020 Fully Committed to the Mission – Clayton Hopkins of Shoebox Ministry

Sep 12, 2017

Clayton Hopkins is the Executive Director of Shoebox Ministry in Arizona. In this episode Concord Leaders, Clayton shares about a time an employee said, “I don’t like you.” And how he’s helping a 30 year old nonprofit seize new opportunities.

You can learn more about Clayton and Shoebox Ministry at: http://www.shoeboxministry.org/

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Marc Pitman:    Welcome to the Concord leaders podcast, I’m Marc Pittman the CEO of the concord leadership group, today our guest is Clayton Hopkins, the Executive Director of Shoebox Ministry, Clayton it’s great to have you on the line.

Clayton Hopkins: Nice to be here, thank you Marc

Marc: For the things we’ve been talking about over the course of the episodes seem to have so many common themes, so I’m excited to hear for you, what it you enjoy about leading?

Clayton: Well I think the thing that I enjoy the most about leading is the people, which is interesting because in the evolution of my career the people (chuckle) started out being the least..

Marc: (laughs)

Clayton: …. my least favorite part, because you know as you know, the thing that’s most, you can count on about people is that they will be people so (laughs) there’s the challenges that go along with that. But in my various roles thru out my career I think the thing I’ve come to really enjoy is the working with the development of people that I work with.

Marc:   what were some that helps, that are there any mile markers that you can see, oh wow that’s where I started changing my views?

Clayton: oh absolutely, absolutely. I had a conversation, I mean like most people who start and they work their way up the ladder and you know you get all gung ho about, oh I’m in charge and the buck stops with me and I’m going to make it happen and you forget that you have to bring people along with you to get there…

Marc (laughs)

Clayton: … and so I think, if I’m going to call it my moment of clarity, was a conversation with an employee who said flat out I don’t like you, and that was really hard..

Marc (laughs)

Clayton: …to hear, (laughs)

Marc: wow

Clayton: and, yeah, and so I asked her why and she told me in no uncertain terms and I said OK. This is something that is a problem, I cannot continue to work and ignore the fact that I’m not connecting with people, so I started to make that a priority and after doing that, it was not only good for the relationship with the people it’s good for the mission. It’s good for you know, the goal and it’s good for the team and so, I just made that really part of my, put that in my tool box. Which is interesting because in my personal life I connect really well with people and they just…

Marc oh wow

Clayton: …in business, yeah, try to make you know, you read the books and you listen to the advice and you follow a path that (laughs) that you think is right but, in the end you just have to be true to yourself.

Marc: laughs, that so true! That is, I find that with a lot of people there’s, I’m formulating a matrix of leadership and it’s got four stages. The first is you observe, it’s sort of like, you just kind of do what you’ve seen others do and you think it’s, it looks easy because they make it look easy but you’re trying to be them. And you’re….

Clayton:  right

Marc: … that doesn’t quite work and so you start doing the books and all, but they don’t fit, they’re like bad suits of clothes or something, they don’t fit

Clayton:  Right

Marc: Quite right. So then you start sorting thru it and realizing, alright this is me this isn’t me, this is good this isn’t and so you become after the analyzing you become a focused leader so, that’s great! Now you haven’t been in nonprofits your whole career, right? did I hear that correctly?

Clayton: well no I have been in nonprofits my whole career, I had a short stint at the beginning of my career as a network engineer in computers, because I really thought that was the thing for me and that lasted about six months

Marc: indeed (laughs)

Clayton:  (laughs)  yeah not enough people connection, and you know and I don’t want to reveal too much about my age but back then it was a lot of green screen and sitting in dark rooms and today it’s a little different but back then it was not suitable to someone who needed to interact with humans so (laughs)

Marc: (laughs)

Clayton: I (laughs), I took a temporary job while I was, I actually worked for intel and I had laid off because we, some project got side tracked and I took a temporary job at a nonprofit and when I got called back I said you know what I don’t think I want to go back I’m going to stick with this and wound up staying at that nonprofit for 18 years, so…

Marc: wow

Clayton: yeah

Marc:  that is tremendous

Clayton:  yeah

Marc: well good deal so, you know as we’ve, we’ve all experienced as leaders, leadership does not always go as we’ve planned and you even shared a little bit of that (laughs) story with the woman saying I don’t like you! (laughs) when was another time that you’ve had a challenge, you’ve tried to do something and it didn’t work out the way you expected to and then tell us a little about what you did about it.


