Doing What Feeds Your Spirit

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Lana'i Animal Rescue Center Founder Kathy Carroll
Lana’i Animal Rescue Center Founder Kathy Carroll

Ask anyone who’s been successful in their life about how they became so, and you’re likely to hear a familiar refrain from all of them: do something that you love. If you love your work, then it’s not work, it’s a joy. For the entrepreneur that sort of passion is a must, whether the work is for profit or service. It’s also a terrific signpost for the rest of us as we seek to make the most of the time we’re given.

If we don’t like our jobs, then we have only three choices: (1) suffer, (2) learn to love our work, or (3) find work that feeds the spirit.

The entrepreneur always chooses the third option. While suffering may be necessary for any number of reasons, and praiseworthy as a means of spiritual growth, it’s certainly not the first choice for most of us. Learning to love the work you’re doing is a good way to adapt to your circumstances, a sort of a “bloom where you’re planted” approach to life. That philosophy has benefits for personal growth: by learning to be happy in your circumstances you’re feeding your spirit. Sometimes the budding entrepreneur has to wait a bit to pursue his/her passion; it’s a fact of grown up life that we do what’s necessary to take care of ourselves and families. As I near 50 years of age and come closer to the end of my military career, I find inspiration in “second career” leaders who seek out their passion and look for ways to feed their spirit.

Case in point: the Lana’i Animal Rescue Center (LARC) and Kathy Carroll.

We were fortunate enough to meet Kathy and her husband Mike during a brief stay on Lana’i, and I was impressed by their courage, entrepreneurial spirit, and positive approach to life. After moving from Chicago to the Hawaiian island of Lana’i to resume Mike’s art career after a 22 year hiatus, Kathy became aware of the magnitude of the cat problem when someone dropped off an injured kitten at Mike’s art gallery. Lana’i is a small island, and home to a population of 3,100 souls. Kathy is an animal lover, and recognized that on a 144 square mile island, management of the cat population was badly needed. On Lana’i cats have no natural predators, and that situation coupled with the warm Hawaiian climate means each female can produce up to four litters per year. That’s a lot of cats. Managing the cat population was not only necessary for the health of the cats themselves, it was vital to the health of the larger animal population on the island as well as the quality of life for the human population. That little kitten became the “cat-a-lyst” for a new career and a mission!

However, establishing a traditional “brick and mortar” shelter for hundreds of animals on one of the most remote places on the planet, a place where the closest vet was a 45 min ferry ride away to Lahaina, Maui, would require millions of dollars. Those dollars and her dream were out of reach–until she came upon the realization that she needed a transformative model for a rescue shelter.20150621_113659

If big cat preserves can thrive with natural enclosures, why not small cats? With the realization that with a relatively modest investment she could house and care for these animals, the LARC was born. Using the same ingenuity that enabled her to conceive of the project in the first place, she assembled a crew of volunteers and they designed facilities for the animals where they could be comfortable. Then the work really began: trapping cats late into the night, working with visiting vets coming from Maui and O’ahu, and writing grant proposals. Kathy has really accomplished something amazing: a shelter for roughly 400 animals with a small paid staff and several adoption programs to find homes for them. While purely volunteer run from 2004 to 2010, the LARC team has built it into a 501(c)(3) with a small paid staff to supplement the volunteers.

Our program started out with a handful of volunteers and spaying get/neutering homeless cats; we evolved baby-step by baby-step, rather than as a preconceived big picture. To me, was more about stepping up when seeing a need, and gutting it out vs. having a well-charted path from the get-go…figuring it out bit by bit…not being afraid to take risks, to tap into experts.  One needs to be willing to launch  into unknown territory, and embrace a very steep learning curve replete with mistakes, trials and tribulations. Grit works. – LARC Founder Kathy Carroll

Additionally while there is nothing formal, the LARC team collaborates with Lana’i’s Department of Natural Resources to help take care of what Kathy calls the “Lana’i Lions’ ”  veterinary needs, and recently received a grant from the Hawai’i Tourism Authority for visitors education. I think this exemplifies the spirit of Teamwork and the idea that we should look for teammates everywhere.

