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Sam Davidson's blog

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I'm just saying


Great leaders are known for having great ideas. Innovation is not limited to the highest ranks in any organization, but those who have proven time and again that they can brainstorm solutions, improvements, and new initiatives will be known as the best of leaders in any field.

What people like that don't tell you, of course, is that for every great idea they propose, they also suggest a handful that don't work. There's probably not an exact ratio for this, but I'm willing to bet that for every iPod, there's a few Apple TV moments.

That's how creativity works, though. It's Darwinian. The best ideas win by staying around long enough to beget other good ideas. Terrible ideas lead to failure and extinction. The trick to making sure your nonprofit is around for the long haul is to make sure you can suggest more good ideas than bad ones.

If you suggest no ideas at all, you certainly won't have any bad ones. But you won't survive, either. You have to at least try.

It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. But such discomfort produces the chance for you to stretch yourself and grow a bit as a leader. And since leaders are those that have great ideas, suggesting anything will get you a step closer to being recognized as a leader.

In my first nonprofit job, I was running a brand new program. As such, I had a little bit of room to roam when it came to programming. I had a supervisor to run everything by, and I'm afraid I might have even worn her out at times when during our weekly meeting I threw out idea after idea for ways to get more teenagers involved in our programs. Several ideas she vetoed (she was supposed to - as a leader, it was her job to discern good ideas from bad ones); others she approved. As a result, we ran a very successful program teaching high school sophomores leadership skills via hands-on community service.

Here's the deal: you will have bad ideas. Terrible ones. Ones you'll never want to tell anyone you ever had. But, by being willing to share any idea, you'll soon get past that uncomfortable feeling and achieve some level of success on account of your ideas. Here are three ways for working past the initial discomfort that comes by suggesting big and bold ideas:

  • Don't say, "This may sound stupid, but..." When you do, it tells me you don't think your idea has any merit. If you don't believe in it, neither will I.
  • Do say, "This is what worked elsewhere." Your idea doesn't have to be original to be great. In fact, if it's worked elsewhere and we can appropriately modify it, I'm more likely to green light the idea because we'll have a better chance at success.
  • Whatever you do, just say it. Ideas that stay in your head will never be recognized as great. So, step up and speak up.

On Wednesday, Tera Wozniak Qualls will be discussing the uncomfortableness that comes from proposing an idea that might fail. Click here to see the rest of what Tera and I will be chatting about this month. In the meantime, let us know how you’ve built your leadership skills through uncomfortable situations. Use #devleadership on Twitter and Facebook or comment on this blog to let us know your story.

Photo by: Jacob Bøtter