Leader: Who’s you Thomas? You know…the “Doubtful Thomas”…on your board? The one who is not afraid to question your nonprofit’s plans, general assumptions, habits, and conventional wisdom. The one who isn’t afraid to challenge the powers that be (you and the board president). Unless you provided them with proof, a Doubtful Thomas can be pretty difficult to convince. In fact, they can be a pit bull when sensing something isn’t right. You do have one, right? If not, I suggest you run and find one ASAP.
I was named after St. Thomas, the Doubtful Apostle Thomas, and I have pretty much lived up to that reputation. However, I didn’t understand how valuable that “gift” was until I took on the leadership of a for-profit company. Since so many leaders are fed what others think they want to hear I always looked for opinions from the outliers-the one s who eschewed conventional wisdom and provided me with unvarnished truth as they saw it.
Sometimes my Doubtful Thomas came from the mail room, sometimes he/she came from one of the offices on “executive row”. It really didn’t matter where the challenge and unvarnished truth came from because I truly appreciated it and most always felt it was coming from someone with good intentions.
Sometimes it was frustrating to listen to them because progress on some project usually had to be slowed down or halted. However, when I was faced with the cold facts a Doubtful Thomas offered, I had to take a step back and reconsider. The more often they were right, the more I listened to them.
So, who is on your board of directors or your leadership team that fits the bill of a Doubtful Thomas? Who is there that will keep everyone else honest? Who is in your corner that is not afraid to speak truth to power?