Conversational Narcissism - A Workplace Phenomena

Did you know that there is a term used to identify people who steer the conversation from you to themselves. It is called conversational narcissism. I don’t know about you but I face this a lot in society, community, friends and at the workplace.

Apparently the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include a grandiose sense of importance, preoccupation with unlimited success, belief that one is special and unique, exploitative of others, lack of empathy, arrogance, and jealousy of others.

So how many times have you faced this situation where you are trying to meet your boss or manager and explain your situation and suddenly the topic makes a 180 degree turn and the conversations becomes all about them.

Most of us often refer to people who think or speak a little too well of themselves and don’t have much regard for the feelings of others as either bragging, showing off or just full of ego. This kind of conversation has been studied thoroughly by psychologist. If I understand it correctly from my own reading there is a difference between someone who comes across as egoistical and someone who is just a plain conversational narcissist.

This opens an opportunity for trainers and consultants out there to review their slides and to add to the kind of behaviors leaders should be wary of an added line and that is not to be a “conversational narcissist.”

So the next time we come across someone who sees himself or herself as more important and influential than everyone else by touting his or her own accomplishments, exaggerates their importance, and elicits envy or admiration from others we will know this is not necessarily egoistical but actually having a conversation that has the narcissistic trait. That way we need not be drawn into admiring this person and wanting to orbit around him or her as a leader. 

There are many kinds of conversational narcissism traits and hopefully in time there is more awareness at the workplace among managers that can help change the way one reacts at the workplace. 

About the Author

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Co-Founder/Managing Director of I First International. They provide consultancy services to the nonprofit and purpose based organisations. He has conducted work globally, is a Board member of International Nonprofits and Strategic Advisor to Social Enterprises and Universities. He has written many articles and two books on the topic of nonprofit management.

A Nonprofit Balancing Act between the Funder, its Mission and Goals

The nature of a nonprofit when it comes to receiving funds is dependent on donations. If it is not donations then it has to be a form of monetary support of somekind. In Japan, the nonprofit sector did not exist legally until the late 1990s prior to that any form of charitable giving was supported by the government.

Today, supporting a nonprofit monetarily is a norm to its existence. The issue presently is when the donor support attaches itself to certain conditions and requests that could compromise the managements value system or even the mission of the organisation. There have been cases recorded in the United States where the donor upon making generous gifts have also made requests that that make it difficult for the nonprofit expecially when it comes to instititionalising their requests. These requests range from having a building renamed or the mission of the organisation reworded.

The fact that a donation these days is tagged to a higher goal set by the donor to fulfil their own mission sometimes makes the alignment to the beneficiary rather uncomfortable. For example, if the donor has to fulfil their mission by ensuring their donation is to have their branding on the front wall of their premise of every nonprofit office, then this could be difficult for a nonprofit who has set its priority of providing visibility to the donor on their annual report only. Changing or accepting to allow for a change can lead a nonprofit to set a precedent or even create some inconvenience in terms of answering to other donors.

So what does a nonprofit do?

There has to be a boundary established between the funder and the nonprofit. This is the inconvenient truth. Funders and donor recipients do need to understand their own authority. A perfect relationship between a funder and a nonprofit is where there the transaction of donations and expected achievables stand on the basis of professionalism and it does not lean towards misalignment of the mission

So why does this happen?

Possibly its because of two aspects: (i) a certain power imbalance between funder and nonprofit that sets a certain inappropriate behaviour. Supposing a nonprofit were to hold their donor to task this could prove to create a possible risk of losing a donation because the decision to accept the donation is decided at the nonprofit level. Chances are sometimes the nonprofit could risk loosing a sizable gift and sometimes the person who challenges the funders request could even loose their job. There does need to be a level of awareness and education to the funder and nonprofit when it comes to how far can a request be made.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta makes the point that funding in today’s context is based on driving the relationship with a funder by making the nonprofit continue to follow the path of nonsustainability. He says, the funders way of thinking if accepted is what nonprofits have to wrestle with when it comes to issues of ethics, morals and cultural change.

Secondly, (ii) nonprofits at times get confused what exactly is the terms from the funder that are either non-negotiable or to be insistent upon. Many times the funder makes decisions of what they want the nonprofit to execute or conduct and at times it’s the nonprofit boards that are in a state of limbo because they were either unclear as to what is or they were not involved at the early stages of discussions with the funder.

There have been cases where certain funders do decide if the nonprofit requires/does not require a certain staff, expertise or consultant to conduct a specific job. There is little the board and management can do or cannot do as the money is being sponsored. When this happens, it gives an impression that the board or management is powerless or incapable in making decisions.

Many funders often find the nonprofits unclear or uncertain of what they actually want. Therefore, funders are pushed to make certain decisions that will help the board and management of the nonprofit move forward. For example, many funders have complained that the level of proposals they receive is generally lacking in quality. Thus funders need to work with the nonprofits in improving on it. When this happens, funders get misunderstood as if they are meddling into management affairs.

