by MNA Executive Director, Liz Moore.
I’ve been thinking about the MNA Conference
theme, “Breakthrough”, for several months, and more so with just weeks until we meet together in Billings. For me, breakthrough is a charged expression, bringing to mind an eccentric scientist crying “Eureka!” in a moment of sudden insight. Velcro, insulin, the microwave and play-doh are all examples of Eureka-type inventions. But most advancements are not this sudden or serendipitous; rather they are the result of painstaking research, intentional processes, trial and error, and time. This is good news, because it means breakthrough moments – those moments of radical evolution for ourselves and the organizations we work in – are not simply left to chance. While there is always an element of mystery, maybe even grace, in a shift of perception, newfound clarity, or movement past an invisible barrier, we can also seed the process. I know this from experience.
During my eight years at MNA there are times I’ve gotten in my own way – preventing not only my own growth but impeding the development of the organization. Thankfully, at other times I’ve been able to lean forward, embracing what I need to learn even when it’s painful, and in the process help facilitate our evolution as an organization. I can assure you, my breakthrough moments are not elegant or straightforward. They are more like an etch-a-sketch design: lines choppy, stops and starts, whole chunks erased and begun again, but in the end we have something.
As I look back and consider my own growth and MNA’s development as an organization, I can identify four elements I believe have been essential to MNA’s breakthrough moments:
1) Curiosity. As a leader I have had to ask questions like, “How am I contributing to the problem?”, “What are my sacred cows, and do I really need them?”, “Why do I feel threatened?”, or “Who can help us with this?” I’ve found my ability – and our team’s ability – to exchange certainty for curiosity is absolutely necessary. It’s the door which opens us up to everything else. Curiosity requires humility, and leaves room for risk, for experimentation, for failure and success. I wonder if there is any significant invention which didn’t start with a question.
2) Candor. As a leader, I have to invite candid feedback, and I need to offer it. A caretaking environment is not wholly honest, and generally will not produce breakthrough thinking. Candor can be uncomfortable or even painful. But I have rarely grown in a significant way without some amount of distress. Candor requires trust and courage. An environment which fosters safe, respectful candor is a workplace positioned for breakthrough moments.
3) Team. Every member of the MNA team is individually capable and strong. However, our brilliance emerges when we are together, bringing diverse perspectives to bear on whatever challenge we are addressing. Every member of the MNA team actively pushes and pulls as we spend an hour, a day, weeks or even months considering issues that matter to us. Our most interesting and enlivening breakthroughs have almost always shown up when more than one brain is involved.
4) Time. Curiosity, candor and teamwork all require time. I’m not a particularly patient person, but sometimes, on my best days, I remember to look at the roadmap rather than the mile marker. Breakthrough moments germinate long before we call out “Eureka,”. While the lightbulb flash happens in an instant, the process leading up to it takes time. It’s worth it.
For us as individuals, and for the organizations we work in – breakthroughs can be transformative and life-altering. Or, they may be mundane: a slight shift of perspective or a new way of operating. Regardless of how these moments come to us, they are our growing edge. More than any conference we’ve held in my time at MNA, I’m drawn to this year’s theme, Breakthrough. Maybe it’s because I’m addicted to potential. Or maybe because I’m so attracted to growth. As you get ready to join us in October
, I hope you’ll take an internal inventory of where you’re challenged individually or as an organization. What are the gaps you’re experiencing between your vision and current reality? Then in a few weeks, when you pack your bags for the conference, tuck in a dose of curiosity to toss around like you’ve got it to spare, and seed your conference journey for the breakthrough you need.