Muddy Boots         

The Wear Muddy Boots Blog

Muddy Boots Blog

Leadership never comes from sitting behind a desk....you need to get your boots muddy and get in the field with your employees, customers, clients, vendors, and stakeholders. The more you listen the more you learn. The individual closest to the action generally knows the real story. 

I have been a manager for 40 years, starting with IBM and now leading a non-profit, Episcopal Community Services, in what I hope will be my last professional chapter.  I have a fair amount of scar tissue, which I have come to learn is the best teacher. Leadership can be about talk and vision, but it is way more about deeds. For what it's worth, here are some of my thoughts on the subject of leadership, muddy boots and other stuff I find interesting. 

Thank you for your interest and I welcome your comments and exchange. Ideas and views are better when shared.

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New Decade

Posted by griffithd on January 1, 2020 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)


I will worry less and risk more.

I will stand for things bigger than Red or Blue.

I will Challenge Poverty and Be a force for Nature.

I will do the uncomfortable, grow, and make a difference.

I will coach, mentor, share scar tissue, and pay it forward.

I will make more time to be a grandfather, father, and husband.

I will make more time to be a friend, to ones known, and the stranger.

I will simplify.

I will walk more.

I will fish more.


2020 Look Ahead

Posted by griffithd on December 28, 2019 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

For as many years as I can remember, we have traveled the day after Christmas to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to gather as an extended family and hang out. Mom and Dad are no longer with us, but the three brothers, our spouses, and our offspring and spouses and their offspring now number 29. Not everyone makes it every year, but most do.

I am reminded of the blessing of family, and I am mindful just how fortunate it is that we get along, that we care and love each other, and that help is a phone call, and these days now a text away. I am proud of our family and our values and what we all do or have done in the world.

However, these days another thought also comes to mind, no doubt shaped by my work at Episcopal Community Services, where we deal with families and individuals challenged by poverty every day. I have lived my entire life with the safety net that is my family. At times that net has caught me and kept me from the dark places that life can hold.

For many of the individuals we serve, there is no such net. At best, it is limited and individuals facing life with no network of support, no access to opportunity that can lift one to a better experience of economic stability, no family resources to help navigate the journey, no givens that I, and many, take for granted.

For me, the contrast is stark and it is genuine.

The question is what to do if my story sounds familiar to you?

First, understand that your experience of the American dream is unique and frankly not available to many in America. Second that government safety nets keep people alive but maintain an individual’s economic status. Third absent behavioral health and addiction issues the best road out of poverty is a living wage job with benefits. Access to such situations is dependent on stable housing, education and training, and wellness. It is also dependent on access to opportunity and that access is best provided by coaching and mentoring organizations and the business community that understands the value of living-wage jobs and the subsequent impacts on economic growth and a stable professional workforce.

Know that there is a movement in the U.S. that is calling for economic mobility for all Americans. There are many, I included, who see this not as a right or a left issue, but as a national issue that needs to be addressed by us before it consumes us as a society. The data tells us that 15% of Americans live at or below the poverty line. If one measured living wage as the bar, that number approaches 35%. Imagine an economy where 35% of Americans become consumers and the cost of safety nets drops accordingly.

In this season of Peace, Joy, and Hope and with the blessings of family and faith, I am committed in 2020 that we bring momentum to the movement.

Are you?

It starts with joining.

For more on our work. www.ecsphilly.org


I will not stand in the way of the Meeting.

Posted by griffithd on November 16, 2019 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the many benefits of living where we live is there is a long and deep Quaker tradition and active practice. To be clear I am not Quaker, but our children attended a Quaker school, kindergarten through eighth grade. I was asked to clerk the development committee and in turn sat on the school committee. I called a good friend who is a Quaker and asked a few questions after my first meeting. What’s a clerk? Someone who chairs a committee, but does not lead. What do they mean by a sense of the meeting? Is there consensus. I learned there is no voting. Last I asked what was meant by, I won’t stand in the way of the meeting? You may disagree, but not be willing to stand in the way of group consensus. In consensus there is movement and most times movement is better than prolonged inaction and deadlock. In movement there is learning and the opportunity for correction based on that learning. Sometimes you have to launch when you are 80% ready and learn as you do. 

It has been many years since those days, but the lesson on consensus and being able to disagree, but not stand in the way of the meeting have stayed with me. In the years since I have retired and moved on to working at a nonprofit focused on intergenerational poverty. The work requires building a consensus across a wide range of organizations, individuals, and stakeholders all of different backgrounds, races and genders. Often with such diversity we are asked to think and act inclusively. Indeed, we now know it is best practice.

What does it mean to be inclusive? My standard answer was a seat at the table. Reflecting on my Quaker exposure and learnings from my latest work, I know now it is more than just a seat. It is also an equal voice at the table, it is active listening, and a willingness to respect consensus when it forms and not stand in the way of the meeting on many issues. Movement creates change and you need to be willing to launch and learn as you go and tune all along the way with experience, data, and results. By definition inclusion at the table should build a better solution, and consensus as a process builds buy in and ownership of the process.

