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Presidents' Day: Leadership Lessons for Nonprofits

IT'S SNOWING LIGHTLY IN THE NORTHEAST THIS Presidents' Day morning and I'm hoping that many of you have the day off to enjoy - what else? - cherry pie, a visit to a presidential home, library or gravesite; or settling in to watch Abe Lincoln in Illinois, the 1940 flick starring Raymond Massey. Twice in the last ten years, the folks at C-SPAN have asked presidential historians to rate the effectiveness of our commanders in chief in ten critical leadership areas. The most recent of these rankings was released last Presidents' Day (2009). If you'll forgive the fact that I'm a year late, I think you'll find this list of leadership qualities one worthy of incorporating into your recruitment strategies for nonprofit board and staff leaders. So, help yourself to another piece of pie and enjoy.

C-SPAN developed, presumably with the help of their presidential scholars, a list of ten key attributes of presidential leadership:

Public Persuasion: Here's a skill that any nonprofit board and staff leader will draw on routinely during internal meetings, and with external stakeholders be they loyal supporters or the toughest elected officials.

Crisis Leadership: We're in uncertain times.  Which nonprofits will survive, which will fail?  Who doesn't want a honest voice and a confident presence in the face of lost funding, program cutbacks, declining audience, building disasters, or bad press?

Economic Management: Shepherding financial resources shouldn't preclude some calculated risk-taking, however, it must be understood that it takes infinitely longer to build economic mass than it does to expend it.

Moral Authority: Now that would seem to come with the territory of nonprofit work, but it's never a given. Create a code of ethics or dust off the one you have.

(International) Relations: International for presidents; perhaps community (or whatever sandbox you play in) relations for nonprofits. Building and nurturing those networks can enhance your nonprofit's mission as well as save its bacon.

Administrative Skills: Even presidents need to know how to push work forward and encourage use of the best ways to do that. A nonprofit leader must keep committees, staff, and volunteers on track, on task and in communication. Time management, project management and facilitative skills, and use of technology not only get you closer to meeting goals, they become the models by which others can learn to work.

Relations with (Congress): Who is your organization's Congress? Is it a board of trustees?, a governmental agency? Are you able to reach out to them in meaningful ways and allow them to see themselves in the organization's mission?

Vision/Setting an Agenda: Board and staff leaders who are unable to articulate a future state of being for an organization and a way to get there, really aren't leading....they're following someone else's lead.

Pursued Equal Justice for All: I liken this one to pursuing an organization's mission by making it real and meaningful everyday.

Performance within Context of Times: For nonprofit leaders, knowing how external realities affect the organization, understanding the trends of cultural consumption and the trends within specific cultural industries (and across industries) all boost performance.

Photo:  Dolly Madison - George Washington from Waffle Whiffer 


Lisbeth Cort said…
Nice post, Anne. Thanks for a great list that's right to the point.

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