Skip to main content

Leadership: No Assumptions

IN MY LAST POST, I WROTE THAT CHANGING CAREERS or career focus is a powerful catalyst for shaking up sedentary thinking. It can reveal new professional perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. It can lead to new skills, networks, and best practices.  (It can also lead to sleepless nights, that slow-rising fear you overlooked something critically important that will come back to haunt you, and the trepidation of mastering a new technology. But that's another story for another time.)

For me right now, it's about revealing the many forms and pathways that organizational leadership can take. 

I've been a staff leader my entire working career. During that time I've learned a lot of leadership lessons, but I've also developed some predictable assumptions about what leaders do and personal expectations about what I, as an organizational leader, do.  Since shaking myself up eight months ago, my leadership assumptions have been tested in ways that often jump out from around a corner to completely take me by surprise, even after all these years. I keep reminding myself that I asked for this.

If you dive head first into the sea of leadership literature out there, you'll soon figure that a good leader is out in front, making the tough decisions, taking the heat, and being respected for all of that.  Indeed, that's a chunk of what leadership can be about.

Some organizations, however, want their leader to be less of the point person and more of a point guard, creating opportunities for others rather than themselves.  And some organizations thrive best when their staff leader is barely distinguishable from the rest of the staff.  More often than not these days, nonprofit leadership embodies all three (point person, point guard, and behind-the-scenes rainmaker), thus requiring a CEO to have a keen ability to read the organizational landscape and then act quickly and nimbly.

I'm intrigued by the quiet, back-of-the-room leadership that so often forms the backbone of many successful nonprofit organizations. It may come from the corner office, but it's just a likely to come from junior staff or the volunteer ranks. The fact is, it can come from anywhere at any time.

While boards of trustees have the critical stake in nurturing an organization's CEO, the CEO and department heads have just as big a stake in nurturing leadership at all levels throughout the organization.

The lesson in all of this is that leadership, or your understanding of it, is an organic thing.  It changes with you as you move through your career, as you move from organization to organization.  It can often look the same, with similar boundaries and expectations, but it is never quite the same.  Do yourself a big favor and don't assume that it is.


Popular posts from this blog

4 Nonprofit Resolutions for 2021

Even though 2020 will technically be in our rear view mirror soon, its ramifications will be with us for years to come. Make no mistake, there's a lot of work to do. So, here are my four really tough, but really important, resolutions designed to lay some solid groundwork for doing your best work in 2021. Aren't you glad there are only four? If you're interested in my resolutions from previous years, take a look here  and here .

4 Strategies to Pivot and Lead Through Disruption

Organizational Resiliency in This Crucible Moment

I am currently working with two colleagues from the cultural and heritage fields to think and write about organizational resiliency in times of upheaval and ambiguity. We believe resiliency in this crucible moment requires, first and foremost, nonprofit organizations activate equity and inclusion by embracing it as central to all their internal and external work. It begins when organizations commit the time to examine their own historical roots and practices as a critical step to ensure they “live” their most meaningful missions, visions, and values. Resiliency requires many organizations also renegotiate what it means to be valuable to their communities. The traditional idea of “value” has changed and is changing, and recognizing the extent to what our communities really value is key to being wanted, needed, and, thus relevant. All organizations must retool their financial mindsets, taking a hard look at their current financial realities and realigning the costs of doing business with