I have also learned that the old African express rings true here. “To go fast, go alone, to go far, go together”. We know that we are stronger together, not just in a political frame, but in the process of building programs and creating a movement to drive change. No one individual is that smart, but a group of talented diverse individuals, all with a seat at the table, all with an active voice, all active listeners, and all willing to respect consensus and not stand in the way of the meeting, is indeed stronger together. It takes trust to launch a project at 80% and tune it as you go. It is also in my experience the best way to drive action and change. It also requires you to have each other’s back and to have the courage to try and fail in order to try and succeed. It also requires you to be honest in keeping score and accountable to the data and the results. You either drive impact or you don’t.

We are strong together. We are stronger when we build from an inclusive framework made up of all of our stakeholders. Sometimes leadership is best defined by listening and building consensus.

It takes courage not to stand in the way of the meeting.

Movements take courage.

Trust the process.


Run to the Fire

Posted by griffithd on October 16, 2019 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

If you are reading this, you are, or are about to be,  a stakeholder in Episcopal Community Services.

First we say thank you for your commitment and support of our work. You often ask us for the elevator speech on Episcopal Community Services. It strikes us that our annual report letter is an excellent place to share that story.

ECS is a 150-year-old social service agency that has always “run to the fire,” fighting some of the toughest social issues facing Philadelphia and our region. As we enter our 150th year, that fire is clearly intergenerational poverty. Our mission is to challenge poverty, guided by the bedrock values of justice, dignity, community, and impact. We envision a world where access to opportunity is available to all. . What makes ECS unique, however, is that we have chosen to transform the way we challenge poverty. Like many who do this work so faithfully, we had to acknowledge that our approach over the years has certainly relieved human suffering, but has maintained people in poverty. Our compelling vision today is to help people climb out of poverty—for good. It’s called economic mobility and it’s based on leading-edge brain science and backed up by demonstrated results. We do this across all our platforms by addressing our participant’s whole lives, by coaching them to do their own best work, and by staying with them for the long haul. Two years ago in partnership with our board, we implemented a strategic plan. That plan has three elements. First, we began to incorporate economic mobility and coaching methodology into all of our existing programs. Our most significant initiative was the creation of a new program called MindSet to provide economic mobility coaching in a dedicated setting to individuals. Second, we retooled our human resources by adding support personnel so that program staff can shed important but taxing administrative tasks and focus on the programs that change people’s lives. Third, we created an Inclusion and Advocacy department to marshal support across all our constituents to work for sensible public policies that make economic mobility possible in this city and in our country. The addition of a Chaplain helps to carry the advocacy message—and the whole, inspiring ECS story—to the 134 parishes of the Diocese. . We can report that in all these efforts we are on target, on budget. Most importantly, through our measurement systems and first-hand observations we can see progress in all of our programs, making a positive, sustainable impact in the lives of those we serve. We can report that we are receiving national recognition, being asked to provide services to other agencies’ participants, and attracting funding from new and exciting sources—all clear indications of the value of our approach.

We are an agency in transition, addressing intergenerational poverty in ways that require patience, persistence, and an entrepreneurial willingness to learn from successes and failures—our own and others’—so that something truly new and transformative can emerge. Over time we intend to constantly improve our ability to drive positive change in people lives, and raise the funds necessary to scale our work.

All of this happens because of you, our partners and friends. You are part of a movement that believes poverty can be ended, that your own self-fulfillment is inextricably tied to your neighbor’s. Your support, your prayers, and your participation make this work possible. Know you are making a difference.

Know there will always be fires. Know we will always respond.

On behalf of the lives we all are helping to change, we say thank you and if you are new to us, we invite you to join the movement. 

Unconditional Love

Posted by griffithd on October 6, 2019 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)


I am sitting on the bench in our kitchen overlooking our garden. The garden is in that October transition from vibrant greens to fall browns and reds. The dog is asleep next to me curled in the shape of my leg and breathing in a deep and slow rhythm. It is that Sunday time after church but before the Eagles game, all under a fall grey sky. The coffee always tastes better. I love October.

I will now love it for a new reason. Tomorrow our son is getting married and shortly afterwards adopting the son of the women he is marrying. We are gaining a daughter in law and our first grandchild. While we have been anticipating the event for some time, it is now here. When the dust settles they will have a more formal gathering with friends and family. We are thrilled on many levels.

The event also gives me pause to reflect on the nature of family, children, and relationships across generations. Specifically, I have been thinking about the power of commitment. Unconditional love at its deepest level is a commitment, based on trust, that two people will always be there for each other no matter what. Children are the ultimate expression and an extension of that trust and never more so than with adoption. Grandchildren present the opportunity to expand that trust over generations. Tomorrow we witness all three and the family circle gets bigger.

What I know is how powerful, profound, and hard it is when one extends absolute trust to another. It is the hardest work we do as humans. Such is the hallmark of a strong marriage, of true friendships, and the decision to be a parent. Inherent in such work is great reward. 

It is an honor to witness unconditional love grow and take flight. You are off to a wonderful start.

Congratulations guys.

And another reason to love October.


The Interview

Posted by griffithd on September 1, 2019 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

When I graduated from college and interviewing for my first job, I was fortunate to get an interview with IBM. One of the meetings was with a branch manager in New York City. I walked into his office, and he was sitting behind his desk, I sat in front. Early on in the interview he pulled out of his desk a set of wooden-handled rubber tubed stretching exercisers called a pull apart. While he asked questions he pulled the handles apart, perhaps 30 or 40 times. Near the end of the interview he tossed them into his desk drawer.

