|Posted on March 4, 2023 at 3:50 PM||comments ()|
I started writing Muddy Boots in 2013, shortly after I became executive director of Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia. I wanted to write about the issues of poverty, my experience and lessons running the agency, and my thoughts on leadership, which I get to talk about occasionally. What started as a small following now has some 5000 readers and followers on social media. Ten years later, there have been some 190 articles. Some are published in magazines like Inc., some have become chapters in books like People Economics, and some have become Op-Eds in the Inquirer or Business Journal. All have received comments, some agreeing, some not, but all raised an issue or experience and asked people to think.
In October of this year, I will retire from ECS. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve my church and the City of Philadelphia, addressing the challenges of poverty. I have worked with exceptional people on my staff, our partners, and our board. More important, I have met some of the most resilient people I know who are ECS participants and their families.
What I have learned and the essence of Muddy boots is that you go into the field and ask two questions. How are we doing? What can we do better? You then lead your team to respond to the answers. This is how you deliver impact and drive system change. We learned at ECS that the sustainable way out of poverty is a job at or above a living wage with benefits and assets in the bank. That is achieved when one has access to opportunity and the environment to act on that opportunity. That goal is the essence of our program work, partnerships, and advocacy. Our model is to ask, design, do, measure, and tune. Then repeat.
I write Muddy Boots not only as a call to action but as a call with a plan and focus. I have strong views on the value of talent and how that drives the best results and impacts. I have strong opinions on speaking truth to power as access to opportunity is not a given in our country, and the issues of poverty, race, and equality will consume us as a society if we do not deal with it as a society. In the same light, I look to our environment and see a like call to action, but on a world stage. Will we put Grandchildren over greed?
What I have learned in all of this is how hard change is to create and sustain. If circumstances allow it, it is too easy to kick the can down the road. Real change, real impact, starts with a look in the mirror. What can I do? What can you do? History will look back and answer that question for all of us. You can talk, or you can act. One individual at a time can grow to be a movement.
Answer for yourself the Muddy boots questions.
How are we doing?
What can we do better?
Answer and act. Find like-minded individuals and organizations.
I will keep writing. I may be laying down the day job but not the mission.
Dave Griffith is the Executive Director of Episcopal Community Services and the Chairperson of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
|Posted on January 1, 2023 at 6:00 PM||comments ()|
I am sitting on the same porch that I was in 2012 when I wrote my remarks for later in 2013 when I was introduced as the new Executive Director of ECS. Now ten years later and with the search for my successor underway, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned over the last ten years, about the work of challenging poverty, about leading a non-profit, and what I have learned about myself.
I would sum it up in the following areas. Listening, Talent, Focus, Impact, Marketing, Faith.
I have long believed that the people closest to the work know the most about the work. My life long belief in muddy boots has one in the field asking two questions. How are we doing? What could we do better? And not just employees and supporters, but most importantly is the individuals you are serving. People will tell you what they need. You build trust by listening, responding, communicating, and doing what you say you are going to do and the why. You include everyone at the table and everyone has a respected voice. The key is you need a respectful ear. If it goes well, it is the team, if not so well, it is yours. Never forget the power of a " Thank You".
The better the talent, the better the outcomes, the better the support for the work. It is unreasonable to ask people to do this work and pay them below the market. One of the first things we did was raise the entry wage and today we pay a living wage and benefits and at market above entry level positions. We also invested in professional development and other forms of support. We also invested in both program and advocacy talent and shared services in advancement, marketing, IT, learning and evaluation, finance, facilities, and human resources, strategy. The work we do, the growth we experienced, the results we achieved are a direct function of a talented team focused on the work. In Covid our ability to pivot quickly was a direct function of talent, process and infrastructure being in place. We know there will be other Covid’s.
It is easy to say Yes in this work. The real skill is to say No. One needs to be focused on the work that you do well, and it needs to be framed in you mission, vision, and values. Our mission is to challenge poverty, our vision is a world where opportunity is available to all, and our values are justice, dignity, community, and impact. All that we do is focused through our mission, vision and values. Our programs fall into the traditional social work buckets of stability, prevention, and transformation and we deliver through programs, partnerships and advocacy. They are all framed by a brain science-based methodology of coaching individuals to achieve self-identified goals and to assist with building assets. Our aim is to break the history of intergenerational poverty for an individual. We do so at different age points.
