010 Making Sure the Minutia Doesn’t Drown Out the Important
Being patient and building community
Tony McDade is the Executive Director of United Ministries.
In this episode of Concord Leaders, Tony shares about the enjoyment of seeing people grow and reach their potential. He also talks about needing to be reminded that change can take more time than he expects.
You can learn more about Tony’s work at: https://www.united-ministries.org/.
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Marc Pitman: Welcome to the Concord Leadership Podcast. I’m Marc Pitman, CEO of the Concord Leadership Group. Today, our guest is Tony McDade who is the Executive Director of United Ministries here in Greenville, South Carolina. Tony, it is great to have you here.
Tony McDade: Thank you, Marc. Looking forward to chatting with you.
Marc Pitman: I am so impressed with all that you have been doing. I’m new to this area but I’ve heard your reputation for leadership in consistency and integrity and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you on this podcast. As I ask guests, the first question typically is: What do you enjoy about leading? What do you enjoy about being in a position of leadership?
Tony McDade: Thank you for asking and thanks for having me as a part of this. You’re very kind in your introductory remarks. I think the thing about leadership that I enjoy the most is seeing other people thrive, that is to reach their maximum potential. That includes, obviously our constituents, the folks who come to us for emergency services or education or employment opportunities, but also the volunteers who work with them directly and then even more focused, my staff colleagues who work in a variety of areas of social work and who confront poverty on a daily basis. I like to see all of those groups come to grips with the real real of the world, confront the challenges that are there, respect diversity and bring a lot of resources to bear on whatever the matrix of problems is that they’re dealing with. It’s that sense of community, you might say, that makes leadership very exciting for me.
Marc Pitman: That is so many different groups of people that you can be seeing people achieve their best in. That’s fascinating. Thank you.
Tony McDade: There’s a great way of individuals. Everyone brings something to the table, so to speak, whereas I think some models emphasize the expertise that a staff member has and can share, and that’s vitally important, obviously. It really is the interaction, the relationships that are established, as I said, between staff and volunteers and we’re heavily reliant on volunteers in what we do. Most of all, the participants or guests, as we call them, in our programs, because their resources are exactly what we’re trying to help them optimize with that sense that this is about them, that ending poverty in their lives and helping them help themselves is job one for those of us who are in the transformational business, you might say, or at least we aspire to be.
Marc Pitman: That’s great. As you’re in that transformational business, as we all are in some aspect, not everything goes smoothly all the time. Was there a time that you faced a hiccup or a fork in the road that you didn’t expect?
Tony McDade: Yes. Obviously in social work, but in any sort of circumstance in which people are interacting with each other and trying to get something done I guess one of the biggest challenges is in the hustle and bustle of what’s happening to make sure we’re bringing out the best in each other and still getting things done. In our business here, we’re really trying to make sure that the minutiae of the day-to-day doesn’t keep us from focusing on what we’re really about, which is helping individuals thrive here in our town and programmatically and philosophically we’re addressing what we like to call the root causes and the real cures of poverty. Grappling with that is pretty important, it is certainly well-worth the experience.
The challenge with that is keeping everyone’s focus on how important their day-to-day job is, whether as a volunteer or as a staff person or even as a participant. How important every step on the journey is toward the eventual success of that individual, that is having financial stability, having a job, having a place to stay, all those things that we help folks with. I would say that recently the signature challenge has been, as we have tried to be in the avant garde of collective impact through our joining together of the two agents and that is United Ministries, which has been around since 1970 and Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is now in it’s 17th year.
The two agencies both have gotten sterling results in what they’ve done separately. Our task, and what we’re working with day-to-day now is seeing if we really can maximize what we’ve called “one plus one equals three”. That is, we will continue to be the agency doing its very best and continuing to get the results, but also having a renewed and expanded capacity to tackle some larger issues that we couldn’t have done separately.