“I have one more question.”


“Can you use these,” tossing me the pull apart.


As much as I pulled and tugged, I could not get them apart. Not an inch. I asked him what was I missing?

“Nothing, thanks for coming in, we will call you.”

I was sure I had blown the interview.

Two days later, I was hired.

Fast forward 20 years and I am sitting down with my family at our new church as I was starting a new job at Modern. In back, a familiar voice asks, “Dave, good to see you, what brings you here?” My retired branch manager was now a fellow member of our new church. We became good friends and worked any number of volunteer projects together.

One day over coffee, I asked him about the pull-apart interview. He laughed.

You did fine. I had two pair in my desk — one with rubber that stretched and one made out of a fan belt. You couldn’t have pulled those apart with a pull along.

I must have looked confused. He went on, and I wanted to see how you handled the pull-apart. Most folks busted a gut trying to pull it apart. Most people get frustrated. What I look for is how people dealt with adversity. Almost no one asks for help. We wanted folks who would try, make an assessment, and not be afraid to ask for help. Our work is intricate and we wanted people who would be willing to ask for the how and keep moving forward. The background is essential, chemistry even more.

It is not individual talent, but the talent of the team. Those of you who read muddy boots will recognize the message — talent matters. Every time, I interview I look for that chemistry.

Years later, I visited with him days before he passed from cancer. We talked, remembered, we laughed.

The day after he died, a package arrived in my mailbox. It was the pull-apart with a note.

He was still being a mentor.

They sit in my office.

This is your time

Posted by griffithd on August 16, 2019 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I played hockey. I quit when I was 37. I remain a fan. To me, it is still the greatest game on the planet. If you are a fan and if you are old enough, you know where you were in 1980.

My wife and I were in the car on I95 driving to a friend’s house for dinner, and we were listening on the radio to the 1980 Olympics and the semi-final game between the USA and the Soviet Union. In a match for the ages, the US beat the Soviet national team and went on to win the Gold medal. It is a game they had no business winning based on the previous meeting and history.

As the game wound down, we pulled to the side of the road to listen. I wasn’t sure the game would be on with the folks we were visiting. Interestingly up and down I95 cars were pulled off to the side doing the exact same thing. At the end, lights flashed and horns honked.

Herb Brooks coached the 1980 team. He was the last player cut from the 1960 team that also went on to win Gold. His and the team’s story is told in the movie Miracle on Ice. The scene on Brook’s legendary pre-game speech is a classic.

"If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game… Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players, every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time.”

“This is your time.” These words have a permanent residency in my brain. Much of what I have accomplished is based on a personal decision that this is my time.

When I decided to work for IBM.

When I went up to the prettiest, and I now know smartest, girl in the room and asked her out. Forty-one years later, we are still going out.

When I decided to leave the corporate world and join a family business.

When I got sober.

When I retired and joined ECS. And unretired.

You can choose to look at the odds and decide not to play. We have all done that. I have found that the most significant rewards come from doing the uncomfortable and in the face of conventional wisdom. Not all playing fields are level. Much of my work now is about creating level playing fields and access to opportunity for individuals where this is not the case. In the end, they and all of us need to respond and decide that this is our time in the face of adversity and challenge, act.

This moment is where faith and experience kicks in. To face set back and come back. To know that the sun will come up and to bring your team along for the ride. To answer a call to service when you do not have time. To know that giving back is to get back. To love your neighbor as yourself and to love unconditionally. To know that a higher power drives more than we can comprehend. To accept that you were “meant to be here tonight.”

We do not have to accept things as they are. That is what makes us human. We can maintain, or we can drive change. It takes preparation and work, but it starts with the intentional decision that “This is your time.”

Is it?

We are all Baltimore

Posted by griffithd on August 3, 2019 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

As one who works in a historic Philadelphia social service agency focused on the issues of intergenerational poverty and the associated solutions for individuals and families, and as one calling for us as a nation to join the movement to address poverty with intentional actions and investment, https/www.wearmuddyboots.com/apps/blog/show/46936679-the-movement, I cannot sit quietly while the President tweets and speaks not as a leader of all Americans, but in language that is racially changed and divisive.

I believe that our greatest strength as a nation is our diversity as a nation. We are a nation of immigrants, both willing and unwilling, but never the less, a nation where by law, citizens are equal. The reality, and our challenge, is that equality while mandated by law is clearly not in place, nor acknowledged by many in America. The equality discussion is uncomfortable for many of us as is race, gender, and poverty in America. One could argue that we are fundamentally split as a nation by our views, often based on our racial and economic status, on the issue and solutions for, equality, race, gender, and poverty.

However, that split is not one that I expect my President to exploit for political gain. That split is not one I want political platforms crafted to exploit. That split will consume us as a nation if we continue on the current trajectory, let me note one we have been on long before Trump. In the wealthiest nation on earth, founded very much on the words found on Lady Liberty in NY harbor:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I expect, and I suspect you do as well, our political leadership and we as individuals, to acknowledge that we want solutions that call for equality and opportunity across gender and racial lines. And we note that equality, especially access to opportunity, is very much at the heart of addressing poverty in America.