I note one of our values is Impact. Simply stated if the work we do does not drive improved measurable results, if we can’t identify and measure impact, we stop, evaluate and tune our approach. We have a full time three person learning and evaluation department and data is available to all through our business intelligence technology. In addition, we established an advocacy and inclusion function to look at public policy that serves as barriers to individuals moving out of poverty and both educate and call for changes to policy in partnership with out parishes and others involved in this work.
The reality of this work is you need to fund it. We are blessed with an endowment, but the work also requires individual, intuitional, and foundation support. What I knew but didn’t fully appreciate is the value of Marketing and Advancement in these efforts. You need your supporters to know your story, your case for support, your unique value proposition, your impacts, the truth about poverty, the impacts of racism and discrimination. You can be doing great work, but supporters need to know who you are, and you need to ask for support. Talent and investment in these two functions is essential in supporting the work
Finally, I have learned the power of faith. We are asked in our tradition to respect the dignity of every human being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Watching my colleagues at ECS and our partners I have seen the power of such faith at work and the resulting impacts. The powerful lesson I have learned is we are truly stronger together. I have also learned that Poverty and its root causes is an evil we need to meet head on and that a just society needs to respond. Respond with transformational approaches, not maintenance programs, that open the door to opportunity. I have also learned that impact takes time and one need’s faith to stay the course. There are no quick fixes in this work.
I have also learned that the team is not just employees, but our board and supporters. The value of working together on strategy, focus, and funding is impossible to measure. Transparent and honest communications have served us well and the agency and our work are better for it.
We are seeking an individual to both continue the work and our strategy and to take the agency and its impact on the people we serve to a new level. I look forward to working with my successor to hand off as well as Rev. Midwood did with me.
It has been and continues to be an honor to serve and work with Team ECS.
|Posted on November 29, 2022 at 12:05 AM||comments ()|
We are in the season of Advent, a four-week time of waiting for the light of the Star of Bethlehem to announce the good news of the birth of Jesus. A light that continues to shine brightly, even in the face of so much darkness across the land.
In my tradition, we are asked to be Advent people. As I reflect on that challenge, I ask myself what it means to be a people of the light.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness of poverty, of violence in all its forms, of environmental destruction, authoritarianism, racism, and unbridled greed. Depending on one’s background and resources, the darkness is often seen as someone else’s problem or ignored altogether as walls of privilege, circumstances, and greed give false security from the darkness.
In this season of Advent, we know there is a different option. To face the darkness and bring light into a world with courage, capacity, and will. To paraphrase Dr. King, darkness breeds when good men and women remain silent. It is time to first hold the line, to say enough, and them move with one voice to not only call for change, but to create change.
The movement comes when each of us owns the change and acts accordingly. Poverty ends with a living wage job and access to the opportunity of such work and the ability to build assets for all people. Help create such jobs. The environment heals when we change habits with how we use and produce energy, what products we buy, how we grow our food, and we bring such change across the globe, one individual and one community at a time. Authoritarianism falls in the face of free and fair elections and when elected officials and the judiciary put Grandchildren over greed. Racism and discrimination fade when people learn we are not different on what matters, and we are stronger together. Will we live our baptismal covenant or say the words without living them? It says every human being, not just some.
Darkness will consume us as a society if we do not deal with it as a society. In the face of no alternatives, people turn to violence in all its forms, both hard and soft. It is time to create alternatives. As we head into this season of Advent, waiting for the light, let us each consider the power of the light and not only wait for it on Christmas Eve but commit to creating it every day.
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” or accept it.
Peace in the season of Peace, Hope is this season of Hope, Joy in this season of Joy.
David Griffith is the Executive Director and Head Coach of Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia. www.ecsphilly.org
|Posted on June 6, 2022 at 4:15 PM||comments ()|
I have not posted for a while.
I suspect because the issues in front of all of us have plenty of press.
What strikes me on the sixth day of June is how divided we are as a people, both here and across the globe. Not exactly a news flash. But some thoughts.
