DickersonBakker Blog

Are You Brave Enough to Choose Hurt Over Harm for Your Nonprofit?

We knew that there was going to be fallout. The great Dr. Baxter (name changed) had descended from high to volunteer his services at the free clinic. Dr. Baxter was a legendary physician in the Western Wisconsin with nearly 40 years of experience. The only problem was that he brought the chip on his shoulder with him. Dr. Baxter was abrasive to the point of being rude and sometimes out-and-out mean. While those behaviors were tolerated at his hospital, they were destroying our collaborative, volunteer-centered culture.

Confronting Dr. Baxter was intimidating to say the least. Dr. Baxter’s ego was huge, and his bark was even bigger. Addressing his poor treatment of nurses, technicians, and even some of the other physicians was going to hurt his pride and be a shock to his system. Despite the valuable medical care he contributed, we needed to have a talk with Dr. Baxter, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

We have often talked about the difference between being nice and being kind. Vibrant nonprofits practice kindness. In the book, Boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend highlight the complementary concepts of hurting and harming.

For instance, if you have a dislocated elbow, your doctor has to set it in order for it to heal. Does this process hurt the patient? You bet. However, in the long run, will this harm the patient? No. The arm must be set to heal correctly so that the patient has full use of his arm future.

However, let’s say you down a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew every day. Does drinking this sugary elixir hurt you? No, it tastes great. But, does drinking this much Mountain Dew overtime harm you? Yes, before long, you will be a jittery, raging diabetic without teeth who is as round as you are tall.

When you practice kind leadership, that leadership will sometimes hurt those you lead. In Dr. Baxter’s case, he was both angry, embarrassed, and hurt when my medical director and I shared our observations and requested changes in his attitude. He stormed out of the room and stopped volunteering. While a few board members were feisty about the confrontation, our volunteers were relieved and grateful that we stood up for the cultural value our clinic embraced. The hurt of the confrontation was far less damaging than the harm of allowing the behavior to continue. Interestingly, about 8 months after our conversation, Dr. Baxter returned to volunteer at the clinic. This time, though, he was minding his manners and contributing to our hard-fought culture.

Vibrant nonprofits practice kindness because their mission is too important to mess around with nice. Vibrant leaders choose tactics like honesty, discipline, and excellence that occasionally hurt those on the team. Your courage in doing so, much like the doctor setting the arm, will be good for your organization and prevent future harm.

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