Pies & Process or Sharing Your Vision


This week I thought I would write a little bit about “process.” By process I mean the way we as individuals and groups work our way through something, whether it’s a project, a press release, a benefit, an exhibition. As leaders you’ve all been there. Not only do you have to bring whatever it is to fruition, you have to bring your staff along with you. Hopefully, along the way, you play to their strengths, engage them, light creative fires, and make something that is better than any one of you would have made alone.

But before we talk about process, a story. I spent my vacation in Maine in a tiny coastal town that is about as far from the state’s moniker of “the way life should be” as possible. It’s a town that never quite pulled itself out of the mess of 2008. There is too little work and there are too many houses for sale. In the center of the village, though, is the library, which shares space with the historical society. They are both housed in a handsome mid-nineteenth century house and have a huge group of volunteers who keep the place running. They are also in the middle of a $100,000 fund raising drive. Last week as part of that campaign, they held a pie sale. Here are the particulars: Volunteers bake pies and quiches. They deliver them to the library before 9 a.m. the morning of the sale and people like me spend $12 to $15 per pie. I have to assume that purchases are a bit of a gamble because all the bakers can’t be as good as the person who made the three-berry pie I bought. In any case, at the end of six hours they made almost $1,000.

I spent a lot of time at the Library around the pie sale, and it made me ponder the question of process. I learned that the volunteers scour tag sales throughout the year for pie dishes and that when you buy a pie the dish is included. I learned they buy personal size pizza boxes to put each pie in. I learned that the pie sale spawned a silent auction and an art sale.

All of this made me think about process, about the way, we as leaders and department heads, volunteers and board chairman, make something happen. Because I think too often what we forget, and we do it for the best possible reasons, is to begin with a vision statement. Why are we selling pies? And to make sure everyone has the same answer, which might be: To make a lot of money for our fund raising campaign. What needs to happen next, but often doesn’t is an outline to keep people moving from A to D and so on without wandering into the weeds of art sales and silent auctions. It might also help staff or volunteers save time. Maybe it isn’t necessary to scour tag sales for 11 months. Maybe there’s another way to get pie pans.

I don’t mean to cast aspersions at our Library, but merely to ask if part of your leadership mantra is clarity. Before you head into a meeting, do you rehearse what you’re going to say? Do you deliver your vision clearly? Have you learned to pull staff back when in their enthusiasm they want to add the art sale to the pie sale? Can you curb their enthusiasm kindly while channeling it into pies? Is your staff used to tossing ideas in the air and batting them around? Are they kind when someone offers up an idea that seems a bit loony and out-of-the-box? To the best of your abilities, does everyone leave the room ready to take on their part of the project?

If you answered yes to most of those questions, you and your staff are in a good place. And, I suspect, will sell a ton of pies. If not, think about the places where you stumble and go into the weeds. Is it during the delivery of the idea? Perhaps you think your ideas are clear as a bell, but they’re not. Are you someone who’d rather not direct the meeting too much and as a result it zigs and zags, before becoming a contest with pies as prizes? Or are you the leader who has trouble pulling staff back on track. It’s rough sometimes, but know you’re not the only one who is suffering. Colleagues all around the table are waiting for you to pull the group out of the ditch. You will not only get the project back on track, your staff will applaud in their heads, and as long as you are kind, the person who’s off-track will get over it.

Leaders don’t get a lot of rest. At least not at work. And as a leader, meetings are your time to shine. So next time you deliver the news about a project, event, exhibition, make sure you’re on track so your staff can follow. Remember, an unclouded vision spawns creativity, which leads to a great “to-do list,” which leads to a meaningful event or program or project. Good luck. And share your “pie stories” with us here at Leadership Matters.

Joan Baldwin

8 Comments on “Pies & Process or Sharing Your Vision”

  1. Trevor Jones says:

    Very nice piece. For me, the key point here is that it takes practice to communicate your vision clearly, and then it takes repetition to make sure that it is internalized. I personally love making pies and have been doing it for years — but I’ve gotten better over time and I now cook more by feel than by recipe. When we see leaders who are great at communicating a vision, we often think it’s an innate gift, when what we’re really seeing is the result of years of practice. Stick with the recipe, learn from your mistakes and repeat the process!

  2. lindabnorris says:

    Or (just an or), has the pie sale (or was it from the beginning) really about community-building as much as it is about making money? And if so, is that losing sight or finding an equally important goal. When everyone in your community knows you are looking for pie plates, and that other people take on auctions and art sales, also to raise money, and, that people like you buy pies, isn’t that a type of community building?

    • A belated thank you for your response Linda. My point was for leadership not to let one project become laden with additional activities that distract from the point, but yes to your point as well. In this particular case, I’m not sure my tiny library is sophisticated enough to sort out community building from straight up cash building, but clearly that’s part of knowing what the vision is to begin with. Ditto to understanding that building community is a subtler way of building cash.

  3. I would also be sure that the stated vision, is in fact, the true vision. Avoid a “stockinghorse visiton” that is a cover-up for other motives. I would also encourage leaders to value and stick with the process – especially where input from many stakeholders and planning is concerned. I have witnessed leaders cut short the process- and in not very covert ways. The result was years of ill will, mistrust and dissatisfaction among exactly the folks who needed to be heard and whose input should have been valued. The lesson is to be truthful from the beginning of the process, value it, carry it through to completion with genuine thanks and celebration, and, most importantly, value the input of your stakeholders and express that.

  4. Geri Thomas says:

    In our nonprofits, I thought we might have advanced from fundraising by bake sale. How about engaging the board in a phone-a-thon appeal to supporters, donors, and potential new contributors to discuss the great vision and mission of the organization. A personal call, both scripted and sincere, means a lot on the other end. Leaders in the community – from teachers to engaged parents, to luminaries can also be involved. Put a thermometer visual on the website; let everyone give online in whatever amount; watch the contributions climb to the top, find a donor to match the amount, celebrate later with a pie. Best wishes, Geri Thomas, President, artstaffing.com

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