There is a reason the military oath of office is to the Constitution of the United States and not an individual. There is a reason the founder’s crafted three branches of government. There is a reason they provided for an amendment process and the rule of law. They recognized we were imperfect as individuals, but understood the checks and balances backed by the right to vote of the citizens of the United States, a group that has evolved to include many more than at the time of the founding, would be able to govern from the middle and while not pleasing everyone would offer a process of debate and discussion with a solution evolved from compromise. That concept has been tested many time, but over the course of our history has provided opportunity and direction on many issues. I am reminded of the quote by Churchill that “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”
It has been my experience that when you sit and walk in another’s footsteps and find common ground, differences tend to fade and solutions emerge that on balance work for both parties and you keep moving forward. My observation and of many others is that that practice is being replaced with confrontation, authoritarianism, and an unwillingness to find common ground with deadly consequences. Time is not our friend here. For example, guns, the climate, medical coverage, access to opportunity, choice, gender and racial equity, the right to vote, are all issues that left unaddressed will bring the nation to a boil and perhaps cross a tipping point if we have not already. We lived in Newtown, I would argue we have already.
Today is D-day. I point that out as we had a common enemy, thousands if not millions made sacrifices to meet the challenge and democracy prevailed, imperfect as it is.
Perhaps we need the same sense of urgency. Leadership matters, but so does the will of the people. Time to respect both and recognize that we are many people and we need each other to meet the challenges ahead. We will never be one America, but let us recognize that fact as our great strength if we can find our middle ground. Take a breath and let us find that common middle ground. What we are doing now does not work long term. Just look at the news.
Grandchildren over greed, if for no other reason.
|Posted on March 6, 2022 at 4:30 PM||comments ()|
If nothing else, the events in Ukraine remind us, and I quote, that "Freedom is not free."
Historically, the cost has been one of vigilance and, when necessary, sacrifice. The battle for freedom has many forms and scales, from epic battles etched in a nation's ethos to the individual act of courage as simple as seeking equality in where one sits on the bus. If one looks at the arc of history, the battle has always been with us and scales both large and small.
Bruce Springsteen, in his classic song "The Ghost of Tom Joad" based on the Steinbeck character of the same name, hauntingly writes:
Shelter line stretching around the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleeping in the cars in the southwest
No home, no job, no peace, no rest ……
Now Tom said, "Mom, wherever there's a cop beating a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me, Mom, I'll be there
Wherever somebody's fighting for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helping hand
Wherever somebody's struggling to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, and you'll see me"
Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kidding nobody about where it goes
I'm sitting down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad
As millions flee an advancing army in the Ukraine and countrymen and women stand to face that army or as individuals in the grips of poverty battle the lack of opportunity and discrimination in our own cities, one has to acknowledge where the "highway" leads. Freedom is not free.
Freedom on a national or individual scale, be it on the plains of Ukraine or the street of Philadelphia demand a similar response. There is "no home, no job, no peace, and no rest" without freedom.
It is a response that comes at a cost, but more importantly, it acknowledges that a free and just society requires individual and collective investment, commitment, sacrifice, and vigilance. That we must recognize that our self-interest starts with our neighbors, all our neighbors, be they in Philadelphia, Moscow, Kyiv, or thousand other towns around the world.
Freedom is about access to opportunity, equality, a vote in the process of governance, and justice for all of us, not just a few. It is a universal challenge.
We honor the men and women of our armed services who defend the constitution. But the clarion call of freedom requires that "whenever somebody is struggling to be free," we all respond.
Freedom is not free. And the alternative comes at an unacceptable cost and consequence, but know it will come.
So when are we going to pay up?
|Posted on February 3, 2022 at 3:30 PM||comments ()|
The principle of Muddy Boots is straightforward. You put on your boots, go into the world, ask questions, listen, learn, and act on that knowledge. The asking is easy. It is listening that is hard. So too is the acting on the knowledge part. That thought is brought into focus from a quote from Thomas Edison I recently reread.
“If we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” - Thomas Edison
Hold that thought and do a little bit of self-reflection.
How many times have you gone into an effort and doubted your ability to pull it off? As you look back and are honest with yourself, you have some examples. In my own experience and observations as a manager over 40 plus years, I have seen individuals exceed their own expectations time and time again.
The opportunity is how we inspire the leap, the stretch, to make an attempt and discount the fear of failure. In there lies the art of management both of ourselves and the individuals we lead.
If you create a safe space, support risk, challenge getting out of your comfort zone, your team will not only astound themselves, they will delight your customers and stakeholders. Do not miss the opportunity that even in falling short is the opportunity to learn and grow as scar tissue from such an event is often the best teacher and sets the stage for future success.