I don’t want tweets, I want leadership and I want civility as we address these difficult issues. I want truth, not only words, but thoughtful, effective, and long term affordable public policy that drive equality, access to opportunity, and that your gender or race do not define your access. I do not see such access and free enterprise to be in conflict. Twenty percent of America lives below living wage. I want leadership and our business community that has as a goal to change that reality. To do so requires leadership and us to come together and find the common ground. That common ground exists in the America I know.

Diversity is our greatest strength, let us use that diversity to move us forward and our leadership to reflect all of us.

Mr. President your base is all of us.

The Movement

Posted by griffithd on July 9, 2019 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

The Movement

I work at a one of the oldest social service agencies in Philadelphia. For 150 years we have run to the fire and served some of the most vulnerable individuals in our City. The elderly, the homeless, youth, individuals and families experiencing poverty and deep poverty, many over generations. There is no question that our work saved lives, improved immediate situations, and eased the pain of being in crisis when no obvious solution was apparent. For many social service agencies this is the hallmark of our work. Yes, we run to the fire, but the brutal reality is we rarely put out the fire for good. To be cold, but honest, the system is set up to maintain people who are in poverty. 

The reasons are many. The way out of poverty for individuals who do not experience mental health and addiction challenges, is a job at a living wage with affordable benefits. Many in poverty are working, but not at a living wage and many are part time with no benefits. We know the barriers. Available living wage jobs require skills that are not being acquired in our educational system. Access to quality education and skills based training is a challenge when slots are limited if available at all. When basic needs of housing, wellness, transportation, and security, are everyday challenges and the associated crisis they cause, focusing on getting the training, education, let alone access to employment opportunities, is overwhelming for most individuals. Even when an individual can acquire the skills and is qualified, is the access to the available opportunity available?

Henry Ford famously said the he wanted to pay his workers enough that they could afford his cars. Where are the jobs that allow individuals in poverty to not only lift themselves out of poverty, but to become consumers and in turn an engine for growth? Pew cites that a family in poverty, when the administrative overhead is considered, cost the government over $60,000/ year. 15% of America lives below the poverty line. That line is significantly below what is defined as a living wage. The issue of poverty in America is much larger than we want to acknowledge. One hears in the current election cycle the rumble of social unrest. All of us need to listen to that rumble.

All of which brings me to a fundamental question. Do we as a society continue to maintain individual in poverty or do we look in the mirror, do we consider our collective faith traditions and their common teachings of compassion and respecting the dignity of every individual, do we look at the cost, both financial and other, of the current approach, and do we call for, pay for, individually act for, a fundamental change?

At ECS in our small way we have said we will be an agent for change. We are implementing programs based on the best available brain science and research that take individuals and through coaching and financial incentives help them navigate the system and get them access to opportunity that they can participate in and in turn give them economic mobility. With the impact to break the cycle of poverty. This we are doing along with some 120 other agencies across the country and the results confirm the approach. Together we have said we want out of the maintenance approach and to focus on those actions that drive sustainable change in individual’s lives.

However, the challenge of intergenerational poverty requires a much more fundamental response. It requires a movement that has political and financial muscle. It requires first education as to the real issues, it requires a commitment to jobs at a living wage, it requires a willingness to invest at scale in living wage jobs and the associated training and education. It requires that we acknowledge we are a diverse nation and we need to lift all boats, not just a few. The movement needs to be a national one, and needs to drive public policy that incents job creation at living wage levels and not individual greed. The social algebra of 20% of Americans becoming consumers on par, drives growth and revenue which in turn drives investment. The movement needs political leadership that acts in the interest of the nation, not just a party. The movement needs to not only claim the moral high ground during your worship or spiritual practice, but to act every day to drive inclusive growth. The movement needs to understand that one’s self interest starts with consideration of your neighbors. The movement needs to acknowledge that this is uncomfortable work, but vital work if we are to leave a legacy to our grandchildren of which we can be proud. As a nation we need to get out of the maintenance game and into the change game. The American dream is about access to opportunity. The movement is about access for all.

Fundamentally, the movement needs you.

And if we are honest and we walk with the carpenter from Bethlehem, we need the movement.


Talent Matters

Posted by griffithd on July 3, 2019 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Over the years, I have been asked about what makes for a successful business or organization. Many answers come to mind. Product, service, marketing, strategy, capital, technology, values, culture, and the list could go on.

However, in my experience, the number one factor and the one that the great CEO’s focus on is Talent.

So the identification, the acquisition, the care and feeding, and the development of Talent is vital. You could be overloaded in all of the other success factors, but in the absence of talent, the dog does not hunt.

So let us think about talent for a moment. I am reminded of the advice once received. “If you spend the time and dollars to acquire great talent, with specific domain experience and knowledge, and then you tell that talent not only what to do, but how to do it, one of you is redundant. And it’s not them. “ It makes no sense to invest in talent and not turn it loose. It is where the organization gets competitive leverage. There are only so many hours in a day.

When you have a team of talent, what does it look like? Do you subscribe to the theory that diversity of thought and experience create better solutions? Does your talent reflect your customers? Your community? The data is unequivocal that diversity and inclusion at the table of an organization drive better problem solving and solutions than a homogeneous group.

