On Leadership

Three Hints for Creating a Unified Organizational Strategy

Posted July 12, 2013 10:10 AM by Mark Cutler

There is a great article by Adam Bryant in the July 12, 2013, New York Times that builds off Microsoft’s recent reorganization announcement to share some successful CEOs' words of wisdom on creating a unified organizational strategy.

Acknowledging that this is very difficult to do, especially within large organizations, Bryant cites three CEOs he has interviewed who shared their keys to success.  I think any organization, regardless of size, can learn a thing or two from these leaders.

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The Vision of Great Leaders

Posted March 18, 2013 3:17 PM by Brandon Kline

All great leaders have a vision.

  • Martin Luther King saw a world of equality regardless of your race, color, or creed
  • Steve jobs had a vision to put a computer in the hands of EVERYONE
  • The Founding Fathers had a vision for a new nation
  • Even Bob Dylan had visions of Johanna

Okay, I may have gotten a little carried away with that last one, but the fact of the matter remains - all great leaders have a vision, and that vision becomes the driving force behind all their work.

Eduardo Carrera also has a vision. He sees the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico (BGCPR) positively affecting the lives of every boy and girl in Puerto Rico. This is a vision that is shared from the president of the organization all the way down to the front line employees and volunteers.

By relentlessly preaching that vision, they have cultivated the motivation and buy-in that has helped the organization grow to 11 clubs serving over 11,000 young people annually. However, this growth and forward progress wasn’t always the norm. In previous years, they struggled just to stay afloat and remain relevant in the lives of the Puerto Rican kids. He compared this stagnation to being in a room and having the windows open while it was raining. The water just kept pouring in while they did everything possible with the buckets they had to throw it back out. SEE THEIR VIDEO HERE.

For so long, they could only see in the short-term and by operating under this approach, they were only able to scoop enough water out of the room to keep from drowning. They needed a new direction. A purpose. A vision. A reason for being that was inspiring and so large that it could only be long-term.

Their leader made this new vision very clear to all employees, volunteers, and even the kids. They were going to reach ALL of the roughly 1 million kids on the island. It was this vision that has helped them continue to grow, continue to stretch themselves, and continue to save the lives of Puerto Rican boys and girls. Whew - now that is a vision.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a vision isn’t just what you are trying to accomplish in the next one, two, or even three years. It’s much greater than that. Take another look at the people at the top of this post (minus Bob Dylan of course). Do you think any of them thought their vision would be accomplished in the next few years? Or even in their lifetime? I doubt it.

I challenge each and every one of you in the mission-driven sector to reflect for a minute or two. What is your vision? Does it inspire you? Does it inspire others? Are you surrounding yourself with people as committed as you are?

As you reflect on those questions, I leave you with a parting quote from Eduardo’s Presentation at MDMS 2013.

“The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight and no vision.”

Why Stat Programs Aren’t Just for Sports Fanatics

Posted February 8, 2013 10:24 AM by Melanie Burton

Stat Programs, performance measurement tools that focus on data analysis, are becoming increasingly more ubiquitous. One could say they are the new black- not only are they the color of the season, but they’re here to stay and will soon be looked upon as classics. When using Stat Programs, you know you’ll look good because they help you make headlines. Stat Programs drive performance, and the results are change, success, and innovation. While sports enthusiasts have undoubtedly heard of Stat Programs, they may not be acquainted with the new face of the Stat Program movement: government. 
Stat Programs, or at least data driven reviews in general, are becoming increasingly popular and important among all branches of government (state, local, and federal). Political candidates are deploying them on the campaign trail, and laws are being made that require them. Stat Programs themselves have broadened their original focus on numbers to functions that include and demand a management style, making them useful beyond winning baseball bets with your buddies.  
Stat Programs tell a story and create a culture.  Unlike Stat Programs that sports aficionados are familiar with, these new Stat Programs move beyond data analysis and toward creating a performance-based culture. They create a decision making process as well as a management style. Stat Programs in the government allow one to not only hone in on a problem definition, but also help identify the cause of the problem.  This in turn helps you determine how well your proposed solution is working.
The management style that is built in to the implementation of a Stat Program requires you to continuously gather the data, analyze the data and infer what the data is really saying. So, if the proposed method to solving a problem isn’t working, the very nature of Stat Programs puts the user in a position to recognize in a timely manner that a new approach is needed. And, what’s more, Stat Programs put you in the room with the right people to drive and demand change. The executives, the approvers of new directions and strategies, are there. Stat Programs both elicit and require involvement. They streamline the decision-making process using facts to clarify the problem. If everyone at the table can agree on the problem, and the movers and shakers are there to facilitate the transition from brainstorming to producing actionable strategies, then real progress can begin. Bob Behn put it best in stating, “PeformanceStat is not a system or a model. It is a leadership strategy. For to achieve the strategy’s potential, to produce real results, requires active leadership.” 
This is the first in a series about Stat Programs. Tune in next time to learn about what a successful Stat Program entails.  
And, just in case you’d like learn more about Stat Programs in the government, a great example is Governor O’Malley’s Maryland StateStat. http://www.statestat.maryland.gov/

