A Man Yelled at Me in a Meeting

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A friend of mine who was present laughed with me about it later, saying “he didn’t know who he was dealing with I guess.” Well, not only that — I’m over getting personally offended by someone not related to me shouting — but I didn’t much mind that he yelled because at least it got his opinion, which seemed very much a minority position, out on the table where it could be explored.

So many people I run into in my work seem very cautious and well behaved but real democracy is messy and chaotic almost by definition. And, as you may know, we at NPQ feel that democracy-R-us.

In other words, democracy is the underlying job of all nonprofits the same way that in the business sector, the underlying job is making money, whether you’re selling fried chicken or a (related) quickie forty-pound weight loss plan over the TV.

Leadership in the nonprofit sector should require us to mix it up — and sometimes very impolitely when we believe the status quo to be dead wrong, but I am concerned that we may be losing our taste for this kind of leadership for fear of the marginalization that oppositional behavior can cause in our own continuous search for funds.

NPQ is getting an issue on leadership ready for the spring and would like your help.

I would love to hear from you, our readers, about your experience and observations of truly edgy leadership among nonprofits. Tell us a quick story about those who are skirting “propriety” with good effect or with the conviction required to get there. Send us news clips and your feelings and impressions about those edgy leaders especially when the risk-taking involves a whole group.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Super Tuesday I still marvel at how long it took us to have an African American or a woman stand as a major party candidate for president of this country.

Your as always,


p.s. By the way, all my daughter needs to do is look askance at me and I fold entirely.

p.p.s This is our 100th e-newsletter — do we all get a prize?

  • Cesar Hernandez

    Interesting piece…the fact that “edgy leadership” can create discomfort is the point! If we are “comfortable” why would we want to move or change?

    With regards to your “Super Tuesday” comment, it’s really not an “african american vs. a woman”, that’s the same comment made by Bill Clinton to create race divisions among Democratic voters. Barrack Obama is a presidential candidate who happens to be african american, not the other way around.

    When will the “progressive” movement see it’s own inconsistencies on race and class…i hope to see the day!

  • Ruth McCambridge

    Thanks for the comment and I think I understand your point about substance over all else but I did not set the situation up as a competition of tears and never would. The fact is that we have never had a major party presidential nominee who was not a white man and for one who grew up when one man (person) one vote was a battle still being intensely waged, it is a meaningful moment. By the way, I have never claimed the “progressive” label.

  • Joel Zimmerman

    Hi Ruth

    This thought did not originate with me, but I don’t have my sources handy to quote. Here it is: “Leadership implies followers. Followers implies choice.” True leadership comes when people inspire other people who CHOOSE to follow them. This is not the case when people MUST follow those with more authority, or when they are intimidated into following.

    You don’t get to be a leader with a big voice and a pointy finger. It doesn’t help much either, being able to match someone else’s big voice with a big voice of your own. People who can inspire others, and thus become leaders, are able to do so with normal tones and good ideas, not extended fingers, that point the way.

    Don’t confuse democracy with leadership. Democracy requires people who are willing to express their opinions, and the intelligence to do so in a convincing (not threatening) manner. Democracy requires all of us to add our expertise and exert our leadership in those situations where we are qualified to offer it. For organizations to excel in a democracy like ours, the true leaders are those who can bring out the best in (ie, inspire) all the people in the organization they are leading.

    Another observation: many books (e.g., Jim Collins “Good to Great”) in management point out that “the underlying job” is NOT “making money.” If there is, in fact, a common underlying job, it is to serve the customer by providing excellent products and services. Making money is a fortunate by-product of that. Similarly, I suppose, true leaders demonstrate leadership first and get put into the position of leader by their followers. They are NOT installed into leadership positions, from which they then get leaders.

    Finally, from my point of view, what makes leadership edgy is not the person’s attitude or demeanor. Leadership is edgy because a leader’s vision takes people to the edges of where they are now and points them over a cliff toward someplace they need to go – and the message is “Yes we can.”

    Joel Zimmerman