James Rouse is open to change


June 17, 1991|By LESTER A. PICKER

In last week's column we looked at master developer Jame W. Rouse and the importance of vision, values and persistence in effective leadership of non-profit organizations. However, those aren't the only characteristics of effective leaders.

* Adaptability. Rapid change is the only predictable feature of the non-profit landscape. Leaders must be able to match the changing environment in which they operate with their organization's mission and vision. Three years ago, Rouse's Enterprise Foundation, which builds affordable housing, was faced with a rising number of requests for help from cities across the nation. Rouse got his people together in a retreat and challenged them to bump up their vision of Enterprise from a local foundation to one that could respond to the needs of hundreds of cities.

* Nurturing people. There's a funny thing about good leaders. They tend to bring in the best people, then develop their leadership abilities. That's particularly true at Enterprise. "Jim helps you strive toward excellence," notes Bart Harvey, co-vice chairman of Enterprise. "He gives you lots of freedom and responsibility, which calls on talents you might not be in touch with. You grow in areas you never thought you would."

Others speak of Rouse as a great lover of people. "He's good at stroking people," a staff member said. On the flip side, Rouse is able to convey to his associates when something is not good enough. That may be in his profuse notes and comments on draft reports, or it may be in person. He doesn't point fingers, staff members report. Rather, he brings them together as a team and lets themknow that "we" all need to do better.

* Succession. It is often difficult to separate the leader from the organization. This is especially true with Rouse, whose magnetic personality is a draw in its own right. But, good leaders plan carefully for succession. They nurture talented people and enable them to exercise their own leadership style. Paul Brophy, co-vice chairman of Enterprise, and Harvey are cases in point. After working under Rouse for three and seven years, respectively, and accepting his mentorship, they will succeed Rouse this summer as heads of Enterprise. Again, true to the unique culture of Enterprise, they will work as a leadership team.

* Management style. Competent leaders take an active role in their organization's work. They set high goals, then repeat them frequently for others in the organization. They also help move them forward. "Jim is not afraid to pitch in," says Harvey.

* Taking risks. In the non-profit world, taking risks is definitely not in vogue. When you are the caretaker for the money and good will of others, you take risks very gingerly. This is in stark contrast to the for-profit world, where calculated risks must be taken every day. In today's competitive philanthropic environment, non-profits are also learning to take prudent risks.

Enterprise is an innovative organization. The entrepreneurial climate is almost palpable. When it became obvious that low-income people needed financing sources, they set up a financing arm of the foundation. When it was apparent

that ordinary do-it-yourselfers liked the construction manual that the foundation put together for community development groups, the marketing department edited the book and arranged with John Wiley and Sons to publish it and sell it.

* Balance. Strong leadership takes its toll. Sometimes effective leaders find it hard to strike a balance between work and play. Rouse typifies this dilemma. Brophy offered an insight. "Due to his incredible capacity for work, Jim can be blind to the exhaustion level of people. Patty often plays the role of telling him that people are just plain tired." They laugh when they tell the story of Rouse's return from a grueling business trip to Japan. He went directly from the airport to a meeting of a community group. By 10 at night, the group was exhausted. Finally, Patty tapped Jim on the shoulder and said, "Jim, I think these people would like to get home and get to bed."

Often strong leaders sacrifice personal goals and relationships. With Rouse it is hard to tell where work ends and play begins. Certainly, many of his friends happen to share his passions for helping people, so business and companionship co-mingle. But studies show that effective leaders often have strong personal support systems, ranging from religion to spouse and children. In this, Rouse is blessed with his business partner and wife, Patty, and their six children and 14 grandchildren. They live in a modest house in Columbia, the community he designed and developed.

* Communication. A skill that separates mediocre leaders from excellent ones is the ability to communicate. In this, few can surpass Rouse, who writes and speaks extensively on the issues confronting the poor in this country.

As I was about to leave his office, I asked Rouse for a final comment on the plight of the poor in this country. He looked at me and said simply, "Life doesn't have to be the way it is. We can produce models of the possible."

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.


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