2014: A Reflection on Life & Leadership

In Leadership by Chris MarlowLeave a Comment

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2014 was the best of times and the worst of times. On Jan 1st, 2014, I was on my way to Ethiopia and Uganda. While the trip was amazing, I simply was not prepared to travel that soon into the new year. It threw me off for the entire first quarter of 2014. I always felt as if I was trying to play catch up.

Soon after our return, we got the horrid phone call that my brother-in-law had been murdered in an LA hotel room. That was quite difficult to deal with. Truthfully, you just don’t know how to handle those kinds of tragedies. You do your best, try to heal, and move on with life.

The year went on with some amazing events at Catalyst, Plywood Presents, Together for Adoption, and Allume. In the middle of all that, Help One Now acquired another non-profit, and that has been a huge and very unexpected blessing. Of course, we also spoke at multiple churches.

Our Love Hope trip was wildly successful, I landed a book deal, we received our largest one-time donations to date, and right now, we are in full swing to fund Phase Four of the Legacy Project and I committed to a local chruch!

Overall, 2014 was good but hard. It felt like a being a boxer; you get hit, and you hit. You get knocked down, but not out. You get up and go to battle–again and again!

There were live events, intense travel, plenty of mistakes, a few heartbreaks, and some incredible victories. God was gracious in the midst of the storm and chaos.

Here’s what I’m learning:

 

1) The Long Tail is vital to the vision. Whether it’s family, work or health, I’ve learned that I need to see all things through a “long tail” lens.  I’ve become less and less concerned about metrics in a 12 month span. When you run a small nonprofit with a handful of employees, it does not take much to throw you off. Healthy indicators are necessary, but they can also create unnecessary pressure.

Tragedy, travel, team-members who move on, campaigns that fail and more–life happens and it will always be that way. I’ve decided to shift all of Help One Now’s strategy to 24 months. Every six months, we update the plan. (I do have a five year vision in a sort of placeholder, if you will.)

Another words, I know where I want to go, but I’ve learned that the journey will always be changing. I will need to adapt on the fly and be ready to take advantage of key opportunities. Inch by inch, you move forward, work hard, create small wins, deal with setbacks and such. But, overall, you see the impact … and it’s beautiful.

2) The foundation to every successful dream is always the same. As the world shifts, a few things will never change. My job as a CEO of the organization is four-fold: present a clear vision, make sure we have the resources (cash) to execute that vision, acquire the best talent (board/staff) possible, and make sure our story is being told over and over and over.

If you lead a nonprofit, business, or church, take those four principles and own them. They are the foundation to all successful pursuits, and those four aspects should be how you use your time day in and day out. Because of this, I’ve made a shift from working IN the organization to working ON the organization.

3) Simplicity is a must. We just don’t know what to do with this word; we crave it but it always seems out of our reach. Simplicity does not mean EASY, and that is a mistake many of us make when we think of this word.

I want to simplify everything, so I can focus on doing the necessary HARD work. I cannot be scattered, I cannot lack efficiency, I cannot have too many areas that need my focus. I have to simplify all aspects of life. This is counter-culture, but extremely important to success.

Because of this, Help One Now has created a shift in our global operations, which we will announce in 2015.  We’ve also said “No” to more opportunities, and I’m rethinking what it means to collaborate. We’ve spent so much time and wasted so much energy when it comes to collaboration. (see #4)

If you have not read the book Essentialism,(Affiliate) do it. Our entire team read this book and embraced it. It’s hard to make changes, but its worth it.

4) Collaboration must be reimagined.  I think possibly the biggest issue we have faced is processing what is means to partner or collaborate. We realized that many churches would never follow through; they will always use us to “do mission trips” and not actually fight with us to make the world brighter.

We made some key mistakes when it comes to partnering.  One is not having a clear understanding of what partnership looks like. This made our life very complex in 2013/14. So, we decided to pivot on how we do partnerships and have made it incredibly hard to work with Help One Now.

We began to ask church partners to commit to do the hard work of caring for the poor. We also asked them to sign a covenant, or we stopped partnering with them altogether or shifted our commitment and their expectations. This, of course, led to some difficult conversations. I also did an informal study on new(er) nonprofits that I love and respect; these nonprofits were growing at a good rate, and I came to the conclusion that most don’t partner with churches or if they do, it’s not a big priority.

As a former pastor and church planter, that hurt.

We care too much about the vision of Help One Now and realized that most of our church partners were simply stealing our ability to make an impact. Truthfully, we started to lose money when we agreed to partner with churches who–for whatever reason–find it hard to make a commitment to do good missions work, it’s not in their DNA.

So we asked ourselves a question: what if we partnered with less churches, but served those churches far better and asked those churches to be deeply committed? Many churches said “No” to this idea, but many LOVED it. This has brought so much life to us. We’re in the beginning phases, so we will see how this works out.

Of course, we’ve had a handful for churches that have been in the trenches with us for years. They bring joy, life, hope, and resources to the table. We are so grateful for these churches who are fully committed to doing good.

But, less is more, and I think the results will be amazing. I feel like churches can make a big difference if they choose to commit and focus, and we can serve those churches better.

All in all, 2014 was an amazing year. I’ve come to learn that every year, we will face ups and downs, wins and losses, good times and bad times–but, for those who keep going, you can create something beautiful in the midst of the broken.

I hope you had a great 2014 and I look forward to 2015.

 


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