What is often missed is the culture that surrounds an organization concerning diverse talent. Specifically, is the environment such that individuals can name the elephant in the room and feel safe. How do you, as a leader, take feedback? Is your team meeting such that civil debate and discussion can take place? How about one on ones? What intentional steps do you choose to make sure that such discussions can and do occur? How well do you listen? How do you follow up?

The other tool that causes talent to thrive is for leadership to wander. More specifically, for leadership and talent to interact in both formal and informal ways. Some of the best advice and counsel I have garnered has come over an impromptu breakfast, lunch, or cup of coffee. For that to happen, you have to be intentional with wandering. I love the questions of how is it going, what can we do better, what resources do you need? Talent appreciates being asked.

Talent matters. What is your strategy to acquire and once acquired, develop, and grow? Talent management is not a random event and one that belongs in the CEO/leader/coaches toolbox. If it is not in the toolbox, talent will flee.

No one wants to be redundant. My goal has always been to be the dumbest individual in the organization. When I make that goal, I am the smartest.

Talent matters.

Tight Lines

Posted by griffithd on June 8, 2019 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

As many of you know in recent years, I have rediscovered fly fishing. Much is written about the Zen of fly fishing, so I am not going to go there. I have written some on that subject in the past. https/www.wearmuddyboots.com/apps/blog/show/45693167-on-the-water

Instead, I have been looking for connections and insights from being on the water, my work at Episcopal Community Services, my work with the Academy of Natural Sciences, and my other board work.

I find that problem solving dramatically improves after fishing. I suspect that we all benefit from downtime where the brain clears and focus is redirected for a few hours. After such periods I find insights and direction take new form and often new doors open to a solution.

Such is the case after a recent two-day trip where the fishing was hard and tiring. Hard that these fishes were not biting and tiring that we kept trying. The fish won.

On the ride back the parable of the fishes came to mind as the link I have been trying to articulate to folks about our common work with poverty and the environment, and I would make the case leadership in general. You know the quote:

“you can give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, you can teach him to fish, and he never goes hungry.”

At ECS we are in the midst of shifting our work from traditional case management that in general saves and improves lives, but maintains individuals in poverty, to a coaching model based on the most current brain science that challenges individuals to set goals, support them, and they, in turn, achieve their goals, which in turn, drives fundamental change in their life. You were in poverty, and now, all be it over time, you are not. We move from people being given fish, to people learning to fish. In doing so, the people we work with become independent.

At the Academy, we are at the beginning of launching our strategic plan, which has as its North Star the challenge for individuals to be a force for nature. We are undertaking the presentation of our fact-based environmental science, research, and collections in new and innovative ways that ask people to think uniquely and thoughtfully about the environment and nature. To challenge the partisan noise on the subject of the environment and look at the fact-based science and draw their conclusions and in turn, act on that new knowledge. People can eat served fish, or they can learn to fish and find their unique meal.

Board leadership is no different. The most effective work we do is not telling management what to do, but instead asking the hard questions and asking management to respond. What is the market, who is your customer, what is their pain, how do you address their pain, what is the competitive and sustaining advantage you bring to your customers? What does the data tell you? What do the people closest to the customer know? By asking management to do the work, over time, the skills to be curious and problem solve become embedded. Management learns to fish.

I can make the case that we risk much in a society where solutions are given in the absence of understood research, data, core skills, and rigorous debate. I love Google, but I still know how to go to the library and do research. Fake news, filtered news, and the like have the potential to dull the debate in society and allow solutions and policy driven by self-interest rather than the common good to prevail. Be it the issues of poverty, climate, or making a living.

We all, and I mean all, need to learn to fish — tight lines.

Muddy Boots Basics

Posted by griffithd on May 21, 2019 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to an assembled group of leaders of family businesses sponsored by the Delaware Valley Family Business Center. They asked me to share my perspective, aka scar tissue, on the attributes of leadership observed over my years in business and my service as a board chair with privately held for-profit organizations.

I shared five core attributes.

Muddy Boots. Leaders who put on their Muddy Boots and go into the field and listen to the answers to two questions. How are we doing? What can we do better? Leaders do not manage the business from behind a desk. The listen to customers, competitors, employees, thought leaders, educators, to the people closest to the work. They seek outside advice and perspective.

Time. They are intentional with their time. "They do the important, not the urgent." They carve out think time. They are curious. They find the pain and fix it. They invest in learning and talking with contrarians. They think not in the present but three to five years out.

Elephants. They create environments where it is safe to name the elephants. They focus on the hiring and the care and feeding of talent. They work to be the dumbest person in subject matter areas. They understand that a bunch of talented people are more valuable than one individual telling people what to do. The world needs inventors and implementers. They understand that inclusion is a seat at the table and that the bigger the table, the better the decisions.

Personal Brand. People know what they stand for. They live their mission, their vision, and their values. People understand what is their North Star. They are consistent. They are both firm and calm. They run to the fire, not away from it. People want to work for them. They care more about other people's success than their own. They put their crew first, and their crew knows it.

Balance. They understand that while focus is important, so too is balance. They understand that shareholders are not the only stakeholder, but so too is family and community, employees, vendors, and customers. They understand and act that they are part of a much larger system and that we all carry the responsibility to pay it forward. They do not put greed ahead of grandchildren.

