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Updated: Jun 20, 2020

I was chatting with a former Executive Director and she told me a story about her first day on the job. When she walked into her office, she found mousetraps all over the floor. She was quite surprised, since she had recently been in the office for her interviews and no mousetraps were in sight. A staff member spoke up and told her,

"We hid those when you were here for the interview".

What we can deduce from this story is that the mice were not a sudden emergency that the organization was in the midst of addressing. The mice had been around so long that the mousetraps were hidden during important meetings and then taken out when they were over.

Many of the former Executive Directors I interviewed had similar stories.

The mice came in all different forms:

  • a financial issue that no one really understood,

  • a disruptive senior staff member that no one had ever managed effectively,

  • the unspoken tension between the board and staff, and

  • the haphazard or frayed relationships with funders or partners.

Instead of finding a professional who could get rid of the mice, solve the financial challenge or shift the culture, the organizations chose to ignore or half-way address the situation. Additionally, they then chose to hide the problem from their prospective leader.

Mice or not, handling challenges in this manner is equivalent to setting traps for our leaders - and the organization as a whole.

Problems arise in all organizations. . . Mice move into spaces that we don't want them.

Ignoring or half-way addressing these problems:

  • Creates added tension around the issue,

  • Erodes trust in leadership and

  • Devalues the integrity of the parties involved.

The way out is to find the root of the problem, get the professional help needed to solve it, and be transparent about the situation with everyone involved.

Our prospective leaders deserve better than an office full of mousetraps on their first day. They'll have enough mice to manage without our adding to the pile.


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