Management Resilience, Management Muscle

August 16, 2023 – Approximate Read Time: ~8 minutes

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by Tom Klaus

The Takeaway: Principal leaders of organizations need to have the time, energy, and “head space” to be fully present in cultural conflict when it is at its hottest. They can have these ready when needed by strengthening their own management resilience and building management muscle among others who practice leadership in their organization. Being fully present and more focused in the midst of the conflict means they can help cool it and move it toward de-escalation.

In the study I interviewed 35 principal leaders from across the U.S. representing the full spectrum of ideological views on sex ed in the U.S. Despite their expertise on the subject of sex education, the leaders were quick to acknowledge their own lack of preparation, either by training or experience, to manage their organizations.

Bear in mind that most of the leaders were the chief executive officers or executive team members of small (what some might call “micro”) nonprofit organizations with small staff sizes. They often earned their position based on experience and proven success in the field – as an advocate, educator, clinician, or in another similar programmatic role in the organization. Leadership in the field was (still is?) dominated by people who had to learn to do management tasks in real time while on the job. The need for stronger management skills was widely felt among those in this study who were also trying to practice leadership.   

The line between leadership and management can be very slight and the two often overlap. Yukl, Gordon. and Taber (2002) proposed three meta categories of behaviors that integrate leadership and management – task, relations, and change behavior. Hunt (2004) suggested leadership is focused on aligning people to produce adaptive and useful change while management has an organizing focus aimed at helping the organization function smoothly. Carlson and Donohoe (2010) have added the role of supporter to that of leader and manager for executive directors of nonprofit organizations. According to Carlson and Donohoe (2010), leading is concerned with setting direction and focusing on key relationships within the environment, managing is concerned with tactical plans that keep the organization sustainable and effective, and supporting is focused on helping skilled board, staff, and volunteers carry out the work of the organization.

Regardless of the differences and similarities between leadership and management, the leaders in this study clearly felt something was missing in their preparation. They described the missing component as management skills. The remedy for weak management skills is a technical problem that has clear solutions. Leaders can easily, inexpensively, and quickly gain the needed management skills through a variety of means – webinars, books, courses (both online and in person), and coaching. Still, leaders did not feel prepared as managers nor were they getting the management preparation, training, and support they needed.

The interviews I conducted helped me understand why leaders were not getting that preparation.

  1. From day one of their tenure, they were caught up in the cultural conflicts surrounding their field. At the time I conducted the interviews the cultural conflict over sexuality education was not as hot as it is today. Each of the leaders had been involved in previous iterations of the conflict and those remained fresh in their memories. Conflicts can be intense and all-consuming. Even before they could find the office supply cabinet, they could be quickly overwhelmed by the challenge of addressing the cultural conflicts, and their collateral damage, for their organization. 
  2. They felt the pressure of non-stop fundraising. Executive directors in particular often feel they had no time for anything but fundraising. They felt external pressure from their boards and their own internal pressure from a commitment to keep their staff employed and their organizations financially stable.
  3. Leadership institutes had limited value for building management skills. Though several leaders indicated they had been helped by their participation in various leadership institutes sponsored by local chambers of commerce, funders, and other organizations, these did not provide the management skills they needed.   

Being a combatant in the midst of a Culture War, raising money, and trying to build management skills takes a lot out of people. They take so much and leave so little for doing other important work. Participants indicated they felt they had little choice about engaging in cultural conflict. Like it or not, it was there before them, and sucked them in. They could resist for a time but eventually they’d have to engage because the conflict could have a significant impact on their organization and people. They had little choice about how they used their time and effort for fundraising and their own professional development. Often their own professional development, including building management skills, was set aside first.

To compensate, study participants indicated they leveraged relationships with more experienced peers to quickly acquire the skills they needed in the moment when they needed them. They would seize the opportunity for a quick phone call, a brief email exchange, or a short conversation when they bumped into a peer at a conference, meeting, or event. The phone calls and emails often occurred in the midst of a management crisis. They viewed in-person meetings as opportunities to intentionally engage peers on chronic management issues.

Though they could build their competencies through peer-to-peer engagement, the quality of those skills was only as good as the source they were consulting. The strategy of consulting peers assumes the person to whom the leader has turned for guidance understands the most current and accurate information, has been successful in similar situations, and has past success which is actually relevant to the current need. That is, that their experience is actually valid. It was the study participants’ perception of a peer’s experience that often validated the quality of the guidance.  

While experience is an important variable in the practice of leadership, it is only one of many variables. As participants in the study tended to rely heavily upon peer relationships, the data also suggested it was still inadequate. Yes, peer relationships produced some valuable learning, and yet they did not compensate for either the lack of formal preparation or professional development.

The peer relationships were extremely valuable for what they DID provide. They provided content knowledge in the field of sexuality education and aligned ideology between leaders on the same side in the Culture War. Even if they did not receive much guidance on management, these were viewed as useful and valuable.

Leadership development approaches for sexual health organizations, and other organizations at the center of the current Culture War need to prioritize Strengthening Management Resilience within those who are designated as principal leaders. Many leaders have difficulty prioritizing this for themselves. If principal leaders in organizations are to be Strengthening Management Resilience, it will be necessary for them, their staff, and the boards of directors to become intentional and collaborative to help them accomplish it. At the same time, those in other roles in organizations caught up in the controversies of Culture War need to be Building Management Muscle.

