Friday, September 18, 2009

Leading from the Edge

THIS POST IS FOR ALL OF YOU WHO DON'T carry the title of president, chairperson, CEO, director, department head or anything remotely related to our typical understanding of "leader". This post is about modeling and exerting leadership when you're not at the epicenter of organizational decision-making; when your voice is one of many -- part of the Greek chorus as it were.

The beauty of nonprofit life is the prospect of leadership coming from anywhere, even in the most hierarchical of organizations. It can come from taking on small assignments that make a positive impact on the work of others, from encouraging others to bring their best work everyday, or from offering alternative perspectives to well-worn discussions. The one thing that is required is participation.

So, let's say you're the new kid on a long-standing committee. Somebody tapped you for a reason -- if that wasn't made evident when you were recruited, ask the chairperson about his/her expectations for your participation. Offer thoughts about how those expectations and your skills/interests intersect. (Mismatched assignments could offer you "growth opportunities", but it's likely they won't be helpful to either the committee or to you.) Then take on a task right away to establish your relationship with the group.

Engage supervisors or board chair-people in helping you expand your skill sets and responsibilities.
Encourage them to create an environment where any staff member or volunteer can be a leader in their own right.

Share your skills with co-workers. Pay your gains forward when you can.

The best nonprofits have room for leaders at every level. It's not the title so much as it is the attitude and what you do with it.

Photo: This Way from nic_and_nath

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