Nonprofits however argue that they find the process of application quite unclear and difficult to make sense of.  They say, they are quite clear of what they want but because the process of application is not clear it does not allow them to express their request in a cohesive manner.

To make this relationship work will require certain investments from the funders and a lot of initiative from the nonprofits. For instance, the funders should have an orientation or one day education seminar to help the nonprofits understand the application process. Having an event that allows the fundseekers to come forward with their applications and in the process accept criticisms on their proposal will really fit the needs of the funder better.

It is important nonprofits know when there is a confusion when it comes to funding and how it can impact the affairs of board and management matters. This is because it denotes their own incompetence or failure to manage effectively.

To know what these signals are, here are some examples:

·      When the funder is not satisfied with the deliverables in the proposal

·      There is a frustration from the funder that they believe the nonprofit has gone about the task differently from what they discussed or expected

·      The funder starts to focus on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections

·      There is a strong desire from the funder to know what the board and management is working on in detail

If a nonprofit wants to build a stronger relationship with their donor they do need to get better at management and board governance.

Below are some management tips:

Manage #1: The board and management of nonprofits must know its role in the organization. This is a simple need but it is important. The board members who are nominated into governance as volunteers and the board or council members who are elected as management are seldom educated, orientated or made aware of their role and responsibility even before accepting the post. Therefore to change this it requires a recruitment or system of election that allows for those who have accepted to hold responsibility to know their job description, level of authority and commitment in advance. They have to abide and adhere to the guidelines and instructions given and there must be a check and balance from the president/chairperson or an internal auditor.

Manage #2: The board and management must have policies or procedures delineating appropriate roles between staff and the board. This is important especially when it comes to working with the funders. Staff must not assume that just because they receive funding they can make decisions independently without the interventions from the management or board.

Manage #3: The board and management must not be motivated to accept funding just because they are desperate. The board and management has to make hard choices which could mean reengineering the organisation to ensure it can stay afloat. Such nonprofits that are able to sustain and manage themselves during difficult times will send a strong message of competent leadership and management which is what most funds want to have as a basis of reassurance.

Manage #4: Being brave to say “no” to a funder. There is nothing wrong in declining a request or stopping midway a funding proposal professionally and giving ample notice. This is an important aspect. It can happen to many organisations. Just following the flow or allowing things to happen because the organisation has got started in seeking funds and not wanting to ruffle feathers with the funder is not healthy. In the end, it will not help the funder to realise the actual issues and have a reality check. Sometimes a revisit will help the relationship as the funder could be willing to give the nonprofit a chance to review and refocus in order to make another attempt to seek funds. It is perfectly fine for a nonprofit to decline or say no to a proposal or midway through a proposal if they are finding themselves to compromise on issues or principles they adhere to strongly. Making difficult decisions would set a short term inconvenience but the long term damage is almost negligible.

Finally, every funder has a right to exercise their own desires and needs in order to align to their agenda and funding guidelines set out by regulatory bodies or through the founders principles and values. So does the nonprofit. The right to be wary of what is the motivation behind receiving the funding or why a nonprofit requires the money is vital. Ultimately funding or no funding, it’s the board and management of the nonprofit that has to face the consequences and be responsible for the nonprofits success or failure.


1.              Susan Svrluga, May 2 2016. The Washington Post, 2016 - Are conservative donors bullying this public university? Its President Says No. []

2.              Dan Pallota, March 2013, TED2013.  The Way We Think of Charity is Dead Wrong.[]

3.              Dan Pallota, Dec 8, 2010. “Micromeddling Board Undermine Progress”. Harvard Business Review. []

4.              The Grantsmanship Centre. May 2 2016. “When Application Guidelines Are Unclear”. The Nonprofit Times. []

5.              Hildy Gottlieb. 2009. Why Boards Micro-Manage: How to Get Them to Stop. Help 4Nonprofits. []

6.              Muriel Maignan Wilkins, Nov 11, 2014. “Signs that you are a micromanager.” Harvard Business Review.



The author would like to thank Mr. Pratik Bhatnagar, (Senior Advisor, Innovation and Partnerships, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, Switzerland) for reviewing this article and sharing  his thoughts, views and insights. Without which this article would not have the impact it deserves.



Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of I First International, a nonprofit management consultancy. He can be reached at


When the Leader of a Nonprofit Organisation Has Their Authority Undermined

Nonprofit leaders in authority are generally in a mode of wariness especially when their staff or team member refuses to follow their cue or instruction.  This behavior is often recognized among leaders as someone who is undermining their authority. They are many arguments to suggest that the problem is not undermining but in fact a combination of someone’s upbringing or their cultural background. Another argument is simply that the one who claims to be undermined is actually setting the stage to disguise his/her own leadership limitations.

It is always difficult to lead a team of passionate and mission driven personalities in a nonprofit set-up especially when the leader has to have more than just having technical clout but also being able to upheld certain values, virtues and integrity that is of the highest order. Most nonprofit leader are often caught in a situation of being undermined because they have either discovered certain aspects of governance or management that are bordering around fraud, or which involves a conflict of interest, misallocation of resources, or inadequate accountability and transparency. In such situations these good nonprofit leaders have to realise the consequences of their actions and how it could potentially have an individual or team undermine them.

