Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

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By F. Duke Haddad

If you work for a nonprofit, it is critical that you have decisive leadership. That said, however, I have known many in my career field that have done one of the three option in this phrase often attributed to Thomas Paine: Lead, follow or get out of the way. The nonprofit field is complex, demanding, resource stretched, needed and under-appreciated.

Many individuals in the field that aspire for leadership positions are basically on their own when understanding how to effectively lead. There is no one-size-fits-all manual for leadership. Leadership is sprinkled throughout every organization, regardless of size or functionality. If you have not studied the concept of leadership, how do you know what it is like in a nonprofit setting?

The Third Sector Company notes that leadership can make or break an organization. The idea of leadership is similar across various sectors, including the nonprofit sector. Good leaders engage people to accomplish something extraordinary together. The successful leadership equation consists of methodical processes, clear goals, fair compensation and recognition plus clear communication.

Nonprofit leader core competencies include knowledge of financial management, fundraising, human resources, program knowledge, governance, planning ad community relations and communication. Nonprofit leaders must realize the dynamic nature of the organizations they lead as they pursue to make the world a better place.

A Get Fully Funded blog defined a leader as someone in a position of authority with the responsibility to guide a group. Good leadership makes sure everyone is on the same page. A nonprofit leader wears many hats. It is important that these leaders guide strategic planning and work effectively with their boards of directors. They need to make sure programs and services are delivered while managing others. Leaders must also plan, speak in public, recruit well, establish relationships, understand finance, manage time, lead people, delegate, have self care and learn to inspire others.

According to Mission Box, qualities of great nonprofit leaders include doing a great deal with limited resources. Individuals step up in times of crisis, combine knowledge with experience and attract people to the mission. True leaders understand people, listen and make the right calls. They live to open doors and define success. Barrier-breaking is important to them, and they care about their employees. Every attempt is made to take their organization to the next level of success. An effective leader takes personal accountability in making their team productive and fulfilled.

Tom Okarma’s “10 characteristics of Effective Nonprofit Leaders” is based upon the fact that the world is in increasing turmoil and great leadership is needed today. Effective leaders are confident, informed, mission-driven, tough, mentor-focused, retain key staff, recruit top board members, willing to try new methods, create healthy discomfort and aware of their teams SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The most successful leaders will need to have a clear vision and plan for securing that vision. They must be smart, flexible and driven by a force of passion that reinforces confidence.

William Moran of The Moran Company provides twelve attributes of great nonprofit leaders. These attributes are:

  1. Self starters: These people are doers.
  2. Passion for the organization’s mission: They are driven by the mission.
  3. Ability to accept and motivate others. This includes a variety of people from various backgrounds.
  4. “Servant leaders”: They are more concerned with giving than getting.
  5. Deal well with conflict: They can handle adversity with grace.
  6. Think strategically but implement tactically: They see the big picture plus little pictures.
  7. Financial acumen: They understand finance and budgeting.
  8. Fundraising skills: They have knowledge of fundraising techniques and experiencing in raising money.
  9. Ability to listen: They receive information and share various viewpoints.
  10. Sound judgment: They can sift through alternatives and collaborate with others.
  11. Persistence: They do not let obstacles stand in their way toward success.
  12. Stamina: They have physical and emotional stamina.

The Arts and Science Organization points out that certain traits have been observed in effective nonprofit leaders. These traits include having a clear destination in mind, mission driven, comfortable in own skin, are like Curious George, not know-it-alls, game to grab a coffee, do not let others drain their energy, not afraid to be audacious, embody a spirit of gratitude and not missed too much when they are gone. The leader continually works to make the organization stable, sustainable and succession-oriented.

A Forbes article emphasized the need for today’s nonprofit leader to have more than just technical knowledge and experience. That individual must be soft and hard plus have flexibility for changing environments. These leaders also better have adaptability, self-awareness and the ability to be a change manager. In addition, individuals in leading roles must have core values, resilience, noise-canceling vision, integrity and humility. The ability to be agile, talent motivators, empowering others, being a problem solver, having empathy and curiosity tendencies are a must.

Joe Garecht believes that nonprofits need powerful leadership to thrive in today’s complex world. Starting with the top of the organization, leadership must be promoted throughout the enterprise. In the best nonprofits, the following qualities are found at various levels, from the board down to operational directors. These qualities focus on being a nonprofit entrepreneur — big thinkers who dream and believe in the power of fundraising and strategic thinking. Good nonprofit leadership spends 5% of its time planning and 95% of its time doing. Leadership matters throughout the organization. Build leadership from within and inspire everyone to lead in their own way.

I do not believe entirely in the concept of “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Every member of a nonprofit must show leadership in his or her own way. Nonprofit leaders must own their area of responsibility for successful holistic results. They must strive to study leadership as it applies to them. Efforts must be made to lead at times and not to always follow. True organizational leadership is top-down, bottom-up and even sideways. Have pride and passion for yourself and your organization. It is contagious in a positive way, both internally and externally. Your nonprofit of today demands your best leadership efforts!

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