Hunt (2004) and Carlson and Donohoe (2010) have identified that management is focused on the internal workings of an organization, helping it run more efficiently and effectively. When principal leaders are Strengthening Management Resilience, it means they are empowering others in the organization to practice leadership and build their own management muscle. Other staff are Building Management Muscle by stepping up their participation in fundraising and managing day-to-day operations of the organization.

I hear you whispering, “Wait, how is Strengthening Management Resilience and Building Management Muscle relevant to managing controversy in the midst of the Culture War?”

Its relevance is related to the energy it takes for those practicing leadership to engage in cultural conflicts. Any one of the three issues that participants told me overwhelm their time and energy – fundraising, management, and culture conflict – could be a full-time commitment for one person. However, because of their unique, designated role in the organization, principal leaders need to be active in trying to address culture conflicts because of the impact these could have on the durability of their organization.

This is a time when cultural conflict can pose an extreme threat to any nonprofit organization engaged on any frontline of the current Culture War. Leaders of these organizations are important if a way is to be found to de-escalate the conflict and prevent significant collateral damage to the organization. Other staff can do more to help with fundraising and make sure the organization is managed in a way that allows it to run smoothly. Everyone benefits when leaders are resilient enough to let others exercise management muscle while they innovate ways through the most difficult moments of the Culture War.

Next week we’ll look at the second insight and recommendation, Expanding the Imagination of Leadership.

Do you have a question about something you are reading in this series? Send it to us at We’ll address it at the end of the series. Thanks!

  • Carlson, M. &Donohoe, M. (2010). The executive director’s guide to thriving as a nonprofit leader (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Hunt, J. G. (2004). What is leadership?  In J. Antonakis, A. T. Cianciolo, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The nature of leadership (pp. 19-47). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Yukl, G., Gordon, A., & Taber, T. (2002). A hierarchical taxonomy of leadership behavior: Integrating a half century of behavior research. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 9(1), 15-32. doi:10.1177/107179190200900102

The DAD is happening Wednesday, September 13, 2023, at 4:00 PM Eastern via Zoom. There is no cost…this is a free, complimentary event from Tenacious Change.

This is an interactive event. It is not a seminar or webinar, but a facilitated conversation using both small group, large group, and whiteboard exercises.

Participation will be virtual via Zoom, and to make for a more authentic engagement, we respectfully ask that participants join by audio and video using a computer and earbuds or headset (not by cellphone or tablet). Because we’ll be using a virtual whiteboard, you will need to be on a computer to fully participate.

Seats are limited and pre-registration by August 31 is required. Seating is on a Southwest Airlines basis (first in, first seated).

Registrants will need to do a small amount of prep work prior to the event, beginning on September 1. The prep work is to ensure participants have a common language and understanding of some key ideas related to dialogue. It won’t be heavy…you’ll be asked to watch one or two brief videos and read a couple of blog postings.

Agenda highlights: Introductions, agenda overview, small group conversations in Zoom rooms, large group conversation and debrief on Zoom whiteboard, and closing.

The DAD is scheduled to last 90 minutes. It may end early but it will not go over time. Participants need to plan to attend the full 90 minutes.

If you register, you also need to show up with a desire to listen, hear, learn, and speak without judgment or fear of judgment.

Registration is simple…just click on this link or on the button below and you’ll be taken to a secure registration form.

Tenacious Change IS on Substack

We are still putting some test posts on Substack to get used to working with the site and we invite you to check them out at this link. Please know, though, that at this time we are only re-running recently past posts so we can get accustomed to posting there. We are continuing to learn the formatting but when we are fully ready to start publishing there, we’ll let you know!

Scheduling for Fall 2023 and Winter 2024

We are currently scheduling consultations, workshops, and training events for late summer and early Fall as well as for this upcoming Winter. Visit our website to learn more about everything we offer. You can even download and share this handout with your colleagues. Then schedule a time to talk to us.

Now Available!

Preparing for Controversy in the Fog of (Culture) War does not hold all the answers but it has some that will be helpful. It will help you understand:

  • the difference between a controversy and a conflict
  • the stages of conflict
  • the cycle of intractable conflict
  • the value and importance of Strategic Controversy Management
  • when to intervene so that a controversy does not become a conflict
  • how to slow or stop a controversy, even a conflict, when it occurs

Ninety-one percent (91%) of people completing the evaluation after the live April 2023 seminar told us they felt more confident in their ability to manage controversy as a result of participating in the seminar. Specifically, here’s what they told us how they benefited most from it:

  • Five big steps in controversy management.
  • The rules of civil conversation.
  • Understanding how controversy and conflict are different now from the 90’s and understanding where and how conflict can be deterred.
  • Learning about when more people are likely to “get on-board” with your issue. This helped me think about where my energy and efforts can be used more effectively.
  • Tom’s historical observations about the Culture War and how things have changed…or not changed.
  • The cycle of intractable conflict.

In addition to the video, there are downloadable PDF resources. All are available at no cost, though you will be asked to sign a guest book before accessing the video and downloads.

Click on the link below to see a brief trailer video and then access the full video and all resources.

What Controversy Could be Brewing In Your World?

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Please follow this link (or click on the button below) to complete a brief Google form where you can tell us.

  • What controversies are emerging that you might be able to head off?
  • What controversies are you actually facing at this time?
  • Can you share a situation with us that we can turn into an anonymous “case study” and explore in an upcoming blog?
  • What specific questions do you have about getting prepared for controversy or managing controversy?

Remember, you can also access our video Preparing for Controversy inthe Fog of (Culture) War on our website and we also offer a day-long training event on managing controversy – on-site or online.

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