“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress.”
– Brené Brown
It’s a common refrain I hear:
“I wish we could do___, but there’s not enough____.”
“If only we could ____, but we can’t because _____.”
After years working with leaders from the nonprofit and public sectors (and being one myself), I’ve noticed and wondered about this sector-wide sense of scarcity: a deeply held belief that there’s “not enough”.
It often sounds like this:
“There’s not enough X (money, staff, time) so we can’t do Y (the thing we really want to do).”
It becomes exhausting and demoralizing to be in this mode. I’ve seen it over and over again – in myself, friends, colleagues, and clients.
After spending years in this cycle, it can also start to impact us personally. After long enough, not only is there not enough money, time or staff, but we can also start feeling a sense of personal scarcity: that “we” are “not enough”.
We care so much about our issues and topics, huge and undeniably important causes, that are complex, challenging and often extremely entrenched at the system and policy levels.
And because we care so much about our work, and put so much of ourselves into it, we can also personalize this scarcity philosophy.
On a bad day, our thoughts can become: “If I can’t create the impact I want in my work, because there’s never enough _____, then it must be my fault. I’m not good enough.”
This type of thought pattern then leads to hopelessness, disengagement, and burnout.
Which is not really all that fantastic.
While I’m not suggesting that there aren’t truly finite resources in the world, scarcity is a personal and organizational mindset that needs to be examined.
How do we push back against the scarcity mindset and find another way?
Acknowledge your assets and strengths
Begin by acknowledging the assets you and your organization do have, versus focusing on what you don’t have and don’t control. We often overlook the most obvious assets and strengths we have.
Don’t dismiss this as a Pollyanna denial of real problems: taking a strength-based approach can help you assess and appreciate the foundation which you and your organization depend upon.
Resources like Gallup’s Strengths Finder, and my Uncover Your Road Map tool can be helpful in understanding and leveraging what’s already here and available for you.
Leverage your biggest underutilized resource: People
Every organization’s biggest underutilized and underdeveloped asset is its people. The truth is, regardless of budget ups or downs, downsizing, or layoffs, that unless your organization closes its doors, you will always have people.
The people around you are an undiscovered treasure trove of talents, assets, and capacities. But most of us have no idea what the full range of the people around us is. Effective leaders have to learn how to leverage the skills and capacities of the people around them so that everyone can succeed and overcome this sense of scarcity.
In order to leverage the skills of others, you have to coach people to use what they already intuitively know, and stretch into what else is possible. Instead of always providing the answers, the most effective leaders coach the people around them to succeed.
Coach instead of fix
You can either see the people around you as assets to leverage or as problems to be solved. You probably weren’t trained to mentor and coach others. And unless you were especially lucky, you probably haven’t had this way of working with others modeled for you either.
Most of us do the best we can with the tools we learned from home, school, and other jobs. For many people, this was mostly about managing the day-to-day details of accomplishing tasks, and not necessarily about long-term learning, development or capacity building.
Taking a coaching approach means shifting to trusting the people around you, and expressing some vulnerability and openness on your part. Instead of fixing or needing to have all the answers, coaching means helping others find and leverage their own capacities, which is a stretch for most of us.
Think about a time when someone brought out the best in you: what did they do? Those are some of the skills of an effective coach. Listening, asking open-ended questions, holding accountability, acknowledging success, and championing others over the next hill are all coaching skills that can be learned.
In being willing to be open, try, experiment and possibly fail with others, you also model resiliency skills for your employees: trusting that we learn in the process, and there will always be another opportunity to try it again.
Take care of yourself
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you are your most important asset in your work and life, so don’t forget to take care of yourself while you are changing the world.
The problems you’re working on will still be here tomorrow, so you can take a break and care for your own personal needs, trusting that caring for yourself will actually allow you to do more, rather than less.
In the Comments below, I’d love to hear your experience with scarcity mindset.
What helps you shift out of scarcity personally, and professionally?
P.S. And if you’d like help in developing your own coaching leadership capacity, contact me about tailored training for your organization or team!
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