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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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The Interview

Posted by Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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 Dave Griffith 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.

A Storm in America

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 17, 2019 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Poverty in America is not unlike lightning that comes in the middle of a summer night.

You lie in bed the windows open. It is dark but you wake to the rumble of what could be distant fireworks, but it is not July. If the shades are open, you might catch a flash of light over the horizon followed again by that rumble.

Slowly, but not that slowly, the rumble grows louder and the flashes more distinct. You grow more awake and a primal fear grows.

The air grows moist and you become aware of a static and a smell of ozone.

Then suddenly you are lifted out of bed by a flash and a crack of thunder that are simultaneous. The storm is on you, the lightning strike may or may not have done damage, you can’t tell until morning. Another strike, and now the thunder shakes your house. You feel helpless and fragile.

You are grateful to be in your house, perhaps a house with lightning rods and circuit breakers, and you feel protected. You wonder what you would do if you were in the open?

Hold that feeling and thought.

Poverty in America is growing. It is a rural and urban problem. Looking at the data you see that all of our public and private funding and efforts are not moving the needle on the poverty rate and deep poverty is growing. Unfortunately, many of us are lying in bed and despite the summer lightning feeling safe and in some cases not feeling there is a problem.

Pew will tell you the cost of each family in poverty is $60,000/year. The cost to business of 15% of Americans living below the poverty line, let alone at a living wage is huge in the context of consumers who do not have the income to consume. The cost of maintaining the poverty level over generations is unsustainable. Do you hear the rumble yet?

Set the public and private cost of poverty aside. As a people of faith, regardless of your tradition, is the notion of the common good, that a rising tide lifts all boats. As you sit in service next Saturday or Sunday, ask what are you as a person of faith called to do. As I have noted before in this space, self-interest is best served when you consider your neighbors interest. Consider that you neighbors may be folks you cannot see or know. Do you see the flash of light in the distance?

The economic and faith based reasons are compelling for us as a society to address poverty. The hard work is that our traditional responses is to participate in efforts that maintain poverty. Vital services that feed, cloth, provide housing and education, and a host of other services. I take no issue. But to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty we need efforts that drive transformational impact.

My direct experience with individuals in poverty is that they are among the most resilient people I know. They have to be. I have yet to meet someone living in poverty who wants to be there. What breaks the cycle of poverty is access to opportunity, specifically access to economic mobility in the form of a job at a living wage. Without that job you are out in the storm in the rain and the lightning.

At ECS where I work we will launch MindSet at the end of the month. MindSet is a program based on the most current brain science available that provides coaching and financial assistance to help individuals navigate the system and access opportunity that many of us take for granted. MindSet is based on programs that have been running for ten plus years and have shown significant results. It is a three to five-year program that has the objective for the individuals when they are done of having the economic stability of a job at a living wage, benefits, savings, and no longer needing government assistance. It is to bring people out of the rain. For good and on their own efforts.

MindSet is our response to the gathering storm. In addition to MindSet we have implemented the coaching model in all of our existing programs that provide stability and prevention to our participants. We also are building along with our stakeholders and partners a formal advocacy effort that address the SPP’s that impact our participants. SPP’s are “Stupid Public Policy” that by unintentional design hinder an individual journey out of poverty. Two specific examples are benefits that phase out at an average of $1.50 for every additional $1.00 earned and benefits that cliff as in go away entirely at a specific income level. Childcare assistance is one example.

For information on our work see www.ecsphilly.org .

The storm is very much in play in America. The lightning and rumbling you see in our society is very much the storm of Poverty in America. For many there is no long term shelter from the storm. For all of us, on many levels, it is a storm we cannot ignore.

Will you help bring people out of the rain before the storm grows?

Join the movement. Look Up and Challenge Poverty.

Face Book Live 1.9.2019

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 6, 2019 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

On 1/7/19 I will be participating in a Face Book Live event in my role as Head Coach at Episcopal Community Services. Our chief of programs, Arley Styer, and I will be fielding a number of questions about our agency and our work and some of the challenges our participants face. I thought I would share some of the questions and our responses. The FB Live will be posted, but in case you miss here are some of the points we will be covering.

1. Why do we need to innovate in this sector?

Poverty in 1960 in America was 15%. In 2019 it remains 15% with an income level of approximately $22,900, unadjusted for inflation since the early 1970’s, with safety net programs available at higher income levels. However, for every dollar of additional income, benefits are reduced a dollar fifty, with some programs phasing out abruptly, or cliffing. The social service sector while providing essential services has done little to lower the level pf poverty in America. In the Philadelphia Region where we work the poverty level in the 26-27% level, the highest of any major city. Innovation is necessary as clearly programs at scale have not moved the needle on poverty. As an agency we have made a commitment and investment to innovate and find programs that give our participants the opportunity to move out of poverty and stay there. Our ambition is to create scalable programs and partnerships to drive this innovation. 