It is also the opportunity to coach. To be clear, coaching is not telling an individual what to do. It is often the questions you ask, testing the data, understanding the why of an approach, and the support and space to try. To be clear, there is a place and time to say no, but use that as a coaching moment by explaining the why.
History tells us that performance breakthroughs come from pushing the limits and often doing the uncomfortable. As I have said here, doing the uncomfortable is where I have learned the most. It is rarely fatal—granted, there are many ways to improve the odds of success, like collaboration, being open to a range of thoughts and experiences, data, pilots, etc.. All that, but in the end, you still need to take the leap: both yourself and your team.
As we come out of Covid and take on all of the challenges we face, we would do well to listen to Edison’s advice. We are capable of more in so many places and opportunities. Not just ourselves, but the people we lead and the customers we serve.
Time to astound ourselves.
|Posted on August 21, 2021 at 10:40 AM||comments ()|
It is early Saturday morning. I am sitting on the couch in my study, my laptop on my lap, and the dog asleep next to me. I have hit a wall, and so have many of the people I work with, and what I note is that wall is vastly bigger and taller for the people we serve at my agency in Philadelphia.
I have been through tough times before, and the lesson is always you come through, and the sun comes up on another day. Different than the one before, but the light and the warmth return. I reflect that each time I have learned, grown, acquired new scar tissue, and can move on. I have grown as a leader, and my biggest takeaway is what we all know as the "arena" lesson.
It comes from Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote, now again popular with the current class of coaches and leadership consultants. You have seen it in Muddy Boots on other occasions.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
The credit belongs to the "person" in the arena. Ponder that thought as we hit our current walls brought on by pandemics, climate change, political culture wars, racial inequity, corruption, and greed. One can face the wall and slip into the darkness of the cold and timid souls of the sideline, or one can get into the arena and fight the good fight, whatever worthy cause that may be for you.
Leadership only happens in the arena. Magic happens when you are there with your team and focused on them and the mission. In times such as these, the danger is to sit on the sideline and rant on an internet chat site or, worse, do nothing. Remember, coasting is a downhill event.
We need to embrace being in the arena, where and whatever the arena is for you, and get back in the game. No one wants to be a cold and timid soul.
So, recharge, reload, put on your spikes, and get back to work. Vaccinated and with your mask, as that's what it takes right now. We have too much to do and it does not happen on the sidelines.
So, recharge, reload, put on your spikes, and get back to work. Vaccinated and with your mask, as that's what it takes right now. We have too much to do and it does not happen on the sidelines.
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, “You need me in that Arena!”
Yes we do. All of us.
|Posted on June 27, 2021 at 8:10 PM||comments ()|
I spent a late afternoon in the pool with my grandson. It is June, and it is hot. However, the water is still cool, and the contrast to the humid and sticky air is delightful. He is learning to swim, and while he uses a noodle to float, it is way more fun to use it to redirect the return jets and shoot water at his Grandfather. So we take a break and, sitting on the pool steps, half in and half out, have a Popsicle. We debate which is better, ice cream or frozen Popsicle ice. He has strong opinions and suggests we ought to test both. Clearly, he has a future in sales.
I am blessed to be able to spend such time with him. It is not lost on me the contrast of his experience with that of other children around the world. And more specifically, with the children we serve in Philadelphia at ECS, where I now work.
If you follow Muddy Boots, you will know I often ask the question, actually more of a challenge, will we put grandchildren ahead of greed? This month an infrastructure bill will move forward in Washington. Already passed in multiple legislations are laws to address the Covid crisis and flowing funding to families. But much remains to answer the question will we put all our grandchildren ahead of greed.
What of climate change? What of education reform and funding? What of job training for the new economy? What of job creation at a living wage that ends the dependence of the social safety net with all its challenges and gaps? What support do we give to the pillars of economic mobility; Well-Being, Financial Management, Education and Training, and Employment and Career?
I suspect you could ask any parent in any country the question, and they would choose children and grandchildren. But, unfortunately, the clock is ticking, and time is not on our side. Climate, social unrest, inequity, greed gather momentum with consequence. Old problems now demand new answers and new approaches. The reality is the status quo is not an option. The result of doing nothing, and letting greed be the guide, is a generation or two from now, a fatal strategy.
