Can you put your finger on what exactly ‘non-profit leadership’ is?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Last Friday, we talked about John’s blog post titled “I Disagree. Now What?” and related it to the idea that sometimes non-profit organizations need to decline a contribution from a donor because it has too many strings attached or doesn’t align with your agency’s strategic direction. We spent a lot of time in last Friday’s post talking about when you might have to say ‘NO’ and how to minimize how often that happens.

Since last Friday, John posted an interesting follow-up piece titled “Obeying: Murky Middle Ground,” which is the basis of today’s post about non-profit leadership.

In John’s post, his readers find murky middle ground to the idea of “obeying” because an employee can mildly comply with the organization’s direction without actively supporting it. I’ve seen it way too often, and I bet that you have, too. Here are two examples I’ve witnessed in recent years:

  • An executive director asks their fundraising professional to help with writing the agency’s resource development plan. The development director was overwhelmed and saw it as just “one more thing” that the executive director was unloading onto their already heaping chart of work. So, they dragged their feet and submitted the bare minimum, knowing it would result in more work for the executive director in the end.
  • A fundraising volunteer agreed (albeit grudgingly) to work a few pledge cards for the agency’s annual campaign. They missed every report meeting and dodged every phone call. One week before the deadline, they disregarded every best practice and all of the training they had received and picked up the phone to solicit their prospects.

John is so right when he says, “For leaders, with respect to ‘obeying’ the bar is raised significantly.  It is not enough to comply.  Compliance is not the same thing as commitment.  Leaders must . . . actively support.  They must be committed to the course of action.”

I’ve recently heard a group of non-profit friends talking about the distinction between LEADING and MANAGING when it comes to non-profit board volunteers, fundraising volunteers, executive directors and fundraising professionals.

Of course, I find it very interesting that no one seems able to agree on what constitutes “LEADERSHIP“. For example . . .

Wikipedia defines leadership as: “A process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task“. They go on to describe other theories and definitions around the concept of leadership.

The Team Technology website defines leadership in relation to management in the following way: “Leadership is setting a new direction or vision for a group that they follow (ie: a leader is the spearhead for that new direction). Management controls or directs people/resources in a group according to principles or values that have already been established.”

Noel Tichy looks at leadership through a teaching lens and describes leadership as, “Developing managers into leaders at all levels is the key to sustained success of any organization. The winning organizations will possess a ‘virtuous teaching cycle’ where everyone teaches and everyone learns in order to provide the ideas, energy and the edge needed to make the right decisions.”

Is it possible that the idea of non-profit leadership is highly complicated and downright confusing at times? Of course! Is it also possible that all of these competing definitions may not be competing at all . . . they might all describe this complicated idea? Yup!!!

Let’s deconstruct all of these definitions:

  • Is an effective non-profit leader someone who brings other people together and rallies them to do something for the greater good of the organization and society? YES, and this makes them a collaborator and supporter, too.
  • Is a leader someone who has a vision? Of course! Not only can they secure buy-in from others, but they actively engage folks while simultaneously rolling up their sleeves to work on that vision.
  • Are leaders teachers? You betcha! Good leaders develop other leaders and do so through mentoring and on-the-job leadership programs focused on projects and experiential learning.

I bet that we can go on and on today talking about how leaders have a higher calling and must do more than just “obey” . . . they must buy-in, actively support, teach, provide vision, and collaborate.

What did we miss? What else do you see leaders doing at your non-profit organization. Please use the comment box below to share your point of view on what describes “leadership”.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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