Leaders - On The Field and In The Boardroom

Posted December 4, 2012 4:41 PM by Brandon Kline

If you know me, then you know that last night I was watching the Redskins v Giants game. Of course I enjoyed watching the Redskins win, but I also enjoyed the pure entertainment of watching two great quarterbacks battle it out. I can’t imagine the pressure a rookie quarterback encounters when facing a veteran, Super Bowl-winning quarterback. This of course got me thinking about the two other great rookie quarterbacks this season, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Each of these players has a set of characteristics that makes them and, as a result, their team, successful. Then, like any consultant would do, I thought about how these characteristics could be applied to the leaders of the mission-driven organizations we work with.

Below I’ve highlighted a few of the attributes that make these rookie quarterbacks successful. So, take a minute, think about these characteristics, and hopefully you’ll be able to see how they translate to the leaders in your organization.

Team Comes First Attitude. Have you ever seen a press conference with one of these guys? Reporters always ask questions about them as an individual, but they always seem to steer the answer back to being about the team. A good leader knows that they are only as good as the team that surrounds them and they acknowledge that fact openly.

Always Pushing Themselves. Everyone watches their talent on the field, but it’s when they’re off the field that the talent is nurtured and grows. After a series on the field, they come to the sideline, grab a drink, and sit down with the offensive coordinator to discuss the previous plays. They may be resting their legs, but never their brains. They are always learning, making adjustments, and strategizing about how to execute better next time.

They Have An Unrelenting Desire To Win. Do you think these rookies smile after they get beat? I don’t think so. They want their team to win, and not just once or twice, but always. If you ask them what they want from the season, I’m sure each would tell you that they want to win a championship. They want to be the best. A leader doesn’t settle for mediocrity, they always want to be better than the competition.

Respected. Despite their youth, these rookies garner respect from veterans with 10+ more years of experience. Yes, their talent has a lot to do with this, but it also relates to their discipline, work ethic, and commitment to the team above themselves. Not only do they have the respect of their teammates, but they show respect to them as well. Leaders recognize that respect is a two-way street.

They Make Everyone Around Them Better. This is the characteristic that really amazes me. Somehow, someway, everyone around them seems to play to their fullest potential. When all of the above characteristics come together, this is the result. These guys make everyone want to be better, work harder to get better, and ultimately become better. In my mind, this is what true leadership is all about.

I always find it interesting to compare leaders that operate in different atmospheres and, more often than not, I find that the skills and characteristics of good AND bad leaders are similar regardless of the environment. Hopefully some of these characteristics resonate with you and help you think about the leader you are or would like to be. 

Down. Set. Hike!

When Bad News Is Good News

Posted November 14, 2012 8:30 PM by Mark Cutler

Ted’s blog from Friday reminded me of one of the key moments in Ford’s turnaround as Bryce Hoffman described it in American Icon – and, no, we aren’t that nerdy that we have an Ascendant Book Club – not yet anyway.  When new Ford CEO Alan Mulally began holding his weekly management reviews with the executive leadership team, he was always getting good news – which was a bit suspicious as he had assumed leadership of a company trying to stay out of bankruptcy.

Mulally’s management reviews went on for weeks – maybe even months, I don’t completely remember – while he continued to receive rosy reports from his leadership team.  Until, that is, Ford Americas chief Mark Fields, who wasn’t sure if he was going keep his job at Ford under Mulally’s regime anyway, decided that he would “go out in a blaze of glory” and see if “this guy is for real” and true to his word that all he wanted was honesty.

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The Heart of the Matter is Your Mission: Catholic Charities of Boston

Posted November 8, 2012 1:02 PM by Angie Mareino

In baseball’s first modern World Series in 1903, the Boston Americans rallied from a three game deficit to beat out the Pittsburgh Pirates. America was bustling: Henry Ford incorporated his automobile manufacturing company in a Detroit suburb, revolutionizing large-scale assembly, and the Wright brothers piloted their first flight.

Yet as immigrants continued to stream into the United States, the Catholic Archbishop of Boston, John J. Williams, was troubled. All around him he witnessed Boston’s immigrant population—which consisted of mostly Catholics—face horrific social and economic struggles. 

That same year, determined to affect change, Archbishop Williams formed the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCAB) with a simple yet profound goal: provide hope by assisting those in need.

Over 100 years later, CCAB faced modern-day challenges: the organization had become too complex, mired by issues that didn't connect with its core mission. Staff was apathetic; the public, unimpressed, unsure of CCAB's true purpose. In short, CCAB had lost its way.