2. What do you mean when you say ECS is moving into the” change business”?

One could look at the many of the programs in social services and government that serve individuals living in poverty and make the argument that they are more about maintaining individuals, rather than driving change in individuals economic levels. We provide maintenance programs that provide stability and prevention as do many well run agencies. However, poverty remains the dominant domestic long term challenge costing some $60,000 per individual per year according to Pew studies. In addition, no one living in poverty wants to be in poverty. In fact, individual living with poverty are some of the most resilient people I know. At ECS our focus is to create programs that drive economic change in individuals lives.

The longterm sustainable way out of poverty is a job at or above a livingwage with benefits and a career path. Simply put that is the change w ewant for our participants. 

As a result of our strategic plan where we identified intergenerational poverty as our focus, we have identified brain science based approaches that supports individuals in poverty to lift themselves out of poverty. This approach is currently in use in some 80 other agencies around the country and has been shown to have significant results. We are the only agency in Philadelphia using this approach, however another change we hope to drive is to share our learnings and experiences and partner with other like-minded agencies. Maintenance has it place in our work, but long term we want to be in the change business.

3. You also refer to yourself as “head coach.” What is that in reference to?

The brain based science that shapes our programs, is based on a coaching model with financial incentives. Traditional case management often takes the form of telling a participant what to do or how to do an activity. Fill out this form, go to this agency, etc. To use the parable giving people a fish. Coaching is about teaching people how to fish. Our MindSet program uses coaches to help people asses where they are and what goals they have to change their status. By coaching, setting goals, and providing financial rewards when goals are achieved, we teach people to fish. My job is to hire and develop talent that is outstanding at this work and provide the best environment so they can do their best work. My title of Head Coach it is to remind my staff that we are all about coaching, not just our participants, but each other. It also give me an opportunity to explain to stakeholders our focus as an agency.

4. Okay, last Dave-ism—what do you mean when you say we are working against the SPPs?

SPP is an acronym for “Stupid Public Policy”. Another part of our strategic plan is the creation of an advocacy effort in partnership with our stakeholders. The focus of our advocacy is to advocate for changes to public policy and regulations that are not in the best interests of our participants and in turn our Region. Many programs have not adapted with the times and changes to them can and will drive significant impact at scale.

5. Internally we’ve been talking the three-legged stool of our programs: Stability, Prevention, and transformation. What do these mean to you? Do you think we need all of them?

The answer is Yes on thinking about all three. If you put these terms in the context of maintenance vs change it really frames out work. Remember we have been at it for almost 150 years and many of our programs are well established and well regarded. I think of our shelter and housing programs as providing stability for some of our most vulnerable participants. I think of our Out of School Programs as prevention in that they provide significant future opportunity for the student in our program as well as affordable childcare for working parents. Mindset is about driving economic transformation in individual lives. We also provide significant volunteer opportunities with our visitation and meal and gift delivery programs through CORP, Dolphins and various parish supported programs. I also know our coaching model is improving the quality of our work in all of our programs and not just MindSet. Over time I would like the mix to shift more to transformational impact and I think as we partner with other agencies we can shift our mix to do so. 

For additional information on our work go to www.ecsphilly.org and our Facebook page is

@ECSPhilly. You can also reach me directly at griffithd@ecsphilly.org.

Christmas Eve 2018 at Carversville

Posted by Dave Griffith on December 24, 2018 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Christmas Eve 2018 Solebury, Pennsylvania


For as many years as we have lived here, Christmas Eve dinner has been at the Carversville Inn. We know the owners, our kids went to school together, and the hostess holds our reservation made in June without conformation. It is crowded, year after year we see the same faces, children once small people now have their own wee ones. My good friend Bill will send drinks to the table as he has every year.

Most years we will have come from the Christmas Pageant at Trinity Solebury. A service filled with familiar noise, carols, and a story as old as our tradition. It is a time when I reflect on family, friends, the woman I love, and I am grateful for my life.

I am also mindful that time is finite. Christmas Eve is also the birthday of my good friend Ian, and while he is no longer physically with us, he is very much present. His woodwork is throughout the church and my office holds several of his carvings and boat models. I will visit his marker today with one of his sons and we will break bread in some local dive. We will remember and laugh and talk about his future.

This is also a time when I think about the good men and women I have worked with and with those whom I still roll up my sleeves and put on my muddy boot. I think about the people of Modern, the folks at J.J. Haines, Hoober, Verus, Dad’s Hat, Delaware Valley Floral Group and the Academy of Natural Science. People I know well and who have their own families and holiday traditions. I am proud to be associated with them and for the companies and organizations they run and the services and products they provide. All good and decent people, and like all of us, with challenges and dreams for the future.

