The plan and the result.

The plan and the result.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.

In practice there is.

Yogi Berra, Albert Einstein and some other guys


There is a word in the English language I energetically avoid: the word should. To me the word should is often used as some kind of bludgeon, telling me how I have fallen short, overlooked something or otherwise am missing an essential part of a puzzle.

  You should have thought of that

     You should consider getting a celebrity spokesperson

  You should have hired, fired, obtained, eliminated….. insert your own verbs here.

You should be, feel, know, find out?. fill in the blanks, I bet you have heard plenty of ideas about what you should do or should have done.

It took me a while to figure out how to get around using the word should when I did want to offer some advice or suggestion, and it was a great exercise. Being more conscious and thoughtful of the words I chose made me consider their content more closely.

Some alternatives include:

  • have you considered?
  • has someone suggested?
  • maybe it might help if…..

I find I hear these words in my own head when someone tells me what I should do.

I love advice, especially when I didn’t ask for it

In my experience even the most well-meaning will tell me what I should do, should have done or plan to do in the future and it can be tough to resist strangling them. Which is why when I read this article, I indulged myself in a little laugh:

Toward a Nonprofit Theory of Leadership and Organizational Culture

 Published by the Nonprofit Quarterly, this article lists the ?shoulds? that nonprofit boards and management  need to include in their leadership culture to ensure they are and will be the best they can be.

 Not All That Helpful

And the listed items are right on the money, no doubt. The problem is that there is not one single word in this article about how to achieve those shoulds. Sure, it would be fantastic to have all those open policies and strive towards always being our best selves, but nonprofits are made up of people. Those people bring passion, energy, loyalty, unreasonableness, impatience, distraction, commitment and generosity to the organization. 

 Of course we would love to have our organizations have all these evolved qualities of superior leadership, and having clear theoretical goals is great. But for now, showing me how we can achieve the shoulds means much more than a laundry list of ways in which we don?t behave now.

 Great Read

One of my all-time favorite nonprofit management bloggers is Joan Garry, and her wonderful tag line: “because nonprofits are messy.” Check out some of her posts and compare them to the list the list of shoulds from the article. This is where theory does indeed meet practice.

Her perspective is great and she addresses this stuff head on:

 The article is a nice Christmas list

 I?d keep it up on the bulletin board; it is a nice blue sky list of qualities of leadership and culture I would like to provide. We’d all like to do our best, but right now, I SHOULD get back to finishing the grant application, sending in the second extension for the 990 and figuring out how to fix the hole in this year?s budget.

 If you should find yourself in need of a little help getting closer to your management goals, we can help you discover ways to achieve some of these leadership qualities: where how it can work is as important that how it should work.

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