The consequences to undermining can be quite dire if a leader does not establish its leadership position early and nip the issue in the bud. Unfortunately, one negative personality if not managed properly can possibly destroy a leader's career or derail the organisation’s goal. Negative behavior from one person can affect the entire workplace, and undo all of the good work of the entire team. Such a person actually weakens or lessens a leaders’ effectiveness gradually. Overtime a leaders’ ability to lead the organisation to achieve its objective will be diminished.

So how does a nonprofit leader know there are such disruptive people in their working vicinity? To know who these people are, the leader must be on the look out for certain signals (list is non-exhaustive);

1.             Demonstrating negativity: The disruptive person will occasionally disagree in a negative manner. Overtime the level of disagreement will increase from a casual corridor talk of grievance to a more wide spread and intense form of disruption.

2.             Making excuses to avoid work: The disruptive person will occasionally not support the leader to move forward. This person will often give excuses and find ways to avoid work, even after being given specific instruction.

3.             Failing to complete assignments: When work is given or delegated, the disruptive person will have reasons why the work is delayed or cannot be completed.

4.             Demonstrating disrespect or abusive behavior: Being grumpy or short-tempered on occasions in your presence, which can allude to being rude and disrespectful. One can often find such behavior to be at times arrogant and abusive.

5.             Publicity stints: The disruptive person will gossip, or share information that are private and confidential. They would even send emails of detest to a leader and blind copy others just to prove their point.

Another method to know if the general feeling in terms of decision making or execution of business is steering towards undermining, is to watch the leaders own behavior and how he/she react to certain situation.

Below are some examples of a leader's behaviour when they are sensing there are being undermined (list is non-exhaustive). It is important to note that each example on its own merits be attributed to certain singular predicaments. However, these examples if viewed in totality, chances are the leader may be behaving differently because of a sense of concern that there is some undermining happening in his/her camp.

1.             Doubting Oneself – this can happen at any moment during the course of being undermined. The leader can start to wonder if their own time is up and if they are no longer as effective as before. The sense of purpose is lost. 

2.             A sense of overcompensating – Leaders who begin to give in unnecessarily to ensure the individual or the team is happy or satisfied are doing more harm to themselves and the team in the long run.  Their better judgement is being clouded by issues of not wanting to be undermined.

3.             Reading between the lines – when a leader reads into what is being said more than they should, chances are they are looking for something that sends a signal that illustrates support or a positive assurance. In such circumstances what is happening is the leader is hoping there is no backlash or criticism.

4.             Having to prove oneself – losing confidence and being doubtful of oneself. Wanting to preserve ones position often will steer the leaders behavior towards being political and diplomatic in their relationship with others. 

It is important to know that in any case of being undermined, the conduct of the nonprofit leader must be influenced through their own moral compass in a direction that will prevent themselves from being undermine. Like any compass there are four directions to look for. These are; (i) moral awareness (recognition that a situation raises ethical issues); (ii) Moral decision making (determining what course of action is ethically sound); (iii) Moral intent: (identifying which values should take priority in the decision) and (iv) Moral action: (following through on ethical decisions).

Which direction should the nonprofit leader take is completely dependent on the predicament based on how far and how much undermining has happened. Most times when a nonprofit leader is in a situation of being undermined it is best to look for a solution that maintains the leader to remain of good ethics, strong morals and high integrity.

Finally every nonprofit leader who is undermined severely has to make a tough decisions that will warrant their own resignation or for them to take legal action against their employer which will be perceived to be a sign of weakness on their part but in reality it all comes down to how far has their own authority as a nonprofit leader been undermined and how much is it being disruptive to the performance of the team and organisation now.


1.              Deborah L. Rhode & Amanda K. Packel, Summer 2009. Ethics and Nonprofits, Standford Social Innovation Review. [].

2.              M. Sandy Hershcovis, 2011. Incivility, social undermining, bullying . . .oh my! A call to reconcile constructs within workplace aggression research. Journal of Organisational Behavior, 32; 499–519.


The author would like to thank Dr. Henry Yeoh, Deputy President of the Malaysian Institute of Human Resource Management (MIHRM) and Dr. Lee Vee Meng (Executive Director, Accenture) for reviewing this article and sharing very deft insights.


Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of I First International, a nonprofit management consultancy. He can be reached at

How do you motivate a tree to move? Purge them....

This is and has been a challenge for most managers when they deal with people who are either dead in their head or just motionless in terms of exuberating any form of potential energy within them.

In the nonprofit world, it is a wonder why people would join an organisation after making their intention so clear at the interview that they are very passionate about the cause and want to make a difference only to discover they have have a dearth of drive and are expecting more from the organisation than the reverse.

These people's motivation is driven by a certain form of expectation that sets them to think that only and until they receive, or hear or benefit from something or someone, then they will move. They are like a tree, motionless and expecting the wind, an animal or a human being to exert pressure on them before their leaves or fruit will fall.