Clayton: well, I’m going to speak a little generally about this and so in nonprofits the challenge is always, you know money and resources, you never have enough

Marc: (laughs)

Clayton:  and so the challenge that I have faced in, you know varying situations varying degrees of difficulty, is managing that you know, lack of money and lack of resources, and still be able to achieve the mission. But the challenge with the groups that you lead, in you know you work in nonprofits and the great thing about the people who work in nonprofits is that they are fully fully committed, so the mission in, you know you work with people, or whether you’re delivering some sort of product that you know really serves the community, inevitably you’re going to have a bunch of people within your organization who are completely and totally committed, and that’s a great thing and its also a problem because….

Marc: (laughs)

Clayton: (laughs)…that commitment, it doesn’t really, it allows them to see you know, the bigger picture, that you know sometimes…

Marc: ah

Clayton:  ….you have to approach this with a business mindset and make business decisions and if they don’t fit with what they believe to be necessary for the mission, then that is a challenge and as I said before, you’re in charge and you’re the leader, but if you don’t bring these people along with you, and I don’t know where I heard this before but if, people aren’t with you as the leader, you’re just taking a walk by yourself…

Marc: (laughs)

Clayton: …because (laughs) you don’t have that support and you don’t have people with you, so the ongoing challenge is to communicate the plan in such a way, that is satisfies the needs of, you know the people who are on you team so that you can move in a direction that is best for the organization, and sometimes at the end of the day, you’re going to have to make choices that serve (pause) the most, if you can’t, have 100 percent make a decision to where you can get to 90 percent. So in my recent job, with shoe box ministry and I should mention that I’m in my third month there to this day

Marc:  (laughs) that’s good context yeah

Clayton: It’s an organization that’s over 30 years old, the founder is still involved, she located the business in the guest house in the back of her home and they are still there today. We serve, assemble about 20,000 shoe boxes a year for distribution and this guest house is about 700 square feet…

Marc:  wow

Clayton: …so there’s some creative space management and things going on there and it’s really not suitable. But the connection, the emotional connection to that space is so strong, not only with the founder, but some of the other people who are attached to the organization, that the thought of moving or relocating is, is really really difficult and so I’ve had to, again paint a picture of (pause) here are the opportunities that will present themselves if we had a larger space, or, and a space that was more appropriate and it would help with you know, our production, we don’t, mean from a efficiency standpoint we won’t have to move the same box 15 times to make room to do something

Marc: hmmm

Clayton:  I mean that’s the obvious challenge, but you know you can engage the community, I mean we have such a small space that we can only accommodate two or three volunteers at a time, but we can with a bigger space we can engage a broader community, we can host events. We have this unique opportunity to provide some education because we have a captive audience. I’ve really just gone on like, a term offensive so to speak….

Marc:  (laughs)

Clayton: …educate the people involved in buying in to this about what could actually take place if we made a different decision

Marc:;And how’s that working?

Clayton: it is working really well

Marc:  ah

Clayton: Really well I have finally got enough people on board to where we can start the process and I meet with a commercial realtor next week so we can start looking at some options

Marc: ah! that’s tremendous because that’s, getting that buy in is so important, you’re right.

Clayton:  yeah, yeah and not only has the founder been around for thirty years a number of the people on the board have been around for you know, 20 to 25 years so, there’s a lot of, we’ve always done it that way, that’ll never work, we tried it before  So..

Marc: (laughs) all those encouraging things that you just love to hear as the leader or a new person

Clayton: (laughs) oh yeah, institutional knowledge is great until it isn’t

Marc:  (laughs) That’s so right! Well, I’m so grateful for you sharing that we’ve reached the end of this episode of concord leaders again, so if there was one thing that’s you’d recommend listeners do, if they do nothing else after listening to this what’s one tip or strategy you’d have for them

Clayton: I would just suggest that you, as you develop yourself as a leader just make a it a point to be a better you, don’t, you know, start to emulate someone if your strength is that you’re a transactional leader, meaning you’re good with processing all of the different things. Don’t try and be transformational and you know, be charismatic or anything like that, just be a better you. Figure out what your strengths are, figure out what your goals are and strive for those goals

Marc: wow that is so true and so right on, thank so much clayton for being here, where can people find out more about you and about shoe box ministry?


Clayton: well, shoebox ministry, our website is, will be under, it’s going to undergo a major renovation, so keep that in mind as you go to it, but you can find out more at shoe box ministry dot org, or a shorter url is sbmaz dot org


Marc: sbmaz, AZ f0r Arizona?

Clayton:  yes

Marc:  dot org, wonderful!

Clayton:  yep, all righty!

Marc: well thanks so much clayton I know people are going to want to listen to this episode again and again and as a reminder this as well as all the episodes of the concord leaders podcast can be found at concord leadership group dot com slash podcasts, until next time, remember that healthy nonprofits start with healthy leaders.

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