In the end, leadership can be summed up in the concept of legacy. True leadership understands that it is never about them. Rather it is about the organization they lead and the people they serve. They understand that old African proverb that "to go fast, go alone, but to go far, go together." Leaders pull the rope; they don't push it. They understand that personal achievement and economic security is a function of stakeholder service.

All of your stakeholders. Especially your future ones.

May 1st

Posted by griffithd on May 2, 2019 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

On May 1, 2019 I was elected by my fellow board members to be the next Chairmen of the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University effective July 1, 2019. I am humbled and honored by this call and I am energized by the challenge given to all of us to be “A force for nature”. Ironically May 1st also marks six years as the Head Coach at Episcopal Community Services.

I have two passions as I go about my final professional chapter after forty plus years in the for profit world. They are dealing with the issues of Intergenerational Poverty in the City of Philadelphia where I have the privilege of being the Executive Director and Head Coach of Episcopal Community Services whose focus is asking our stakeholders to look up and to challenge poverty with courage, capacity and will. The second is our environment. I have been an outdoorsman my entire life and can see with my own eyes the impact of climate change. The data and the science is clear. Ice fields around the world are receding, ocean temperature is rising, CO2 levels are climbing, our weather grows more extreme, and sea level rise is very much an issue around the world. Add to that the issues of air and water pollution and the associated health and environmental issues we clearly face a growing and complex set of challenges.

My two passions have much in common.

First the data is clear. Poverty in America is growing and the issues of economic mobility and the lack of access to opportunity for many of our citizens is undeniable. Climate change is occurring, its impacts are profound, and the scientific fact based data of the state of our natural world is also undeniable.

Second the way home with both issues starts with education and awareness of the issues for society at large.

Third the need for civil, researched, and fact based debate and problem solving in order to craft informed and effective public policy is clear. We can ill afford for either of these issues to become partisan. The social and economic algebra is compelling, it impacts all of us, and that doing nothing is unacceptable on a local, national and global scale.

Sadly, looking at the data in both area, we may have crossed tipping points. Even if that is so, do we want our legacy to be to future generations that we saw the evidence, and we were so arrogant that we failed to respond meaningfully. That greed took precedence over great-grandchildren?

My work in my last professional chapter, and I would hope our work, is that the answer is no. That as citizens of Philadelphia and a larger world we looked to our better nature and we responded to the call to service. That we understood that our self-interest, starts with our neighbors. Neighbors both local and global.

I am humbled by the call and in turn I ask you to join us in this work. To be a force for nature and to look up and challenge poverty. To do both with Courage, Capacity and Will.

I want our grandchildren to know that we took a stand and we acted on the critical issues of our time.

Do you?

deg muddy boots consulting

Posted by griffithd on April 20, 2019 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)

My board, speaking and consulting fees go to fund the nonprofits Jacqui and I support. At the urging of you all I am posting the deg muddy boots consulting site. I work with several individuals in this work and you can refer us where you see a fit or if you are like minded you can join us.

What we do.

"deg muddy boots" consulting provides tested advice and counsel to family businesses and nonprofits. Services include leadership development, strategy creation and review, team alignment, company and board governance, employee relations, executive and board recruitment, compensation, networking, family office facilitation, sales and marketing, dispute resolution, advancement and development, technology, supply chain, operations, finance, banking and funding, advocacy, and best practices referrals. The team is available for conference and meeting presentations on the Call to Service, Leadership, Governance, Inclusion and Diversity. All fees go to nonprofit organizations that deliver impact.

Who we do it with.

With 40 plus years of experience garnered from the practice of wearing muddy boots and the power of listening, we dig in, find the pain, and help you fix it. The firm is based on a network of associates whom I have worked with over the years and have problem solved some hard issues and have the scar tissue to prove it. Reach out and ask for advice from individuals who have been and are in the trenches and who are constant students of the art and science of business. Never underestimate the knowledge that the sun will come up tomorrow to someone in the dark of a crisis. We work with organizations that value experience, innovation, and the value of an outside perspec


"deg muddy boots" consulting

Family business and Nonprofit consulting services and advice

Leadership Matters

Posted by griffithd on April 3, 2019 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

“It is hard to be accountable for history that you did not make. However, it is even harder to be accountable for the history that you will make.”

It is popular in the current political environment to look at the historical record and find an explanation for today’s ills. Poverty, Race, Economic Inequity, Climate Change, Gender differentials to name a few across the spectrum. One hears in the current call for restitution to right historical ills a call for accountability for prior generations.

I would suggest that’s interesting but flawed. Interesting in that it explains how we got here. Flawed in that it does not address the root cause and thus does not change the narrative. History is history; what matters is the future. To quote:

“You cannot change history, but you can change the future” Carolyn Correia.

No doubt that history and science teach and informs how we got here on any given issue. The energy and the debate and most importantly the actions required to drive change need to shift to the question of what do we do going forward? On so many issues we are at a legacy inflection point.

Poverty and economic inequity continue to grow. We know that prosperity is not inclusive. We know that the inevitable outcome of poverty is system failure on several levels. What if prosperity included not just shareholders, but employee stakeholders? What if valuations included social returns created by living wages and health care?