You might imagine that all that hard work would drain Kathy of her energy–but the opposite is true. Kathy’s enthusiasm for her work and the cats is infectious, and begins the moment you meet her. Today, the LARC has a highly dedicated paid and volunteer staff that runs the shelter, and Kathy’s role is leading tours, fund raising, grant writing, the e-newsletter, and sharing their innovative model with others. A true leader, when others try to give her credit for the cat sanctuary she founded, she defers that credit to the LARC staff, both past and present. A tribute to the entire team, the LARC inspired scaled down versions of the outdoor sanctuary on the neighbor island of Moloka’i, and at the Silicon Valley Humane Society. I believe it’s Kathy’s passion, and the dedication of the staff: Sanctuary Manager (Mike Hanog) and Animal Care Technicians (Becky Myers, Amanda Amby Shimokawa, and Jezel Antioquia), that’s made the difference. How else could you account for visitors coming from all over the world just to experience the place, including one Japanese man who flew all the way there to spend 5 hours with the cats before returning to Japan!

What lessons can we learn from Kathy’s experience? I think there’s two: first, do what you love, and second, be willing to do the work. Doing work you’re passionate about, whether it’s working with your hands or sailing corporate seas, should be a first principle. Not everyone has the choice of profession or trade, but when you get the chance to pursue work that feeds your spirit as well as your stomach–don’t hesitate. On the second lesson, no matter how enjoyable the work is–work requires effort. History is replete with people who had great ideas and then either fizzled (or never started) because they weren’t willing to put in the work. I’m sure being up at 2 a.m. after trapping 40 felines so the vet could do her work was not exactly “in the brochure” when Kathy dreamed of opening an cat sanctuary, but it’s the necessary work that goes along with the dream.

The same passion that drives us to dream big should also drive us to work hard.

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To find out more about the Lana’i Animal Rescue Center, or find a way to help Kathy in her mission, like them on Facebook or go to http://lanaianimalrescue.org

Leading Volunteers is (Not) Easy

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Volunteerism is American as
A WWII Red Cross Volunteer Poster

Leading volunteers is not easy. It would seem axiomatic that leading a group of volunteers would be easier than leading any other group, but it can more difficult because both the “transactional” relationship and the “mission” relationship are different from other types of teams.

In a for profit venture the primary motivation is making the company successful, and it’s easy for leaders to let that be the only motivation they employ. Profit and loss are objective measures of effectiveness, and even though taking care of the people is just as important in a for profit enterprise as it is in any other sector, when all other forms of motivation fail the boss can hand over a handsome paycheck to keep the team moving.  This is not to say people in for profit business don’t care about each other or the mission of their company, but compensation and the promise (in some cases) of doing better financially if the company does well are powerful motivational tools. Put another way, high performing companies motivate their employees by getting excited about the mission of the company, but merely mediocre companies can survive even if they produce a quality product from an unmotivated workforce. The challenge for leaders in this environment is not to let the economics of the business outweigh the need to lead the people in the company.

Not so with volunteer or non-profit organizations. In these situations, leaders must rely more heavily on creating a shared sense of mission and commitment to that mission among the team, primarily because there is no direct compensation. Volunteers have the ability to “un-volunteer” relatively easily in most cases. This means leaders have to maintain a unity of purpose and commitment to the mission at much higher levels than perhaps is necessary in for profit companies. There are a wide variety of volunteer organizations, from non-profits with paid staffs to community organizations. Leading these volunteers can be a challenge unless we understand why people volunteer in the first place, and what keeps them coming back even when it’s tough work. Employees in non-profits willingly accept less compensation because they believe in what they’re doing so much, the personal satisfaction of their contribution “pays the bills” and is worth a smaller paycheck.  The challenge is connecting them with the mission first, and inspiring them to see the indirect compensation they receive.  It’s not an easy task!

According to Guidestar.com volunteers contribute for skill development, personal growth, and to take on a challenge. Taking these factors into account means leaders have to keep the organizational mission at the forefront, and continually remind volunteers why they volunteered in the first place.  Additionally, leaders have to be mindful of the volunteers’ need for challenging work and opportunities to grow. That requires a high degree of commitment from the leader, and a level of communication both within the team and with stakeholders.

In my book Leading Leaders, I recount the story of a friend of mine who took over leadership of a volunteer re-sale shop. It would’ve been easy to simply do the minimum, but that’s not my friend’s style so she took on the challenge. The previous leadership had begun to improve the environment and the store, but was unable to finish so my friend was asked to pick up the mantle. She and her leadership team began by listening to the volunteers and addressed their personal concerns about the rigidity of the workplace, and then went on a communication campaign to remind all the volunteers why they were there. It was an effective leadership style but it required a great deal of work on her part to get the organization moving again. When she turned over leadership to her successor, the volunteers were happy and the resale shop was thriving again. It’s amazing what a great leader can do when she connects with her people and then connects them to the mission.

In the end, volunteers are there because they want to be. They may or may not be financially compensated, but for volunteers the mission is the thing. When leading volunteers, that’s the most important fact to keep in mind.