Have you ever raised $25,000 in two hours?
For some of you this might seem like small change, whereas others might think it’s impossible. Regardless, the principles work for $25M just as much as for $25K. My co-guide, Sylvia FerroNyalka, and I put 11 bankers through an experience which demonstrates how powerful the right combination of variables can be. As part of an 18-month leadership development program for senior executives at a San Jose bank, we challenged the executives to maximize the funds and donations they could raise for Sacred Heart Nativity School of San Jose, a middle school for students from low income families. The executives had previously read and discussed the book “Tribal Leadership” by University of Southern California professor Dave Logan.
The book highlights how having a ‘Noble Cause’ helps a team to rally behind something that matters. Having one of the students talk about how her hard work and dedication was vital to succeeding in school proved to be crucial for the success of the project. This allowed the executives to relate to the school in a meaningful way. When the participants were told about the challenge and the short time frame to accomplish the task, the initial shock was obvious. One of the participants later described what she thought when she heard about the challenge: “This is an impossible task.” What transpired in the next two hours was nothing short of remarkable. Leadership focus. Within 45 minutes a webpage asking for donations was live on the bank’s main site. Reams of copy paper arrived and the donation of six brand new iPads was announced. A used car and later a second one was sourced. One hundred thirty fleece shirts with the logo of the school, one for each student, were secured. Money donations trickled in. Friends and family members, the 49ers, the Earthquake soccer team and even a solar energy provider to investigate long-term low-energy costs for the school were contacted.
Here are the six principles that led to the success of the project through leadership focus:
1) Noble Cause
Having a meaningful common goal to work toward made everyone go at it particularly hard. Some of the participants’ competitive nature came through as they were attempting to do good in the world. The story of the middle school girl gave the project meaning.
2) Diverse Team
We had a group of very diverse skill sets. There were experts in marketing and finance, project management, and relationship building. Each participant brought his or her individual strengths to the project.
3) Diverse Network
If everyone had lived and worked in the same circles, the project wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. All participants lived and worked in the Bay Area, but traveled in very different social circles.
Eleven individuals on their own wouldn’t have been able to raise the funds and donations they did. By being in the same room and focused on the same topic, this group was able to ask questions and brainstorm creative ideas together. This is not to say that people can’t collaborate when not present in the same location, but it works better when everyone is in the same place at the same time.
Two hours can be very long for some tasks, but when you need to organize and connect with people not in the room it isn’t very long at all. However, having a limited time frame and firm end time helped the group stick to the task at hand.
6) Focus Leadership
When people are left to their own devices, lack of focus is the downfall of many projects. We eliminated distractions as much as we could for the group and we made sure they were clear on the stated goal. The result was impressive. Within two hours almost $25,000 in goods and money was sourced for the school.
By the end of the 18 months, our goal was to raise participants’ awareness to incorporate even more leadership principles (i.e., identifying leaders, planning, strategizing, decision making and delegating). Who knows? If we were to conduct a similar experiment again, maybe the group would end up making one phone call and source $100,000 for a noble cause.
We’ll see where the journey takes us.
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