Race and Gender continue to be the third rail in America. We know that diversity is an excellent strength if we dare to have an all-encompassing tent. All be it a tent where access to opportunity is level across society in housing, wellness, education, employment, and the rule of law is equal for all.

Climate change. The evidence is compelling, and while many challenge the science as to the why of climate change, there is little fact-based debate that it is occurring. The coal that has been burned we can’t do much about, but the wind and solar power we harness going forward, well we can own that change. To quote “will we be that arrogant that we put greed ahead of grandchildren when it came to the environment?” It is not a question of is climate change human-made or a natural cycle or some combination; instead, it is that it is occurring and the world voice to drive response is failing to push the political will to drive collective behavioral change.

In American, we will soon be in a primary election cycle. The candidates we need to support are those who are willing to be accountable for our future and bold enough to challenge us to do the same, even if the solutions identified call for us to do the uncomfortable. I want specifics on these issues of Poverty and Economic Inequity, Race and Gender, and the Climate. President Lincoln in our darkest days as a nation spoke of a house divided and the consequences. Well, we are a house divided, and if we are to address the hard questions with hard answers, we need to come together, and not just in America. When will we learn that self-interest is a team sport?

Leadership matters, and not just from our leaders.

So you want to run a nonprofit ?

Posted by griffithd on March 23, 2019 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

After 37 years of working in the for-profit world, I was asked to lead a nonprofit social service agency in Philadelphia. Having made the switch from CEO to Executive Director, I get asked about the differences from individuals thinking about making a similar transition as a final professional chapter and what they ought to consider.

So after 6 years here is my list.

1. Talent Matters. In both sectors the better the talent, the better the outcomes. Historically nonprofits have had lower compensation and benefits and the approaches I use to use to attract talent had to get retooled. While I have found that investing in professional development, best of breed communication practices and an inclusive workplace, as in people who work for you have a seat at the table with strategy and problem solving, all help attract and retain talent in both sectors. The great talent in the non-profit sector is called to this work. Discerning that call is critical in the hiring process.

2. The Pace is different. Not for the challenges, amount of work, and long days. Instead, the pace for getting answers from funders, government, and in matters of compliance is very different. I am used to regulation, but in this sector the amount of paperwork and the number of touches on any given issue is complex and at times lacks a sense of urgency. Persistent and specifically relentless patience is a necessary tool in the tool kit.

3. The myth vs. reality of this work. I thought I was savvy on the issues of poverty, race, economic opportunity. After all, I had run a large business and was well read and involved in nonprofits as a board member and volunteer. Never has the ability to listen, ask questions, talking to the people closest to the work, mattered more. I would urge anyone to come into this work with an open mind and an open heart. Business skill can make a huge difference, but the program work is complex and layered. It took two years before I could start to connect the dots around poverty and race and privilege in this space and understand what mattered to move the needle.

4. Collaboration is not a given. Forty percent of the social service agencies in our region have six weeks of cash on hand. Most agencies depend on government funding for ninety percent of their funding. As an observation, most agencies do not naturally collaborate as a function of protecting funding. I think the ability to bring focus on the work, especially work that delivers impact and to collaborate to produce a wide range of services is a skill where an individual with a business background can bring value. Joint Ventures can bring terrific value to the individuals being served and drive impacts at much more effective levels.

5. Data matters. I am used to using data to drive quality improvement. Getting data that you can take action on is difficult in this sector and only now being recognized as critical to driving process improvement. Like the for-profit work talking to your customers, finding the pain and addressing it is the key. In both sectors, we make the mistake of telling people what they need rather than asking.

6. Overhead. I ran a profitable business with 21% overhead as measured by GAAP and sit on several for profit boards. 990’s if you believe them suggest 8-10 percent in this sector. Funders are only now understanding that overhead is critical to successful programs. Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Development all need to be done right so programs can function and focus on delivering quality impacts. Changes coming in GAAP will drive a better accounting in the sector. Donors and funders will take some time to reset the model on what defines success. It is not the budget mix, but the impacts. The best agencies deliver impacts in the most cost-effective manner. Education on that mix is critical.

7. Boards. There is a significant difference dealing with a paid board vs a volunteer board. Board recruitment is critical in both sectors. However, with a volunteer board there are different levers when making decisions, and with governance and nominations, while it should not be, it is different. Again this is a space that a business background can add value. It is essential to look at skills, diversity of thought and experiences, funding capacity and networking ability. The ability to have clear, transparent communications, hear from all views, have two-way feedback, and clear expectations, is essential for effective nonprofit board relationship with management.

8. Focus. It is easy to be pulled in many directions in both sectors. A critical skill is the ability to say no to your staff, your funders and board. Your heart will want to say Yes. The key is the focus to drive impact, and it requires a clear vision and strategy. In nonprofit work, there is a tendency to chase funding. Mission, Vision, Values matter, and they should define your work and your direction. If they are right and they respond to real needs, then the funding will follow.

9. Humble Experience. It is easy to think that the scoreboard you measured yourself with in business matters in the nonprofit sector. In many cases it does, but the program work is hard and it by definition is humbling. I would strongly suggest that the better way to share experience is as scar tissue. In that when you made a mistake, share what you learned, that you continued to move forward, that in most matters a mistake is rarely fatal, and that the sun will come up tomorrow. Experience is perspective and it is something you need to share from a frame of reference that matters to the people you work with.

