On my first day with The Patterson Foundation (TPF), I happened upon a yellow rubber duck placed on my desk. There was no explanation as to how it arrived, nor from whom. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. Joining the daily TPF staff Zoom meeting at 8:30am that Wednesday morning, Debra Jacobs, CEO of TPF, asked all participants to hold up their yellow rubber ducks. We smiled for a photo with laughter and amusement. Joyfully posing like the Brady Bunch, the picture had great significance. While our ducks were “in a row,” it took a village to align them with excellence. It was a memorable moment that has stuck with me —reinforcing our intentionality in not only looking at our own ducks, but the ducks of our colleagues and how we can all work together to align and strengthen them.

This age-old expression gave me pause as my wonderment propelled me to a new question: Does having one’s ducks in a row beg for perfection or excellence? It depends who’s interpreting. An organization may have perfected its operations, but do their operations effectively address the needs? Conversely, an organization may fulfill its mission, but are they operating optimally? Perfection and excellence are two very different outcomes, and measuring excellence might serve the organization better than perfection.

Excellence can be measured in many ways, and one way I’ve found quite helpful is to break it down into operational categories: Leadership, Willingness, Readiness, Capacity, and Culture (LWRCC). In some categories, organizations will have great strength, and in others, less. Mapping out categorical strengths and weaknesses can reveal opportunities for NPOs to recalibrate and improve. Organizational shortcomings can be reimagined as opportunities to shake things up, redefine roles, and position talent where each brings their strengths. Allowing for growth as new needs emerge better positions an organization for mission thrivability. Professionals that can maneuver diverse formations can help an organization achieve excellence on many fronts. It may not about the ducks being in a row, but rather the planning and preparedness to cope, adapt, and innovate.

And when there is misalignment, LWRCC becomes a North Star in determining when to pause. Resuming work when the NPO is ready is always an option — demonstrating wherewithal to be pursue its mission optimally.

When ducklings are born, they open their eyes to the world and instantly identify the first thing they see as their mother. They come to discover how deep they can dive into the water. Their eyesight comes into focus, with superb farsighted vision and an impeccable ability to capture far more detail than the human eye. These critical first moments of realization help them establish their identity, form a bond, and follow a leader. When we enter new organizational environments, we resemble the ducks, discovering our own LWRCC, that of the professionals around us, and of the organization. Our strength lies in having our ducks in a row and knowing that whatever may come, we are prepared to confront diverse challenges that call for unique formations. May the quack be with you!

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