So the question is how do we ever motivate such people to believe in the cause and to work for the organisation. The answer lies in understanding them. The moment we as managers realise we have such a person with a certain personality that is dead, we have to institute a system of purging. People who are not driven to change for the better should not be in your organisation. 

The process of purging such people needs to be done very carefully and within the framework and legal requirements of your organisation and law of the land. Purging will help set a few steps ahead with the option that if these people come to realise they have to buck up then they can remove themselves from the gutter but it all depends on them.

Here are some simple steps to help people realise what purging could do to them:

Step 1: Let them know that being pro-active and setting their own direction and demonstrating they can achieve their goals by themselves matters in what counts - they should be given 1 month to buck up.

Step 2: If they fail to meet Step 1 - they have opted for the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or a clear cut non-satisfactory performance exit (all within the laws, regulations and best practises of the country).

If they pass Step 1: They should then be subjected to a team work display. They must show they are a team player but demonstrating commitment to the deliverables. The output from the team and the evaluation from the team of their performance will prove to be a decider for their future with the organisation. If they do well, they can move to Step 3., otherwise they move to Step 2 and will find their way to being purged from the organisation. This process can normally take 2 months.

Step 3: They need to demonstrate they are consistent and not faltering in their drive. As a bonus they will be sent for a training session to work on their own areas of development. These areas could consider things like, building self-confidence, time-management, learning a new skill etc.

This step will take 3 months to monitor. The way of monitoring their own development will be done by the supervisor themselves - who will watch them and observe if there is any shift or change in a positive manner in how the person has improved themselves.

Note: The Supervisor must take the mentality of being positive and not being hopeless of the exercise and to not look at this effort as a waste of time. It will show and it can in many ways cause the staff not to perform as there is no form of encouragement or support notice form their direct report.

If there is no improvement from the staff - the process leads us back to Step 2 and will have to find themselves back on PIP scheme.

Step 4: Sustaining the drive is critical and it is important to see the person maintain the drive such it becomes the person's own characteristic and some of the ways of working become a habit more than an ad-hoc system driven by force.

Thus, a review of all steps 1-3 will happen again after 3 months.

Total time for these four steps will take on average 6-9 months to complete depending on how fast and expedient the person is.

In the end if the person realises he or she is not cut out to take on these challenges, they will find the door out themselves.



Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI).
At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprise sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus our expertise on the Management and the Board. We help organisations be impactful, sustainable and resilient.

Leadership by showing off how much you know...

Ever come across people who are so articulate that you almost wonder how is it they know so much and are so well versed in the topic or issue at hand. They are able to quote, reference or even provide evidence with such ease.

Well, maybe just maybe it is because these people have picked up a skill that not many of us have mastered.....the skill of copying, editing and improvising.

What do I mean? Well it is simple. Suppose, what they say was something they read from somewhere or heard from someone, is it possible they could have just regurgitated what they picked up but have it modified and spinned such it looks original and true. It is possible right?.

There are many such people in our society who have mastered this art so much so they have been so good at it that it almost seems as if the idea, experience or even they were the authors to the stories.

If only intellectual property rights covered this aspect, many people would have gone home bankrupt.

It is not so easy to spot these kind of people especially if you have met them for the first time. They can press the right buttons in front of you such you can be moved as if they are the next best thing on a hot day to shaved ice.

......over my years of working in different roles, I have found people who do this are the ones who sit in senior positions and have no clue of what is happening on the ground but pretend to know. They simply articulate their thoughts as if they were there, as if they had first hand knowledge and with little acknowledgement to those who actually did go through the trauma, torture, suffering or bliss.

The ones who do know how to use others sound bites as well as share others stories must be applauded and given full credit...but let me tell you there are many who just enjoy living on the stories of others..

Here are some tips I have picked up from my experience of how to spot these kind of people who live on the stories of others:

1. Relevance - at times you will find the topic or discussion or intervention may come in with little relevance but with such a bang that to an experience person, they may wonder what was that all about.....test the story by asking if the person was there or ask for more details and you will find the subject matter will shift or the person will display a form of "Tai Chi" by avoiding your question. 

2. Timing - how recent was the episode. In most cases, the person will share something the person had just learned or picked up from a cocktail conversation, an article or a story which was related very recently. To find out if the story was recent, you can spot it in the context of how the person delivers their story, was it timed based and was it referenced to something that had happened recently....old stories do not get articulated....

3. Manner of presentation - in most cases the way the subject was presented would be to show the person had significant business intelligence or is aware of the trends and the pulse on the is a way to show that the person knows more than others...

4. Reliability - almost most of the time these kind of personalities will say their sources or the information they have is reliable ( in not so many words) without asking. They will give details as if you asked for it and they will go as far as saying they got the news from the horses mouth. They want to establish authenticity.

5. They like to listen to their voice - what you say does not matter but what they say matters. The more they speak and listen to themselves the more they can reassure themselves they are doing justice and elevating the conversation to something that is of perceived desire to the audience.

So the next time someone you meet for the first time sweeps you off your feet, take sometime to hold yourself to the ground and ask yourself some pertinent questions if this is really true...

