“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” (Nelson Mandela)
If you're a ministry leader, you likely believe changing the world is possible. You may have dedicated your career to leading your ministry toward finding a way to fund your cause. Yet, the new challenges you face in today’s nonprofit landscape can make the outcome you’re hoping to achieve seem like an impossible goal. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I have witnessed nonprofits reaching “impossible” goals, over and over.
I have worked for and with nonprofits for more than 20 years, and have seen firsthand how big the challenges are. I have also seen what it takes to move an organization to a new way of thinking. Most importantly, I have witnessed nonprofits reaching “impossible” goals, over and over.
I first learned about breakthrough leadership from Gap International®, which has spent decades helping leaders transform the performance of their organizations from the expected to the extraordinary. The Gap International team does this by guiding leaders to first understand and then challenge their mindset.
A New Way of Thinking
Adopting a breakthrough mindset involves harnessing a new way of thinking to create a new path for your ministry to influence more lives. It’s about adopting a mentality for achieving the impossible.
Think about how your organization led through the pandemic. I suspect you’ll see breakthrough leadership at every turn. The “business as usual” way of doing things changed instantly. Suddenly, you and your team had to adapt. You likely tested and learned new things as you found your way forward through the uncertainty. You kept what worked, discarded what didn’t, and pivoted to meet an impossible circumstance. That is the definition of leading boldly.
New challenges require a new way of thinking.
New challenges require a new way of thinking. You don’t need an external crisis like a pandemic to prompt thinking beyond the status quo. Now is the time to think beyond your current situation and begin to dream about what could be.
An Audacious Goal
So, how do you achieve the impossible? You set an audacious goal that you have no idea how you're going to accomplish. You ask: “What is it going to take to accomplish this? If it had to be done today, how could it be done? How would my leadership need to evolve to bring about that change?”
It’s only when you break down the “impossible” barriers that you can achieve breakthrough results.
“If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” (Henry Ford)
Our mindset is one of our most powerful tools. It informs what we believe is possible and how we build a path to achieve it. If there is a vision you have for your ministry that has not yet been realized, I challenge you to answer these questions:
- Why has this project/goal/vision stalled?
- What’s holding you or your team back from accomplishing the goal?
- What needs to be true about you, your team, your organization for this vision to be a reality?
The things you think and feel when you reflect on your answers are windows into how your thinking is influencing your choices for the future. All of us carry around mental “files” that we use to understand the world. By examining your thinking, you begin to identify the narratives that, while well intended, may be holding you back.
Look for narratives like, “Our donors wouldn’t…” “We don’t have…” “We can’t…” These beliefs can sabotage your mindset and keep you committed to the status quo without realizing it. Once you’ve identified the narratives affecting your mindset, it’s time to start thinking in possibility and imagining a world in which you achieve your goal.
A Breakthrough Goal
Consider this: What’s one thing you could accomplish that would yield the greatest impact?
Does it seem achievable? Reach a little further. If you’ve already mapped a path to achieve the goal, it’s not yet a breakthrough goal. Ask:
- What is true about the world if you achieved your mission?
- What are you already doing that should be amplified (tailwinds)?
- Where are you running into headwinds? What should you stop doing?
- What aren’t you doing that you should be doing? What is holding you back?
These questions are designed to get you into a mindset of possibility, the first step towards a breakthrough goal.
Measurable Goals for Breakthrough Leadership
“The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” (D. L. Moody)
Breakthrough leadership goes beyond thinking of possibility, to bring about a new reality. It requires us to move beyond the cycle of ideation to measurable outcomes.
Breakthrough leadership goes beyond thinking of possibility, to bring about a new reality.
One of my favorite books, Measure What Matters (Portfolio, 2018) by John Doer, introduces this concept of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). OKRs is a collaborative goal-setting methodology used to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results and empower you to track progress, create alignment across teams, and encourage engagement around measurable goals.
For example, a poverty fighting organization I was working with set a breakthrough outcome of doubling their capacity over the next three years that read: “Empower 50,000 new neighbors to have a pathway out of poverty through intentional collaboration and our integrated service delivery programs impacting health, hunger, housing, and hope by 2026.”
To do this they set measurable OKRs that read: “By 2026, we have achieved a $XM operating budget with line of sight for over Y% annual growth while also creating $ZM in cash reserves to create sustainability in support of our mission.”
These tangible outcomes give you the beginnings of a path to the future you have envisioned and help you move your thinking to action. This clarity also empowers your teams to align around the outcome you’re driving toward and the metrics to measure that will enable success.
Bold Leadership Required
“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all what the world needs most are dreamers that do.” (Sarah Ban Breathnach)
For every leader, a time will come when you’ll question if you have what it takes. You’ll face a goal so ambitious or a challenge so daunting, that you’ll honestly wonder how it will be possible to lead your team to success.
The answer starts with you.
The answer starts with you. What kind of leader do you need to be at this moment?
To lead your team somewhere you’ve never been, you’ll need to be a different leader. You’ll need to take a stand.
Your Breakthrough Leadership Stand
Your leadership stand is a statement that describes a future version of you, the leader you need to be to achieve breakthrough. It aligns with your goal and positions you to address effectively your unique obstacles. It must be clear and succinct and start with the phrase “I am...”
Below are a few breakthrough leadership stand examples to inspire you in establishing your own:
- I am a bold and decisive driver.
- I am a rock in times of growth and change.
- I am trusting, present, and unconditionally empowering.
To find your leadership stand, ask your team:
- When you think about my contribution to our organization, what are my greatest strengths?
- What areas do you see that are opportunities for growth in my leadership?
- How do you need me to show up and lead differently for the organizational goals we discussed to be true?
Then take the feedback you have received and begin to craft a stand that empowers the leader you need to be to achieve your breakthrough goals. Once you have established your stand, it becomes a touchstone to keep you on track. You can ask yourself in the moment, “Am I being a bold and decisive driver/a rock/unconditionally empowering?” When shared, your stand also serves as a point of accountability with your team. They can challenge you to fully embody your stand and celebrate with you, as you become the leader you need to be in this season.
Your stand will evolve over time as you grow as a leader and face new challenges. Keep seeking feedback from your team and thinking about ways you’ll need to show up to meet the moment.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8)
When you find yourself in that moment that feels overwhelming and impossible, be bold. Remind yourself of who you are in the Lord. You’re not alone, and you can do all things through him who gives you strength.
Then, look at that goal again, and allow yourself to think, “What if I could?”
Rebecca Gregory Segovia is Executive Vice President for Pursuant, and General Manager for GivingDNA. As a seasoned executive with two decades of experience spanning marketing, fundraising, people, and technology, Becca has a passion for insight-driven fundraising that increases donor lifetime value and nonprofit health and creating cultures that empower growth.
(Becca extends heartfelt appreciation to Bruce Everhart, Chief Development Officer at Moody Bible Institute. The principles shared in this article, and in their teaching session at Christian Leadership Alliance’s 2023 Outcomes Conference, are a result of their collaborative journey in leading with a breakthrough mindset.)
Learn more about Outcomes magazine.