We owe it to all our grandchildren to demand and drive different answers. Leadership matters, but it starts with our vision, our voice and our vote.
Grandchildren over greed?
It is time to not only make the call. it is time to answer it.
|Posted on May 16, 2021 at 4:15 PM||comments ()|
May 15, 2021 is a Sunday. For the first time in 14 months we went to an indoor worship service with fellow parish members. Yes we are vaccinated and yes we wore masks and yes communion was bread only. But it was a gathering of fellow souls for whom in service worship is the bedrock and foundation of the rhythm of our lives. While we have a ways to go and much of the world will not be the same, it was good to return to the simple rituals of faith and to reflect that that same faith is what has carried us through these times. That lesson is not to be taken lightly as the tasks ahead are significant and daunting.
Much of the nation remains divided politically. Racial unrest and the root causes of that unrest demand responses that bring much desired change. Poverty remains pervasive. The climate, either man made or natural, is clearly changing and the science points to a tipping point ever nearer. The economy is both surging and elusive depending on where one sits on life’s continuum.
If nothing else the pandemic serves as a wake up call and a magnifier of all of the above. A vaccine in under 14 months, but based on years of research, tells us we have the ability to face extraordinary circumstances and change the trajectory of a crisis. Will we waste that lesson or turn as a nation to find common ground in our differences, will we look at the inequalities across our society and seek solutions and changes with the same intensity and urgency as we are with Covid 19, acknowledging we have far to go? Can we seize the opportunity of a sustainable environmental and economic policy and create employment opportunities that in turn reduce poverty and lower the need for a social safety net long term? And in doing so acknowledge that our self interest starts with our neighbor’s.
Faith as a bedrock sustains us. But faith in action is what drives real change. As the masks come off, the challenges are clear. Rather than long for a return to the old normal, let us take the faith that has carried us and with courage and conviction acknowledge what we face in the days ahead. Old problems demand new solutions, new responses, new partnerships, new commitments. The good news is they are out there.
Are we that brave?
As Lincoln reminds us, a house divided, cannot stand. Be that house, local, national or global. Our faith tells us we can prevail. The status quo cannot continue. The common ground on which we build needs to acknowledge and include all of us. Hard it may be, but not impossible.
We have to be that brave.
|Posted on April 23, 2021 at 10:10 AM||comments ()|
The following message went to the ECS community last night.
The longest day must have its close—the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning.
An eternal, inexorable lapse of moments is ever hurrying the day of the evil to an eternal night,
and the night of the just to an eternal day.
-Harriet Beecher Stowe
The verdict for Derek Chauvin reminds us how often the system has failed Black Americans, how many times the oppressor has gone Scot free. Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor. That seemingly endless list can never leave our minds, their names must not be forgotten.
As many voices have reminded us, this verdict delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd. For real justice to prevail for Floyd and too many others, we must fashion a world in which the basic dignity of every human being is respected.
That justice is the long and hard work of naming the cancer of systemic racism and banding together to root it out so that all Americans can live without fear of violent oppression. ECS is committed to that demanding task. We know that we cannot truly serve people in poverty, we cannot hold out the hope of economic independence without acknowledging that for Black people the system right now is not fair, not just. Has not been for 400 years.
Nevertheless, we believe that right will prevail—not without our prayers and tears and courageous work, but it will prevail. That hope is what powered Harriet Beecher Stowe to trust that “the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning.”
In that spirit, ECS has just added Racial Equity to the top tier of its advocacy objectives. Now in addition to fighting for a Living Wage, and for an end to the Benefits Cliff, we will be naming that cancer of systemic racism and advocating at every level of society for real and lasting change. Further, ECS has begun implementing a plan for inclusion and equity within our agency, knowing that we cannot demand justice out there when we have not fully demanded it in here.
“Today, we are able to breathe again,” one of George Floyd’s younger brothers, Philonise, said during a news conference in Minneapolis after the verdict was released. “Justice for George means freedom for all.”
This moment affords us an opportunity to push for further change. At ECS we will do that both by coaching one promising person at a time, helping to light the path out of poverty for good, and by advocating for real and lasting change.
Yours in this good work,
Rev.David R. Anderson
Chief Communications Officer
Chief Inclusion and Advocacy Officer
David E. Griffith
Executive Director & Head Coach