October 5, 2015

I think this is a great quote from Kahlil Gibran Muhammad: “Not sufficient but absolutely essential.”

Muhammad is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, a prize-winning book studying the ink between race and crime.

I’ve been parsing that sentence for months now – and thinking of what it means within the context of leadership. Things like… It isn’t actually enough to fire the police who mistreat someone because he’s black. Firing certainly isn’t enough. But firing is essential as a critical step in the process of making change.

“Not sufficient but absolutely essential.” Imagine embracing that phrase as a key player in conversations within your organization. Imagine exploring “not sufficient but absolutely essential” in various situations. For example:

  • Caught up in exploring donor centrism and making substantive changes… The fundraising team delays adding a donor newsletter, unable to follow all of best practice. So the team decides to wait until there’s sufficient resources to do that newsletter in accordance with all of best practice. Probably not a good decision. Make the start – that’s what’s essential to do right now.
  • Not yet ready to work on organizational culture… because that is so very darn big. So the CEO and management team stop themselves from starting. And just continue identifying issues and articles and facilitators and advisors and… Change is so darn hard – especially culture change. We’re just not ready yet. We don’t have sufficient understanding and sufficient buy in to the problems and we’re in the midst of…whatever… We’re awaiting the best time to start this. But maybe it’s preferable – essential – to start soon.
  • Worried about global warming and the human contribution to the current situation… Overwhelmed by the limitations of small steps and the insufficient return on investment. So we delay. It feels like anything we do won’t be sufficient – and that may well be true. But surely many steps are essential steps in the journey.

Maybe leaders should ask themselves questions like this:

  1. What’s the difference between “essential” and “sufficient”?
  2. What is absolutely essential to do right now? What makes this absolutely essential? What are the implications of doing nothing?
  3. Why do we think that what we might do won’t be sufficient – so let’s delay? What are the implications of the delay?

How would you use “not sufficient but absolutely essential” in your work? In your life? 


Filed under: Leadership

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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