next chapter of life.
  • What if I keep overworking and have less energy to address lifestyle changes I want to make with eating, exercise, connecting with others, volunteering, and studies?
  • What if I continue working full time, the great opportunities keep coming, and I am once again stressed out with too much travel, thinking, and complexity?

I shared these feelings with Jan, and she encouraged me to challenge them by asking if my concerns were real. When I wrote down my fears, the worries subsided. It is important to note that six months later after writing these worries down on paper, none of them are a concern today.

While it was tempting to get back into more work that felt familiar to me, I knew I would be happier following the call to adventure into the uncharted waters of an unknown world. The happier I could be, the more likely I was to make a new and significant contribution to others. By listening to my heart rather than my head, I left the known, which is no longer in alignment for me, and entered the unknown.

The tale of two mindsets ends when we finally answer the call. Assistance has come from outside of ourselves in some manner–often through one of our allies—those who tell us the truth about what they are hearing us say we want to do. As allies, they challenge the rationalizations that keep us clinging to the known. They encourage us to let go and step into the new world.

Our society places an unwarranted premium on making money. Millions of ads over our lifetime have told us that we should make lots of money and buy from an endless catalog of stuff we don’t need. Our sense of reality has been largely shaped around habits of consuming things. But for those of us who are tired of chasing more money and more stuff, a new world awaits. That world is rich in meaning and friendship and guided by a more modest standard of living, a standard that requires far less money than what we think we need to achieve a better version of the American Dream. This is the new mindset that can change the world.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Communicating Your Vision

In Leading Change: An Action Plan from the World’s Foremost Expert on Business Leadership, John Kotter states that leaders must spend 70% of their time leading. The primary task is communicating the vision to stakeholders in as many ways and times as necessary. Leaders underestimate the frequency of communication needed to create a new culture.

What are the elements of an effective communication of your vision? Here’s insight from Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds:

  1. Unleash the master within.
  2. Master the art of storytelling.
  3. Have a conversation.
  4. Teach me something new.
  5. Deliver jaw-dropping moments.
  6. Lighten up.
  7. Stick to the 18-minute rule.
  8. Paint a mental picture with multi-sensory experiences.
  9. Stay in your lane.

I highly recommend Gallo’s book as a primer for amplifying your capacity to communicate your vision. What if you do not like public speaking? Or what if articulating a vision is not what you want to do all the time? It’s important to understand your preferences now so you can identify the role that best suits your personality. To lead, one must have clarity about his or her role along with time dedicated to play it.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Having Enough Meaning

How Do You Feel?

We feel good when we are “in the flow.” We are doing what we want, and our attention is fully engaged. We are doing something that doesn’t generate anxiety from being in over our heads or that gives us a sense of ennui from being bored or adrift. We have a mission, and we are engaged in it enough to give us an overall feeling of well-being. We have enough meaning to be happy.

Ennui (not enough) ——————Flow—————-Anxiety (too much)

We can pursue a simple organization of our mission and objectives to help structure our attention, so we stay in the flow, often referred to as being in the zone.

  • What is my life purpose?

Mine is to inspire and equip myself and others to be happy and thrive. What is yours?

  • What is my purpose for this period in my life?

For this year, I am focused on establishing enjoyable new rhythms in my week. What is yours?

  • What is the daily objective that will help me achieve my life purpose?

One of mine is to focus on doing one thing at a time and kick the habit of multi-tasking. What is yours?

Anxiety and ennui are guardrails on the path of purpose. When we take on too much, we can generate fear and anxiety. Delaying action that serves our life’s purpose will generate feelings of ennui. Finding the sweet spot between the two creates a wonderful sense of flow that comes from engaging in whatever is the meaningful activity to us.

Getting on with One’s Purpose

Years ago when I considered going back to graduate school, I asked my friend Dr. Steve what he thought about my idea. He asked me if, when talking to the many Ph.D.’s I had interacted with during my career, had I ever found myself not understanding what they were talking about as it related to my field? I had to admit that had never happened. He said getting that kind of degree involves a lot of work and that unless I had a burning desire for it, maybe I should skip it. Great advice! I decided I would work closely with people who had Ph.D.’s but did not need to fit the round peg of my personality into the square hole of academia.

Of course, I salute my friends and colleagues who got their Ph.D. and now use it to pursue their careers and personal mission. They are accomplishing what they set out to do. Certainly, higher education degrees are necessary for many strategic and technically complex jobs. However, there are a million and one excuses we can give ourselves about waiting to make our unique contribution to the world. It’s important to tune into one’s heart and ask these questions: Am I ready right now to passionately chase my life’s dream? If so, then what is the next step? If not, why not?

By tuning in to our hearts, and talking with others for perspective, we can better discern whether more education, apprenticeships, preparation, time, or something else is required before we get on with the next chapter of our lives. The world needs inspired leadership now. The more of us who get on with it, the better chance we all have of sustaining our future for the next generations to come.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Content to Inform Your Strategies

The following content areas are important to Circles USA’s strategies for ending poverty.

  • A Tipping Point

A tipping point, such as reducing poverty rates in the United States by 10% within 10 years, could drastically reduce the number of adults and children living in poverty. Gaining widespread commitment could be a game changer.

  • Transformational Leadership

Leaders need a process for transformational change and a robust community of practice. They need more coaching that inspires and challenges them to function at even higher levels of performance. In order to remain urgent about transforming the community, they need enough direct contact with those they are ultimately helping through their leadership work. Leaders need to be reminded, and often need to be supported, to delegate management activities so that they can dedicate the required time necessary to truly lead.

  • Shifting from Poverty Management to Poverty Reduction

Our current system results in the management of poverty rather than reducing poverty rates. We are accountable only to delivering units of service in an ecosystem of poverty management programs with silos in crisis intervention, stabilization, workforce readiness, job placement, and advancement.

A new and alternative poverty reduction system must more comprehensively support people through all five stages of self-sufficiency in order to drastically affect poverty rates.

  • Cliff Effect Mitigation

To unleash the phantom workforce of those who could work but believe they can’t “afford” to, we must eliminate disincentives built into safety net programs such as childcare assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

  • Community Allies
  • Relevant Education
  • Cross-Sector Partnerships for Job Creation
  • Research, Data, and Accountability
  • Increasing Poverty IQ

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.