With fresh leadership in place as the Great Recession dug in its heels, resources were scarce. Catholic Charities’ future success depended on the alignment of the board, the leadership team, and employees in pursuit of its mission to serve Boston's neediest citizens. To guide them, CCAB developed a strategic plan of action to anticipate the road ahead with a big-picture understanding of how to return to greatness. The Balanced Scorecard served as a compass to allow management to holistically evaluate and measure impact. 

In September 2008, the first Balanced Scorecard report was provided to the board of directors. The report included a strategy map with red, yellow, and green indicators that revealed performance versus plan. Further information was provided through quantitative performance data and qualitative performance assessment and recommendations. Board members were so impressed by the initial comprehensive review that they gave management a standing ovation!

During the holiday season of 2009, CCAB was able to increase its food program recipients by 20 percent as over 90 percent of food requests were met. Press mentions, tracked monthly by the Archdiocese, increased, and Catholic Charities was increasingly called upon to serve as a voice and advocate of the neediest in a positive light. By focusing on the “critical few” measures and projects, Catholic Charities positioned itself to do more with less as it embodied its core mission. We think Archbishop Williams would be proud.


  1. The Board aligned with leadership, which strengthened the agency
  2. Successes and challenges were communicated and monitored
  3. Middle management had a framework to align their activities with the strategy
  4. Because resources were better allocated, programs were set up for success
  5. Charities established a protocol for interfacing with the press to highlight the plight of Massachusetts’ poor
  6. A clear strategy and measures of effectiveness in achieving that strategy became the cornerstone of large donor acquisition
  7. Hard benefits became apparent about 18 months after the Balanced Scorecard implementation (sales and ROI increased significantly)

Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston was inducted into the 2012 Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame for Executing Strategy on Tuesday, October 16th, during Palladium’s Global Summit for Executing Strategy in Boston. Read our press release for more information. 

Communicating Your Mission

Posted October 31, 2012 9:25 PM by Brandon Kline


On a recent trip home to see my family, I spent some time watching TV and hanging out with my 16 year old sister. I noticed that, like most people her age, she was texting friends like crazy on her phone. If you have kids or spend any time around people of that age, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Texting is their primary mode of communication.

With the texting phenomenon and sites like Twitter, the ability to get your point across in 160 characters or less has become increasingly important. This got me thinking about the way organizations communicate with their employees, volunteers, customers, and constituents. In the same way that it’s important for high school and college age individuals to communicate a highlight of their day or an upcoming party in a succinct and to the point manner, the same is true for an organization when communicating its mission.

Think for a minute about the organization you manage or work for. If a friend sent you a text and asked what your mission is, would you be able to clearly articulate the mission of your organization in just one or two text messages? Would that text message highlight your unique reason for existence and reflect the values and priorities of your strategy?

If the mission is communicated properly throughout your organization, everyone should be able to send back a text message answering that question. I tested this out by asking a friend at IBM what his mission was. He replied, “We’re working to build a smarter planet.” He immediately asked me the same question about Ascendant, to which I replied, “Our mission is to help social and public sector organizations increase their impact.”

I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this post to think about how they would respond to a text message that asks, “What is your mission?” If it takes some time to decide how you would respond, you might need to take a step back and think about the reason for this. Is there a lack of communication? Could the mission be poorly defined to begin with? If the answer pops right into your head, that’s great! Do you think everyone else in the organization would say something similar?

Send a text to any of us here at Ascendant. We’ll tell you that our mission is to help social and public sector organizations increase their impact.

What is your mission?


Dave Norton: Innovator, Entrepreneur, and Mentor

Posted October 15, 2012 12:51 PM by Dylan Miyake

I saw in a press release today that WPI had named Dave Norton their "Innovator of the Year."  Dave Norton is a lot of things -- an incredible innovator, a world-renowned author and speaker, a serial entrepreneur, a long-distance cyclist, and recipient of innumerable awards for his contribution to business.  But, after reading this news, I wanted to share a more personal story about how Dave has inspired and encouraged me -- over the past 15 years -- to develop as a strategist, as a leader, and as a person.

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Chicago Public Schools: "That Used To Be Us"

Posted September 14, 2012 9:11 AM by Dylan Miyake

As has been widely reported, the teachers in Chicago are on strike. The teacher's union, some 25,000 strong, is demanding that laid-off teachers be given the first opportunity for new opening and for an evaluation system that does not rely as heavily upon student results. They're also upset about the calls for a longer school day and a longer school year. Of course, at the end of the day, neither the administration or the teacher's union will "win" this one. Only the students stand to lose, and here's why.

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Good Measurement Needs Good Leadership

Posted August 20, 2012 12:13 PM by Dylan Miyake

Every morning, I run through Emory University. The evolution of this institution over time has been incredible. From a small Methodist college in a small town in Georgia, Emory has emerged as a major international university in the largest city in the southeast. The undergraduate, law, medical, and business schools attract students from literally around the world, and speakers like the Dalai Lama and President Carter have spoken at the university.

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