Monroe Free is the President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greenville County. He wrote this letter in response to an email from the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy newsletter. I found it so compelling that I asked Monroe if I could share with the Hey, Boomer! audience as a guest post. He said yes.
In response to your P.T. Barnum quote, “Comfort is the enemy of change,” I must respond with an old sports quote I grew up with: “No pain. No gain.” I should put that quote in caps because it was usually yelled at the teams I played on.
I confess that at 16, and now at 63, I too have wanted comfort often times more than gain and most certainly more than pain. At 16 it was “not one more wind sprint.” At 63 it is not one more equity and inclusion reality to wrestle with or one more generational difference to understand or one more new understanding about generational, gender and racial advantage to be honest about.
As CEO of a non-profit, I not only have to deal with these individually, which is daunting enough. I must lead an organization to wrestle with them in a way that produces and impactful and healthy organization. My job is to create a synergistic response with board, staff, volunteers and and donors that makes us better equipped to serve our community and a better organization to give our talent and resources to. Oh comfort, where art thou?
How do I as a leader build a culture that asks hard questions and listens to all stakeholders’ answers? How do I build a culture that steps outside the established norms to find what is best for today? How do I build a culture that is adaptable, flexible and agile so we can learn and grow? How do I develop an organizational structure that supports such a culture that says, “If it ain’t broke, then let’s make it better?” What must I do? What must I not do? Where do I lead? Where do I get out of the way and let others lead? Oh comfort, where art thou?
I would bet that if you asked P.T. Barnum if success was worth the lack of comfort, he would give a resounding Yes! I know that late in the game, the days of so many wind sprints paid dividends. I have bet my professional life that unease and pain have been temporary compared to the deep and abiding joy of seeing an organization that serves more people, in better ways and is a healthier place for staff, board, volunteers and donors.
It is not often that we are privy to the inner thoughts of a leader of an organization. The questions Monroe poses are important for all of us to consider. How can we be leaders in our communities and in our lives to create a culture that supports respect for people of all ages, races, religions and sexual orientations? How can we ask ourselves hard questions to uncover some of our own biases that may be holding us back?
The comfort is in the questions, because without the questions there is no growth and no gain.