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How Nonprofit Leadership Can Benefit from Stretch Projects

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stretch projects

I laid on the mat and listened to my instructor explain the next move.

Point your toes to the sky.

Engage your core.

Reach for your toes.

Breath with consistency.

I sat there wondering if she was serious. I had never been asked to make the letter V with my body as I was being asked that day. I was convinced that she didn’t know me because she was asking me to do something I had never done before, and something I was sure would make me look like an idiot (or so I thought). For several months prior to the day I was expected to become a part of the alphabet, I had been using Pilates to strengthen my body, increase my flexibility, and clear my mind. I knew the basis of Pilates. I was confident in how I was growing in my Pilates practice. I felt strong when I walked in, and I often felt strong when I walked out of my sweaty sessions. Yet, the day I mention above, left me wondering what I’d been doing for the last few months, and how I was going to make it through this flexibility session.

You know what happened to me that dreadful day in Pilates, often happens in organizations where change is inevitable and leveling up is a part of the culture. The practice of Pilates – core, stretching, flexibility and strength – is very much like stretch projects in an organization.

Picture this: Leadership realizes the time has come to shift the trajectory of the organization, and managers begin implementing strategy designed to move the organization forward. That will demand that everyone else on the team STRETCH. When that STRETCH assignment comes across your desk, you may have the same reaction I had when my Pilates instructor told me to point my toes. You stare at the email or the folder in disbelief that you’re being asked to go beyond your current knowledge or skill level and develop a plan, proposal, or sector way outside of your professional comfort zone. And frankly, you might be a little worn out from the stuff that’s already ON your plate. If we’re really being honest, stretch projects challenge team members by placing them into uncomfortable situations in order to learn and grow. You’re not exempt (see what I did there?)

Now, as the leader in your organization and the guide for those team members who are looking at you like deer in headlights, it’s imperative to encourage positive problem solving, crucial conversations, and a growth mindset.

Now before you walk into your next team meeting with your “we can do this” speech prepared, think about your team and the question they will ask themselves. “How can I make sure I don’t bite off more than I can chew?”

You can use this strategy to help you encourage your team to STRETCH and make the most of the unknown territory they are embarking upon.

S-simplify the tasks and identify what skills need to be acquired or honed for the new project.

T-tackle the tasks in small increments. When we stretch, we have to do one thing at a time to ensure we effectively use our time. Encourage your team to take it one step at a time for productivity.

R-review the wins often. This will motivate the team to continue progressing through the stretch project. As a nonprofit leader, encouragement comes through acknowledgement, clear expectations and setting your team up for success.

E-explain areas of focused growth early on. If you see certain skills not developing with a team member, be sure to discuss those undeveloped areas and agree on a path forward.

T-train, train, train. Bring in an expert to help your team members activate their new skill set. It may not be a world-renowned trainer, but it can be a fantastic facilitator who knows her stuff and can ensure the team has the confidence to stretch in an awesome direction.  

C-connect with the leaders within the team. They will help you determine what problems are really important vs. what you think it is.

H-hone the results of the stretch project and create new goals. This is imperative to growth. We can get the results we actually want when we decide to be clear, refine our goals, and stretch ourselves.

Take the time to STRETCH your team and watch your results go through the roof!

To learn more about how you can grow as manager visit here and stretch assignments here.

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  • Mindy Mintz Mordecai

    As usual. incredibly valuable insight - and just as I need it most! Thank you!
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