10. Muddy Boots. If you know me, you know the story. You do your best work in the field with your muddy boots listening to the people closest to the work and the people you serve. Ask how we are doing and what can we do better. And you listen. You listen with intention and without defense. I have long believed that a leader is at their best in their muddy boots. This is true in any sector, profit or non, and I could make the case true in life.

Finally, if you are not called to the work I would strongly suggest you consider other options for a final chapter in your professional life. Understand what you are getting into and do it for the right reasons.

But if you are called there is no more rewarding work. You work with amazing people and stakeholders, you have the opportunity to coach young people, you get way more than you give, you learn and grow tremendously, and if you can move the needle in your space, make a difference then the opportunity for a legacy that matters are significant.

But, it sure as hell is not retirement……

"Time, like an ever rolling stream"

Posted by griffithd on February 24, 2019 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

There are moments in all of our lives that are touchstone moments. We all know where we were if you are old enough when JFK got shot, when Armstrong stepped on the moon, 911.

There are also touchstone moments that are more personal when you met your spouse, the birth of a child, a wedding.

Then there are those that are markers, moments when you will never look at life the same way again. Your first paycheck, the first time you experience death, the day you “arrived,” the day you “left.”

All this has been triggered by an event this week of sitting in church saying goodbye to an old friend and reflecting that I am playing the back nine and realizing that we really don’t know when we will take our last shot. The classic hymn lyrics “Time, like an ever rolling stream, Bears all its sons away; They fly, forgotten, as a dream; Dies at the opening day” hit me as if I heard them for the first time.

We are here for a limited time, and I have been thinking of late about impact, about legacy, about dreams that die at the opening day.

In the class I teach on leadership, I talk about how time is the only commodity that we control. Said another way how we spend our time is a choice. I contend that a life well lived is when an individual spends time with intention and with forethought. That time spent well has the opportunity to have an impact, not only on yourself but on others.

This notion gets challenged. Many say that life controls much of what we do. That work, relationships, family, economic status, birth order, parents, race, gender, age all dictate how one spends there time. True, but not entirely true.

Start by carving an hour that you spend with intention. Think about legacy, about impact, goals, about others, and having done so, take action. Exercise, volunteer, change jobs, pray, read, call an old friend, make a new one, act with kindness towards a stranger. The point is to have an impact, be intentional with your time, for your dream to not die at the opening of the day you need to not only have them but to act on them.

I believe we all have a tremendous capacity to make a difference. I know this to be true because of the people we work with at ECS. I am in awe of the individuals we work with who are the most resilient folks I know, who have all the excuses not to move forward but overcome barriers and obstacles that would crush most individuals. They decide to spend time differently and in doing so create an impact for themselves and in turn others. We can learn much from their example.

Start with an hour, then two, then three.

Imagine a world where touchstone moments are not random, but intentional. That you can answer with confidence the question, did I make a difference? Did we do it together?

Where would you start?


A Patagonia Lesson

Posted by griffithd on February 11, 2019 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been away from Philadelphia for 12 days traveling in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina with my spouse and a small group. This is a trip that requires hiking boots, rain gear and because of the wind, layers even though it is summer. It does not need a jacket or bow tie for anything.

Patagonia is in the very southern part of South America on the Magellan Strait and to the north. Its main features are the lower Andes mountain range, the inland fiords, and the ice fields which contain, other than Antarctica and Greenland, the most freshwater anywhere.

We had come to see the Andes and their glaciers.

The scale is measured in miles. Condors float on the winds, Guanacos abound, and Pumas, while rarely seen, are clearly present. One finds themselves thinking that this is what the world must have looked like 20,000 years ago during the last ice age. Fossils of 20-million-year-old tiny squids dot the rock formations laid open by the glacial ice. The land is defined with vast isolated ranches, call estancias, of cattle and sheep, worked by gauchos. It is very much a wild land.

Yet even here in this remote wildland, you see the impact of man on nature. Clearly, you see evidence that vast ice fields covered this entire region. Torres del Paine as massive as the three towers are, the land was shaped by ancient ice. The scientist will tell you that ice ages have come and gone for eons. The issue here and now is that the glacial melt and receding are at a record geological pace. The Serrano Glacier at the southern end of the ice fields is retreating some 400-500 meters per year, and that pace is accelerating. Our world is no longer in its natural cycle and the consequences we, the non-scientific public, are only now starting to understand fully.

It is hard to understand why we are debating global warming. The science is clear, the evidence is clear, not only at scale in the ice fields of Patagonia, but in our oceans rising temperatures, the concentration of CO2, and the weather impacts with record heat and cold, rain and drought. Rather than debate, we ought to be relentless with our regional and world political process and respond.

Sadly, looking at the data, we may have crossed the tipping point. Even if that is so, do we want our legacy to be to future generations that we saw the evidence, and we were so arrogant that we failed to respond meaningfully. That greed took precedence over great-grandchildren?

No doubt hard choices need to be made, but I would like to think we are smarter than this current state, and that real, worldwide change in environmental policy is possible, that deeds rise above rhetoric.

What if science is right?

It is our time to be a force for nature, while the glaciers, and we, are still here.

Listen, See, Act.