.....after all from my experience the person who has a lot to share has little to speak about...

"Speak your truth quietly & clearly; and listen to others, even the dull & ignorant; they too have their story." 
Max Ehrmann, from Desiderata


Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI).

At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprise sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus our expertise on the Management and the Board. We help organisations be impactful, sustainable and resilient.

Wait a minute! I thought you hired me for something else?

The issues of recruitment have become so difficult that nowadays the job description (JD) or terms of reference (TOR) to a job can change in a matter of 24 hours. So much so, what was the initial hiring purpose can shift overnight. When that happens the reason why the prospect candidate joining your organisation in the first place can almost instantaneously vanish. They could be walking into a very different job or worse still they could be walking into a space of no turning back ( a bit of drama here).

Why does this happen? To understand and explain this phenomena we must understand the internal mechanisms that are in built into recruitment, the hiring and the evaluation of the performance of the new staff process in an organisation.

For Example:

1. The Job Advertisement - on average it could take between 2 weeks to 1 month before a concept or review becomes eventually public domain in the form of a JD. Once the advert is up and running, the due date to response can be from 1 week to 3 months... A LOT CAN CHANGE during that time....

Let us not disregard the interview time which can last from the moment of submission of the resume to the final offer letter which can be anything between 2 weeks to 3 months. 

Then there is the issue of walking into the office after receiving the offer. The time from the offer letter to actually date of joining is another time factor that can range between 1 week to 3 months (depending on the notice period the incumbent has to give his previous employer in lieu of notice).

2. The Probation Period - some organisation have it as 2 weeks and some go as long 6 months. During that time, the new employee will learn the ropes but also will be expected to take on areas that were not in the JD originally. This is because after the long wait the changes in the team, office or in the job per se may have shifted because the project could have been completed, the function may have varied or the budget may have been cut (many other things could have happened). This is when the new staff who joins begins to really understand the job. He or she will ask themselves if they are in the job they thought they had applied for....suddenly recollection of the interview and the discussion will surface very vividly. 

3. Performance Appraisal - Communication, transparency and results all happening at this moment in a discussion which is being documented. The new staff will begin to realise they were not either informed of the earlier targets set which was documented from the appraisal or if there are new ones being set, in any case chances are it was never discussed. This creates an atmosphere of "hey! I thought I was hired to do this? how come I am expected to that?"

And if you look at the time frame between when a new staff joins and the appraisal meeting, it can range from 6 months to 12 months before a serious conversation between supervisor and staff ever happens....LOTS CAN CHANGE...

So the next time, we hire people, please understand sometimes it is not the performance or the attitude of the new staff that is always delivering poor alignment or results to the needs of the organisation, but it could just be the internal systems in place that is actually breeding a misplaced identity.....and if you think about it, it all because a lot of time had passed by.....

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI).

At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprise sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus on the Management and the Board. We help you help others.



Behind the Name

It will be one year come August 28th 2015 since the name of the company, I First International was first conceptualised. 

The name I First was actually coined as a phrase by my youngest brother who is mentally disadvantaged during our school days. 

The phrase I First came about because my brother wanted to demonstrate when he was in his early teens that he was ahead of us. He knew he was disadvantaged and yet still told himself he had to be first. He made it his mantra to put any task assigned to him directly or indirectly that he would be the first and all of us other siblings and parent would be last (anything lesser than first was last to him). After accomplishing his feat, he would savour the moment by looking at us as if we were just not good enough. Something like the Mr. Bean movie, where Mr. Bean would look at those who make a mess-up and go tut! tut! tut! moving his head from left to right in utter dismay. 

Over time, the phrase I First grew into something much more than just being ahead of the pack but also a demonstration that one was able to achieve many things against the odds.  Eventually, I First to me as a person became more than just a phrase. It had an intense meaning. It became a phrase which meant putting others who are lesser or disadvantage ahead of us. For example, the marginalised, the abused, the homeless, the disadvantaged, the minority etc.

Then in 2014 came the turning point where I was at a crossroads where my passion for change to the nonprofit sector had to be harnessed and focussed towards a was at that time I was looking for a name for my company. One day, while talking to my youngest brother, he used the phrase on me because of something that to me at that moment seemed really trivial but to him was an issue. It took a while but suddenly, I realised like a jolt of electricity what I should name my company.

In a very strange way, the phrase which meant so much to my brother for so long was now equally important to me as it gave me a sense of motivation and a meaning.

Memories of being with my brother in his element of competition between siblings, looking at his achievement and watching him relish the moment of being ahead, "I First he used to say", was beckoning me in my mind.

It dawned upon me to turn what was a simple phrase to a mission of change. A mission to put the I First stamp to those who are behind and will probably never be heard.

Later, I also realised I could put I First to my learnings when dealing with management. I First was going to make the difference where others sought to provide guidance and support, by bringing the organisations that focus on their mission to stay ahead and be the I First

Today I First is pushing the agenda to the social enterprise. The mission is to make sure the nonprofit and social enterprise sector management are on equal par as the corporate and are able to reach their goal first.

