Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO uses the experiences of a real company, Community Connections, to bring to life the practical dilemmas that an organization founded on a mission and guided by a set of ideals must confront and solve if it is to thrive. With no business or financial background, Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman grew a tiny startup into a $35 million business. Through trial and error, they learned how to manage finances, hire staff, overcome barriers, and adapt to changing business models. In Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders, Harris shares her insights, struggles, and mistakes with the goal of helping others who may be starting and running non-profit organizations. She spells out the ways in which creativity, tenacity, and the power of relationships helped her and her partner overcome barriers that often cause start-ups to flounder in their first years of operation. In a humorous and novel twist, the book engages the reader with a series of original fables, each tailored to introduce a business dilemma in the language of “make-believe.” Michael O’Leary provides commentary that places the stories and case studies from Community Connections into a broader context, making the lessons accessible to anyone working in the non-profit or startup sector.
"Harris, cofounder of D.C.-based nonprofit Community Connections, and O’Leary, a professor of leadership at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, team up to examine the challenges of establishing a new organization in this informative and thorough exploration. The authors take an unusual approach to their topic by starting each chapter with a fairy tale 'from our collective imagination' that colorfully illustrates a specific business hurdle, such as learning how to hire the right people, overcoming obstacles, or winning over stakeholders. These stories receive titles such as 'A Fable to Reach the Sky,' 'The Magic Ring,' and 'Crossing the Woods.' Each fairy tale is followed by a case study that shows how Community Connections dealt with the issue at hand. By using Community Connections as the sole source for their case studies, the authors impart to readers a solid understanding of how one organization met its challenges. While many business books provide examples from multiple companies in the name of breadth, seldom do readers have the opportunity to explore a sole organization in such depth."
— Publishers Weekly
"Harris and O’Leary present an interesting, practical guide to the challenges of creating a new organization. They use their experience as a case study, and the book’s eight brief and easy-to-read chapters provide an experiential perspective on the issues the authors faced and the imaginative ways in which they accepted and overcame them. From their original idea to the integration of their creativity, managerial expertise, and organizational leadership, they cleverly, without the lists, charts, and formalities traditionally associated with books of this type, draw on their experiences with the Community Connections endeavor to engage readers in their story and to introduce, illustrate, and blend the application of contemporary organizational theory, principles, and practices into a model for organizational success and sustainability. Although the book is oriented around the not-for-profit business format, the principles and practices used to grow from a start-up organization to a thriving, multimillion dollar, influential company are equally applicable to all entities. Anyone with an entrepreneurial interest will find this a unique, useful introduction and overview."
"The fables and Case Studies make Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders an entertaining and thought-provoking read and the lessons identified and the solutions delivered are insightful. While these solutions may not work for all situations they offer several options to consider. Overall an interesting and entertaining presentation of the challenges that Maxine faced as CEO and a useful look into how nonprofit businesses see their role."
— Oz Rhodes
"This is a tale documenting a journey of discovery. The primary author, Maxine Harris, tells a very personal story describing the challenges she encountered in transforming an idea into a highly successful nonprofit organization. Finding that an ever-increasing number of decisions have to be made as the organization increases in size, she realizes that she is the one who has to make them. She discovers that the leadership skills she acquires along the way change her role from that of founder to CEO. The two authors of this book serve as mentors willing to offer essential lessons on what it takes to become an organizational leader."
— Grace Budrys, PhD, Professor Emerita, Sociology and MPH Program, DePaul University
"As the CEO of a large not-for-profit organization, the topics that the book covers are the ones that keep CEO’s up at night. The insights and recommendations are focused and meaningful. And I love the fables."
— Kenneth A. Samet, President & CEO, MedStar Health
"For anyone looking to understand and master the art of starting and building a sustainable not-for-profit organization, “Tales From A Reluctant CEO “ is a must read book for you. The combination of deep knowledge, vivid case studies and sage advice that only comes from thirty years of being in the role of CEO will get you to the level of insight found in this new and compelling book by Maxine Harris. Writing with whimsy (fables for each lesson), personal stories, and countless “how to’s” make it a valuable and compelling read. Enjoy "sitting at the side" of and looking over the shoulder of Maxine as she recounts her story and many lessons, and you’ll forever be a better leader."
— James Owen Mathews, Vice Chairman, Healthy Companies International
"Maxine Harris has written a book that helps navigate an all too common dilemma which has not been addressed enough - the Non-Profit which is created to do good, but must also learn to be a business in order to survive. This is especially common in healthcare. As a woman entrepreneur who has run both for profit and non-profit organizations, this book resonated with my experience. I wish I'd had this book to read when I was first starting out."
— Rebecca Fishman, president, Florida Investment Group, LLC
As someone who's been on the founder's journey, reluctant (or not), I can honestly say Lessons for Nonprofit and Start-Up Leaders is a terrific book for someone thinking about starting a business with a purpose. I really enjoyed the fables, the stories and the wisdom that comes from someone who has lived the friction of real experience. Thanks for the honest reflection on the trials and triumphs of the start-up!
— John Lock, serial entrepreneur, investor and former Market Leader of Global B2B Training at Kaplan
"What could be better than a book of fables and stories that also tells the compelling history of a remarkable organization. In their thoroughly engaging and imaginative book. Harris and O'Leary have managed to find just the right blend of theory, practice story, and insight to help any reader navigate the problems inherent in building an organization from the ground up."
— Eric Haseltine, PhD Futurist and author, Former Executive Vice President, Walt Disney Imagineering
Table of Contents
Every Organization Has a Culture of Its Own: The Beginnings of Community Connections
How to Make an Idea Come Alive: Inspiration, Thinking It Through, and Making It Happen
Power, Authority, and Responsibility: Who’s in Charge Around Here?
Hiring: People to Help with the Work
Barriers to Solving Problems: There Must Be a Way Around This
Engaging the Outside World: Is Anyone Out There?
The Importance of Self- and Organizational Awareness: Taking a Hard Look
Preparing for the Future: What’s Next?
About the Authors:
Maxine Harris, PhD, is the co-founder and current CEO of Community Connections, a large behavioral healthcare organization located in the nations’ capital. She has been operating (in conjunction with her now deceased partner Helen Bergman) Community Connections for over 30 years. Harris is a national expert in clinical practices for treating persons with serious mental illness, substance addiction, homelessness, trauma, domestic violence and early traumatic loss. She has authored or edited nine books and ten training manuals on these topics and has been keynote speaker at several national conferences. She has also served as an expert witness on cases involving the impact of traumatic loss on surviving children. Her most successful book, The Loss that is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father, which is still in print after almost 20 years. Harris is the recipient of the first HOPE award, granted by the federal Center for Mental Health Services for her “pioneering work and innovation in the field of trauma-informed care.” She has also served as the principal investigator on federal grants studying homelessness, trauma, addiction, HIV infection and residential services.
Michael O’Leary, PhD, is professor of Leadership, Management, and Innovation at Georgetown University, and is a former policy analyst and management consultant. He has taught a wide variety of executive programs for organizations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America (including the World Bank Group, OPIC, and IDB). He is also co-designer of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, which was founded by the Bush and Clinton Foundations. His research deals with high-performing virtual teams, multitasking, multi-teaming, and teams facing resource constraints. In 2015, his study about dispersed and face-to-face colleagues won Research Paper of the Year Award from Europe’s largest association of IT executives.