Non-profit leadership is the great equalizer

leadership2Last night I had the privilege of being invited to a non-profit organization’s year-end holiday party stewardship event. In attendance were board members, capital campaign volunteers, auxiliary members, and various other stakeholders. There was no solicitation presentations, but there were a few powerful testimonials from alumni and lots of gratitude. The energy in the room was palpable, and I was reminded me of the old expression that “hope floats“.  It was in this dynamic setting that I had an amazing conversation with someone about the power of leadership.
In the middle of the event, I got locked into a conversation with a former board member. He is an alumnus of the agency’s programs, and he did two different stints on the board of directors. So, the conversation naturally migrated to how much the organization has changed throughout the many decades he has been involved.
Right in the middle of the conversation about organizational change and capacity building, this gentleman paused, appeared to reflect genuinely about what he was going to say, and then said:

“It is all about leadership and who the board hires to lead the organization.”

While I like to think your organization’s formula for success is about a variety of ingredients, I can’t really argue with this wise alumni and former board member’s assessment. I’ve seen lots of organizations overcome large gaps in their formula for success just because they have the right leaders sitting around the boardroom table and sitting in the CEO’s seat.
This comment also got me thinking about a recent CEO job search process that I helped a client lead. There was lots of conversation around “what does the right person look like” and what skill sets and experiences does the right person need to possess.
leadership1The following is a list of competencies and skill sets the search committee reviewed during its search criteria conversations:
Communication skills

  • Informing
  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Writing

Decision making skills

  • Analyzing
  • Fact Finding
  • Innovating
  • Judgment
  • Problem Solving
  • Systemic Thinking

Developing Organizational Talent

  • Coaching
  • Delegating
  • Performance Management
  • Providing Feedback
  • Staff Development

Leadership Skills

  • Developing Commitment
  • Empowering
  • Encouraging Innovation
  • Facilitation
  • Influencing
  • Leading By Example
  • Managing Change
  • Providing Recognition
  • Team Building

Personal Initiation Skills

  • Contributing to a Positive Work Environment
  • Organizational Awareness
  • Personal Development
  • Proactivity
  • Professional Development
  • Striving for Excellence

Planning Skills

  • Action Planning & Organizing
  • Business Planning
  • Monitoring
  • Project Management
  • Recruitment
  • Strategic Planning
  • Time Management

Quality Skills

  • Implementing Quality Improvements
  • Satisfying Customer Requirements
  • Using Meaningful Measurements

Relationship Skills

  • Conflict Management
  • Meeting Skills
  • Negotiating
  • Networking
  • Relationship Building
  • Teamwork

Safety, Health & Environment Skills

  • Fostering Organizational Wellness
  • Supporting a Safe Environment

Hmmmm? Leadership is the great equalizer, but it certainly starts looking complicated once you begin searching for it.    🙂
What skill sets have you looked for when trying to hire or recruit the right leaders into your non-profit organization? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Erik, thank you for today “its all about leadership post” BGCNJ is looking to hire a new CEO in the near future and as a member of the search committee your information is invaluable …
    Happy Holidays

  2. As always Erik, you have hit the nail on the head. I will print these attribute out and post them on the wall above my desk to constantly remind me of my roll in the organization.

  3. Hi Erik- always love the ingredients of a good leader. Hope those on the comittee understand that this is a wish list. Be careful not to infuse the organization into a Stepford community. In my experience, one most appreciated skill is surrounding yourself with talent and encouraging them to be great.

    1. Hi Beth … I’m certainly not looking for the same person with identical looks, traits and characteristics. I’m talking about skill sets, which from my point of view is very different. I’ve seen two people — both with similar competencies in communications, leadership, talent development, planning, etc — and they were two very different types of executive directors. They approached employees differently. They handled challenging situations differently. They communicated differently. However, they were equally proficient in the aforementioned skill set areas.
      Additionally, people’s personalities and their passion for doing certain things (e.g. fundraising vs. program vs. admin vs. marketing) have nothing to do with their skill sets. When you factor in these diversity elements, it is next to impossible to get to the Stepford example you present.
      I certainly appreciate your participation and hope you never work at the Stepford Agency of Nonprofits. LOL 🙂

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