A while back a colleague said to me that they only worked with nonprofits and government agencies because they just wanted to help organizations that supported the greater good and not companies trying to make a profit. Clearly this has stuck with me. What I found interesting is that this individual runs a business…..
Beyond that, I heard a basic underlying assumption that I think is antiquated and definitely not always true: all nonprofits are good and all businesses are bad! In theory, this assumption makes sense (kinda). But the reality is that there are nonprofits that are run poorly or operate without integrity in the name of the greater good. In addition, there are now more and more businesses that are committed to benefiting society as well as making a profit.
I recently read The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely (a great book I highly recommend) and I was intrigued to learn that one of the most compelling reasons people will lie or cheat is for altruism. Apparently, doing something for others gives people this perception that it is ok to bend the rules or flat out break them. Dan Ariely even made a note in his book that while he has not done any research on behavioral economics in the nonprofit sector the correlation there cannot be ignored.
Please note, I don’t mean to make a blanket judgement about nonprofits. Obviously a commitment to altruism doesn’t equal a lack of integrity. But this is a concern that needs to be more openly addressed and discussed. Instead of making a blanket judgement about an organization’s intent as benevolent or malevolent based on their tax ID status, we need to look at additional indicators for assessing their “goodness.” And we need to let go of limiting beliefs like these that inhibit innovation and ultimately stifle forward progress.
The first step in letting go of these kinds of limiting beliefs is (well kinda like the 12 steps to sobriety) recognizing there’s a problem. The problem being that we possess these “rules” of life which we live by that are in-and-of-themselves limiting beliefs. All business is bad and all nonprofits are good is just one example of a limiting belief. Other examples include: failure is bad, mistakes are unacceptable, or we must never portray our vulnerability.
The second step is to engage in reflection. As Petter Senge says, reflections is the art of “slowing down our thinking process to become more aware” of how our limiting beliefs are formed. This kind of self-reflection may occur in conversation with others, through journaling, or meditation. If this kind of practice is challenging for you, a coach, mentor or teacher can provide invaluable guidance and insight along the way.
The third step is to develop a habit of inquisition by asking probing questions and searching out new information. Remember those times when you (or someone else) got in trouble for questioning authority? Well, don’t let that stop you from challenging others because that in-and-of-itself is also antiquated thinking. As a leader, you not only have to challenge assumptions, you also must deftly address difficult questions.
By following these three (seemingly simple yet difficult in practice) steps we can avoid limiting beliefs or assumptions that ineffectively characterize the world around us and therefore squander our potential to create positive, meaningful change.