I First will not focus the mission just to one nation, one race or one religion, it will focus beyond one and be International in its outlook. It will be the multiracial organisation, multinational and multi religious organisation with an outlook and competency to focus internationally. 

I First International would not stop and watch, it will continue to "do something about it". This is our first year, we are charting our second year and we want to see the world change for the better. 

We need to "do something about it!"

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI).

At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofit and social enterprise sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus on the Management and the Board. We help you help others.


"Let us not talk about the past......!"

The culture of looking back and reflecting is not happening enough during discussions at the management meeting. The management behaviour that one should not cry over spilt milk has gone to far to the point that people don't want to indulge a conversation on past mistakes or lessons learnt.  

These days management consider a discussion about the past to be going backwards. It is seen to be digressing and not progressing. In other words, there is no value in having that conversation.

The art of effectively retrospecting is not practised. What is happening is that people are worried that if such a discussion did happen the tone or mood of the room will shift to a blame game, people will tai-chi issues or be openly defensive or offensive. All these negative elements do not help the conversation. I agree, they do not. It does not mean being retrospective is not important. It is, the problem is we are doing it right. 

Do we not recap the days events before we go to sleep and take cognisance of our own efforts and limitations and at times we tell ourselves not to repeat such things again. So if we can do it at the self level, why can't we do it at the team or organisational level?

An effective retrospection will help develop a sense of ownership to the event or activity. It will help the organisation save cost, save time and make corrective action almost instantaneously. The person who manages the retrospection need not worry about the negative tone of the discussion and debate but will help steer a focussed debate outcome of the issues.

Post-mortems, feedback sessions or lesson learnt discussions are still being practised but that activity is eroding. The intention and objective to it is similar to retrospection. The only difference is that in a retrospection hard and tough questions must be asked, just like we ask ourselves when we are all alone with just ourselves.

Another reason for not wanting to go down the retrospect road is because its common behaviour for people who hold top management roles not wanting to be queried on their actions or inaction. This cannot happen anymore. Gen Y and Gen Z will not tolerate such kind of leaders. Hence, the level of accountability and transparency will drop over time if this mentality perpetuates. In other words, the past will haunt the organisation if corrective action is not addressed. 

I have listed down four very important areas all managers must adopt in order to be more effective in retrospecting. This is my little remedy - :-). I call it DEEP. Design, Evolve, Evaluate and Project.

1. Design - This is the opening session. The conversation piece must be staged or designed. "Always ask even if we did our best or were successful. Could we have done things better or differently?" Someone will have something to say. Let them say it and let them pour their issues. In the end analyse what they are really saying. For all you know, what they are saying could be really fundamental to how the organisational culture and behaviour is in your department or team.

2. Evolve - Grow the conversation from what it started to something more complex and difficult. "Who or what was the obstacle or stumbling block?" I know many management gurus will say this is not proper to ask but I will tell you from my own experience, if you don't ask, you will never know if the corrective matters if a process, procedure or a human experience. Over time, your team or organisation will know how to get their message across that they are unhappy and over time, no one would want to here themselves singled out as being difficult, the cultural shift will be the team will try to resolve the matter quickly and surely before it gets to your ears.

3. Evaluate - This is the process of really reflecting and doing a contrast and compare. "What was something new that was introduced to the thinking, process or activity that led to our failure or success?" This is always a good way to get people to appreciate variations, the differentiation factor and the influence that could or may have made the big change. Sometimes that change could be more than an idea, it could be because we had sat down together for lunch.

4.  Project - This is where the leader must be open to hearing what others have to say. Sometimes during the earlier sessions, the leader would have noticed or understood that his or her own presence or lack of presence may have resulted in the outcome. This is the time to acknowledge and identify to the team what you have realised. An example of how to ask: "Did I as your leader hold you back or contribute to the success of the project? If so, what was it specifically did I do or not do?" 

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI). At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofit sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus on the Management and the Board. We help you help others.

No news is bad news!

Two weeks, one month, 6 months, one year and still no answer if the proposal has been approved or the money will come in. Sounds familiar?

Did you ever feel this way after submitting your proposal to a potential donor or an interested party? I am not sure what is the ethics behind the donor or funder's role upon receiving a proposal but I for sure know that a proposal sent from a nonprofit organisation is a proposal with an expectation to receive an acknowledgement of receipt as well as information of the outcome (good or bad news).

I am not sure why nonprofit organisations have to wait for months and sometimes over a year for something to happen. Remember! as much as time is money to the company or donor, time is also loss of serious or urgent help on the ground which could translate to lives, hunger, loss of jobs etc.

Remaining silent as if to avoid the nonprofit ask does not portray professionalism. Donor's or funders must recognise that to write a proposal is not about cut and paste  (although I do know that happens as well) as there is a lot ding-dong between potential funder and nonprofit, extensive discussions, meetings, reviews and approvals at the Board level even before the proposal is sent out.

Unless something is so significantly flawed in the proposal then I find it a wonder to think that if someone has the money and the clear need to do something and there is a proposal ready to be implemented, why does it take so long?