The challenges are the integration process, board and staff and cultures. Frankly, I guess for me and probably for a lot of folks in my role, it’s just pacing and timing and being patient. I like to see stuff get done and I’ve had to rely on a lot of others with experience and expertise. Rex Meade has helped us in the strategic alignment process, for example, solid resources. Just having the patience to listen, to hear everyone, resist the urge to come in and change things precipitously. I find myself, Marc, I’ve been in a situation where I worked for thirteen years, now every day I have to check every thing. I can’t have any presuppositions, I don’t take anything for granted in terms of who’s doing what, how much I know. The assumptions are what will kill you, as you know.
Marc Pitman: Yeah, seriously. Wow, that’s …
Tony McDade: Our challenge is making sure everyone has buy-in to the fact that we have created a situation where new opportunities are out there and it’s now part of our responsibility to not just do what we’ve always done but to see if we can’t bring that new thing to fruition.
Marc Pitman: What an interesting opportunity to take existing organizations like that and then bring them together. Are you finding that … Is it more difficult to message that externally or internally or does it seem like an idea whose time has come and it’s just working out the kinks?
Tony McDade: Probably the latter. In many ways, again the patience piece factored in in that our boards and key staff members took our time to really do a deep dive to make sure this was the right thing to do so that we know we did our homework and we’re moving in the right direction. There’s the sense that it can’t all be done in a day. Externally, we can communicate and there’s a lot of excitement. Part of that excitement is just that instead of our proliferation of non-profits we are going to have some consolidation and that’s fearful for some folks but we’ve been fortunate that the two agencies were compatible and are building this out on prior relationships and partnerships, which I think is pretty instrumental in making collective impact work. In other words, everybody is allowed and encouraged and set forth so that we can do what we do well and then adding onto that. Communicating that is a challenge externally.
Internally, it’s a matter of getting everyone on-board the strategic alignment process has been first and foremost and that way we know what is, as Rex Meade says: “Organizational true north.” We’re all moving in that direction and that takes a minute but, again, did I mention patience is probably our biggest challenge at this point? No, folks are of good will who have expertise. They can see that the ultimate goal is to reduce poverty and increase awareness about poverty here in our community. It’s well worth the journey.
Marc Pitman: I’m really glad you’re on that journey and I’m glad that you took the time to be with us today. What would you say is one tip, one strategy, something that listeners should do right after they finish listening to this conversation?
Tony McDade: Hopefully they’re up on the literature and so forth. Over the years I have really benefited from some books that are older now but Jim Collins’ books Good to Great and Built to Last. The bus motif, having the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seat, that’s always, that’s not something you do when you come in new, that’s an ongoing process. Built to Last, the big, hairy, audacious goal idea that there could be something out there that’s striking but not impossible that can actually challenge a business or a non-profit’s reason for being and maybe have us re-think what we do and sometimes even why we do it. I guess mustering the collective courage to tackle that would be the tip that I would say keeps things interesting. It’s not just rote because we can all get into our little cubbyholes and do the normal thing, and we could do that well but we might not be doing what we should be doing. I would say read Jim Collins.
Marc Pitman: All right. That’s great. Thanks Tony, I really appreciate you reminding us about seeing people, all the different people we intersect with as leaders, grow and doing that in a sense of community with the intention of getting things done, helping people see that those are in concert with each other. You’re living that out as you bring two well-established organizations together and help align all of that. I’m really excited for what you’re doing in the community and glad that people got to listen to this. Thanks so much.
Tony McDade: Thanks for making this an opportunity, Marc. You do a great job.
Marc Pitman: Where can people find more about you if they would like to follow up after this conversation?
Tony McDade: The best place would be through our website: www.unitedministries.org. We’re actually United-Ministries in our e-mails and that will give you some connection to the various components of who we are and what we do at United Ministries.
Marc Pitman: Wonderful. I know people are going to want to listen to this again and again. This episode, as with all episodes of the Concord Leadership Podcast, can be found at http:///concordleadershipgroup.com/podcast/.
Until next time, remember: Healthy non-profits begin with healthy leaders.