I am also especially appreciative for the women and men of Episcopal Community Services where I currently serve. I am humbled by their example and called to our common work in this I suspect my last professional chapter. Also very much on my mind as I gather with my family this Christmas Eve, are the people we serve at ECS.

Carversville is a long way from West Philadelphia, or Camden, or Trenton, or Chester, or Darby. But the contrast that matters is not what you might think. Yes, these are communities where poverty is pervasive with all that brings. However, these are also communities of families with dreams, challenges, and hopes for their children. Many of the individuals I meet are the most irrepressible folks I know; they have to be to persevere. Good and decent people for whom access to real opportunity has not been available and that is the painful contrast that matters between us. In many ways it is the root cause of much of poverty. Access to opportunity leads to employment with a living wage and the way out of poverty is steady employment with a living wage and benefits. Just like everyone, I suspect, sitting down at Carversville tonight.

Our work at ECS, and I hope yours, this season and in all seasons is to coach, train, and help create opportunity for individuals in poverty so they can live their own dream and meet their own challenges. Our work at ECS is underway in this space as we launch our new program “MindSet” in the new year, ecsphilly.org/mindset.

This work will not be done in my lifetime, but along with many organizations in this sector, it is a start to move away from programs that maintain to programs that drive change in individual lives.


So as another Christmas Eve marks the calendar I am grateful for the many blessings bestowed on me and my family.


Perhaps the biggest is the ability to bestow such blessings on others and that is perchance the real lesson of Christmas Eve.



A Christmas Blessing

Posted by Dave Griffith on December 20, 2018 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (0)

In this season of Joy, may you find Joy.

In this season of Peace, may you find Peace.

In this season of Hope, may you find Hope.

May you be blessed with all three.

As you anticipate the birth of the Carpenter from Bethlehem let me offer this addition.

To those where there is little Joy, may you bring some.

To those who have little Peace, may you create some.

To those who have little Hope, may you give Hope.

To the good women and men of ECS for whom this is your everyday work and to all in our sector who answer this common call to service. Thank You.

In a world sorely lacking compassion, courage, and care

your work is a beacon for Joy, Peace, and Hope. Thank You.

To those who support this common call, Thank You.

To all who wear Muddy Boots and go into the field and do or support this work, we are grateful.

But more than grateful, more than Thank You, let us call on our better nature and the long held notion of the common good and call for change and make change happen. The reality is time is not on our side. 

Change to public policy that does more than maintain the status quo of poverty, change that creates impact investments in education, housing, and wellness, changes that create employments at living wages. Poverty ends with a job at a living wage. Rather than build walls, lets create bridges.

Perhaps then Joy, Peace, and Hope can be more than just a blessing.

With a deacon;s heart

Posted by Dave Griffith on November 7, 2018 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate the work that we do at ECS and the need for our wider community to both understand the issues of intergenerational poverty and the solutions that deliver real impact and effect change with the individuals who experience poverty.

I have used numbers, but they are both overwhelming and can be numbing.

I have used stories, but they can be lost quickly in the mind of the listener.

I have used video and onsite visits and participants to tell their own story and experience.

I have appealed to the economics and the social costs.

All of these move the needle a little bit, but not in the profound way needed to drive real change.

Today I learned a new approach. Better said, I was reminded of the fundamentals.

We added to our board recently a vocational deacon. By tradition and practice a vocational deacon is in our tradition "a baptized person called and empowered by God and the Church to be a model of Christ’s servant ministry for all people. As agents of God’s compassion and reconciling grace, deacons are missionaries to the world and messengers to the Church of the world’s needs, hopes, and concerns."

We were discussing an issue in an advocacy committee meeting as to what and where ECS should take a position on a specific bill pending in front of city council. He used a term that hit me like a ton of bricks. “I look at these issues with a deacon’s heart.”


We are called in our tradition, and I can argue in all traditions, to look at our behavior, our actions, our deeds with a deacon’s heart. Our baptismal covenant calls for us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to respect the dignity of every human being. To understand that no one is safe until we are all safe. That acting in one’s self interest is best done when one considers their neighbor’s interests.


We are called to deal with poverty not because of the economics, the social costs, the stories and the contrasts with our own, all of which are compelling and serve as a clarion call for effective action and leadership.

No, what we are really called to look at is the issues of poverty with a deacon’s heart and make it our own. We are called to service not because of our specific religious traditions, but because the call to service, the call to make the world a better place, lies deep in all of our hearts and the call from the carpenter from Bethlehem is both universal and true.

So it is with a deacon’s call and with the example of a deacon’s hearts that we do this work and we welcome you, we ask you, to look deep into your own heart and answers the deacons call to service. We can help you with the specifics and what works to move the needle, but we need individuals to answer the call, both personally and on the wider stage. Social justice is not a spectator sport.

Exactly. With a deacon’s heart. Then the numbers.

Thanks Phil.