I think there is perhaps a level of insufficient talent in the funding organisations who know what they want from the nonprofit or for that matter know how to guide or picking out the better proposals from the great proposals. To make sound decisions the person or committee must have prior knowledge or broad experience on the subject matter and how to manage projects of a certain magnitude.

I guess this is why most companies these days are taking on ex-non profiteers with significant experience to sit in the committee or to lead or even project manage the projects on the ground on behalf of them.

At the end of the day, the nonprofit sector take a lot of trouble to prepare the proposal. A lot of their resources which involves time, money and human capacity is involved in putting together something that would fit to the requirements set out. So to completely keep them hanging with no apparent idea of what the outcome is rather distasteful.

After all, when the request for a proposal is asked, the next thing the funder says is that they would want the proposal asap or yesterday but when the proposal is sent, the waiting time does not fit proportionately with the urgency for the proposal. It appears suddenly the asap or urgency suddenly vanished! 

I really want to see more guidelines from the donor or funder in terms of what their commitment is to the nonprofit when it comes to giving an answer within time and with clear reasons behind the delay. I know things can be expedited rapidly. It can happen, we saw how fast money got spent with, no proposals for the Typhoon Haiyan, Floods in Kelantan, and the recent Nepali Earthquake.

Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI). At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofit sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits and top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus on the Management the Board. We help you help others.

It's there, you did not see it!

Imagine yourself on a rainy night looking for the closest petrol station. Your fuel gauge has indicated an amber sign of low petrol available in your petrol tank. You kind of estimated you probably can go another 20 minutes before the car will come to a complete halt. The road is wet, there are no streetlights and your vision is where your car lights are projecting itself. You can see on either side some faint light indicating there are people staying on both sides of the road. There is not a single car coming your way or behind you.

You drive on. And on. You are panicking. Your mind is 90% focussed on the fuel left in your car and 10% on finding the next available petrol station. You reach out for your mobile only to find it is low on battery and your car charger is not working.

You call home and there is no answer. Your call goes to voicemail. 

Just then you see something ahead and it looks like a petrol station. You get closer, only to realise IT IS a petrol station. But something is not right. You soon discover, it's not a 24/7 petrol station. You drive pass, this time you can only pray.

Ever faced this kind of consequence in your work life?

You know what is even more interesting, when you relate this episode to your office mates, as if you were asking for help there and then, you are suddenly barraged with comments or advice such as, "why didn't you at least stop at the station, maybe the electricity was cut-off then", or "there was actually a 7eleven only a few metres away which could have helped you grab a taxi to buy petrol close by".

In the nonprofit world, everyone outside your cause is an expert in what you do and they can advise you to be better and be smarter at how you do it. This is the reality. They will never know what it is like to be the driver driving alone on a rainy night looking for help. Only you will know.

So what do we need to do on those rainy nights. My suggestion is to "Prepare, Prepare and Prepare".

We need an umbrella, our phone needs to work and we should have a charger, some food, a blanket, first aid kit, GPS, and a canister of petrol that carries 1/3 to 1/2  a tank of petrol. But here's the scenario. 

Most nonprofits can't afford or even even have a SOP of what the should or should not do. So how do they enforce. A lot of what happens, happens all too suddenly or without any notion.

So how does an organisation ensure it is prepared and ready and most of all able to cope.

The management needs to trained, educated, groomed and most of all be among those who have experienced such situations. There should be a space for a chance for dialogue or sharing of one's issues. There are such opportunities to learn how to prepare, prepare and prepare.

Only someone or some organisation from the outside can set this space and allow one to learn. 

Nonprofit Workshops - somethings have to just stop

Why do we have so much food for tea breaks? What is the objective of this? Who is really benefiting from this? I thought breaks between sessions was meant to relax the mind, have something light and refreshing to drink or to freshen up by visiting the WC.

It is time the nonprofit sector stop following or aligning to what the norm is and set a new way forward of reducing food wastage and thereby reducing health issues and saving costs.

I can just imagine how much money would be saved and how much more time will be available for the workshop and how much less time would be in slouching on the chair or falling asleep.

Another observation is this common protocol of having a keynote speaker to open the ceremony. To me, it is a waste of time. In most cases the key note speaker would not not have prepared themselves or the speech was prepared by someone else. All this is productive time wasting. Why can't we just go straight to the top topics of the day to be presented or have the panel of speakers as the opening, giving a bit of a teaser to their topics for the evening session.

It is time we do things differently. I can almost predict how every programme workshop will be that is worrying.

Finally, why do we always make it a custom to make the giving of a token of our appreciation as a ceremony in itself. Do I really care if you give something or not? Why do we need to publicise the giving. I am not against presenting a token or souvenir of appreciation but why do it during a workshop. What is the significance? This is not a farewell gift or an appreciation gift for someone who has a gone great things for your organisation, this is a workshop. Hey, after all you invited them and maybe you are even paying them to present their paper.

