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Solution Focused leadership: Margaret Eaton Interview

A: Margaret, what do you do?

M: I’m Margaret Eaton and I’m a not–for-profit leader. I’ve been in the not-for-profit field all my life.  Right now, I’m in transition to a new leadership role.

A: What pleases you most about the work you have been doing?

M: The thing that I’m most pleased about is the strategic focus that we brought to ABC. I often think about ABC as being like a big jigsaw puzzle – you have to have the funding, the partnerships, the stakeholder relationships – they have to work together to fulfill your mission and vision for your organization.  You usually don’t have lots of resources in the not-for-profit world, so thinking strategically to maximize the impact is critical.

A: How did you see Solution Focus helping you in your leadership?

M: Solution Focus has helped with strategic planning.  We used Solution Focused techniques to create future-perfect visions for what our organization should be and what it could do. In the last few years we’ve really gone through a change management process.

A: How did you see Solution Focus help grow your people?

M: The human resources piece is a big one.  Actually, I feel most proud about growing my leadership skills with people, that is a place where Solution Focus has come in handy, it’s integral to how I now lead. One of the most powerful things is the notion of appreciation of people – that’s fundamental in Solution Focus – giving people real feedback that encourages them in their work and inspires them.

Alan, you said, “What if the whole staff were trained in Solution Focus?” For those people on staff, who really made it a part of how they conduct their day-to-day business, it’s been transformative.  When we got new staff in we said, “Well, let’s have the current staff train the new staff.”  I really feel proud of the team that we’ve created here and Solution Focus has created a positive atmosphere for everyone.

A: What was an obstacle to success?

M: Change is hard, indisputably.  There were some people that weren’t keen on change. Some decided that maybe they were no longer a match for the organization. Among our colleagues in the literacy field across the country, there had been a sense that ABC had mission drift. We had to prove ourselves to that field to be good partners.

A:  Engagement is a popular theme these days. What’s your particular model for engagement?

M: This was another place where Solution Focus has been so powerful.  So often, especially in our field, people focus on the problems.  One of the beauties of Solution Focus is focusing people on their ideal future, their vision for the future. We’ve used the future perfect tool, even in the case of having a meeting, i.e., what is the outcome that we would want from that meeting?  I had a meeting with a stakeholder today and we started off by saying, how would this meeting be useful … at the end of this meeting what would we like to say that we’ve accomplished?   That just focuses people on the end result that we would like.  It’s a very engaging way to begin a conversation. We also use it a lot is at the end of meetings, “How was this useful to you?”  It makes people think about the success that they had in that conversation with you.  It focuses them on the future and what is positive.  People feel more confident and more trusting in that partnership, that stakeholder relationship.

A:  What would the funders tell us that they’ve appreciated about your leadership?

M: I think that our largest funder would be pleased to say that we we’re able to meet their needs and be a useful organization to them in meeting their strategic goals.

A: What would the board say was the personal contribution that you made?

M: I think they can see we’ve become a leadership model for others in the literacy field.  We share our strategic plan, our mission and vision, our board documents, our operations plan.  People have said to me in the literacy field, “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve borrowed some of your strategic plan.”

A:  If you were repeating your Solution Focused effort, what would you do differently, or more of? 

M: If anything, I would have done more with Solution Focus and brought it in earlier. In hindsight, we could have made it more explicit to the Board.  We’ve certainly made it explicit with some of our partner relationships where we say, “Oh, we’re using a Solution Focus technique.” So that you get a whole culture of Solution Focus and you get a common vocabulary.

A:  Margaret, thank you

M:  Thank you. Solution Focus has been a phenomenally impactful program.

VIDEO INTERVIEW: Margaret Eaton & Anthony Alfred


(Condensed and edited from a longer interview)

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