Books: Engine of Impact, Psyched Up, Braving the Wilderness

book Associations Now March/April 2018 Issue By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Three books look at how to run a well-oiled nonprofit, how mental preparation can help you succeed, and how to achieve “true belonging.”

Stanford University lecturers William Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker don’t take long to chide nonprofits about their opacity, ineffective boards, and performance gaps in Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector. They seek to persuade executives that a new “era of impact”—one in which nonprofits play an increasingly important role in society—requires a community-wide clearing of clutter and adoption of seven principles of strategic leadership.

Nonprofits must reposition themselves to generate more money—$100 billion to $300 billion annually beyond current sources, Meehan and Jonker estimate. Driving that change should be an “engine of impact” revved by leadership courage, impact evaluation, and the “sorely underused directional and defensive tool” of a clear mission. Fueling the engine are staff and the board, who pump funding, organization, and the results of good governance into the thrust.

The authors argue that nonprofit leaders need to toss the clutter of vision and values statements, adopt a “team of teams” talent structure, and discuss proper scaling, among other tasks.

Meehan and Jonker welcome arguments about various declarations, including that nonprofits “rarely use rigorous, fact-based evaluation as the basis for decision-making.” But their recommendations generate from credible sources, including the 2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, as well as collaboration with GuideStar, BoardSource, and others.

A CEO conversation starter and thoughtful addition to the business literature.

[Stanford Business Books; 280 pages; $29.95]

Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed

By Daniel McGinn

The fear is universal: failing to perform at that critical moment. Whether for competition or a board presentation, excelling at pivotal times can make or break a career. In this practical and engaging book, Harvard Business Review Senior Editor Daniel McGinn turns to star athletes, actors, and business leaders to explore the tricks, tools, and tips they use to turn on the awesome when needed.

Especially motivating are sections on the power of pre-performance rituals, redirecting fight-or-flight emotions, refining self-talk and mental rehearsal, using your subconscious to “prime” performance, and harnessing rivalry. More controversial is McGinn’s section on beta-blocking medication and other “psych-up pills” now popular among some top-achieving professionals working long hours on highly focused tasks.

A reassuring guide of customizable tactics for facing down performance fears.

[Portfolio Penguin; 272 pages; $26]

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

By Brené Brown

With humor and trademark bluntness, social science “It Girl” Brené Brown tackles the core of every association: membership, or rather “belonging” and its meaning as an individual and community participant.

There’s pain in this book, not because it’s about not fitting in—it isn’t—but because it explores how hard the four practices of true belonging can be. For instance, she urges readers to “move in” to move beyond polarizing “group hate.”

She also chides us to return to civil discourse (“Speak Truth to Bull***t”) and stop agree-to-disagree cop-outs. And in her call to “Hold Hands, With Strangers,” she reminds us, “When we come together to share authentic joy, hope, and pain, we melt the pervasive cynicism that often cloaks our better human nature.”

A moving examination of authentic connection that complements her top-ranked TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

[Random House; 208 pages; $28]

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Strategic Thinking."] 

Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is president of Clarke Association Content and is the books columnist for Associations Now.