I am sure I will get a barrage of responses from people saying I am being totally unrealistic and even not Malaysian enough to appreciate how we do things in this country, but hey, I think, if you are a nonprofit organisation, what you want to get across at the end of the day is our mission and really that should be our top priority.

I recall Steve Jobs saying, we should always ensure the organisation is bigger than us and not the other way around. I think there is much to take from what he said moving forward.

Policy Change by Framing - Nonprofit Tip

In a very strange way, we are almost always judged based on how we answer questions. It happens at at school when we answer tests and exams, it happens when we visit the doctor when we respond to the questions posed to the symptoms we are showing or in Court when the lawyer asks questions pertaining to the case.

There are people who are really good at knowing how to answer to the satisfaction of the questioner and to themselves, thus addressing their own agenda. These kind of people do this as a profession to safeguard their integrity, reputation, company brand or to avoid or run away from the law.

Let us look at it from a vantage point of how nonprofits can use this approach, thereby addressing the advocacy and policy issues. This kind of method based on psychology studies and research is called framing. The way an answer is presented depends on how the information is presented. how do we frame our answers such we are able to get the best results or provide us an advantage?

Supposing you want people to know that by using a certain product they are going to save money. Therefore, the questioning should be done in a way they realise they will lose money if they do not invest in the product. If we explain how much they will save or gain, they would more likely not go with purchasing the product.

So how can a nonprofit organisation benefit from this type of questioning such the answers will help address the issues at hand. How do we get the answers we want?

Let us say there is a nonprofit that is working on the elderly and the issue is about health. So how would the nonprofit organisation push for advocacy or policy change such they are able to gain the public support. It can only be done by putting to the people key questions positioned in a way the answer will be favourable for policy change.

If people are asked if they wish to have more regulation or whether they favour regulation on health, the answer most likely is no. However, if they question was framed differently, for example, if people are asked whether they want to maintain or strengthen regulations protecting the health of the elderly most likely the answer will be yes.

What this means is that framing is so key to ensuring we can get the kind of answers we need for change. Remember, information that is vivid and salient is likely to have a larger impact on people's behavior than information that is statistical and abstract (Sunstein, CR., 2013, "Simpler: The Future of Government").

The next time, a nonprofit decides to push for change on a critical matter of people's consciousness, consider having someone who is an expert of psychology to coach or guide on how to get the answers you want.This is pertinent especially in this day in age when the evidence of the people's sentiment and emotional slant can make the difference as to how decisions makers will look at the subject matter at hand.




Throwing in the keys

I never realised how painful it can be to let go something you have worked so hard to achieve and accomplish. It is never easy to let go. Saying goodbye to an organisation really means saying I am detaching and moving on to a frontier I have no idea what it will bring me.

As much as it may appear to be simple at the surface, let me tell you, the longer you have been with an organisation the more difficult it is to let go. Maybe that is why some people just don't leave and still remain until they are part of the relics of the organisation. 

It is not exactly pain that you will feel but a sense of realisation that all this while, you were just an actor in the grand scheme of things: and as you move on, the show is still going on. Chapter closed. I guess that is where the pain comes in. If ever your name is mentioned in the organisation you left, it is not because of reverence but more because of reference.

So all in all it is about removing the wrangles of attachment in such a way it becomes a long string that will be disconnected at the end. The question is at which end? Is it at the end where the person who is moving on to greener pastures or at the end where the organisation is now ready to let go a poor performer?

I guess I now understand why the wise people from the Indus valley have said in the past that detachment is the greatest freedom you can give to yourself as it will give you a peace of mind. I am at peace now with myself. It took a while but I am at peace.

Throwing in the keys was no joke, but hell, I need a new life and a new set of challenges....and I must tell you as much as it is tough in the beginning it is very invigorating in the end. Chapter closed.

Mindset - It has to change


Recently there has been much talk about how the donor mindset must change in order to accommodate and support the nonprofit organization. As much as this is true, there is also a very strong need for the mindset within a nonprofit organisation to also change. When I refer to the mindset of a nonprofit organisation, I am actually referring to the collective mindset of those who make decisions at the Board and Management level and those staff who have been in the organisation for a very long time.

Times have changed and the expectations from donors and society at large has changed. The awareness level of people have risen and although they may not know much about your organisation they would have at least heard about the issues you are championing to overcome or work towards.

So what has changed? Well today, the typical dilapidated office, the sub-standard working condition or the untrained talent that is managing the issue is perhaps now more of a worrying concern to the donor than an opportunity for investment. What the typical donor is looking for these days is an organisation that is managed professionally, knows what it needs, has all the necessary tools to monitor & evaluate its performance and deliver results in a financial sustainable manner.

So what will it take for a nonprofit to step up its role in society and make a difference. It has to be a collective mindset change that can change the organisational mentality. Some nonprofit organisations have made the difference and taken the leap from the past practises to the future and have benefited from them shift. They now have top talent on board which is bringing in more income to the organisation, they have been able to raise their profile and the kind of strategies that they are looking at has geared towards policy and advocacy change at a national level.

Of course, every new leap of change has it new challenges, but isn't that what all organisations want to do, move forward.