The key to your non-profit’s success? LEADERSHIP!

leadership3Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Dr. Pepper’s Shadow,” John talks about:

  • how we view leaders,
  • how our leaders’ words and deeds are hugely influential, and
  • how leaders can have an unintended impact on all types of situations.

I know that I’m oversimplifying John post, but everything he says points to how important leadership is to any organization. Like it or leave it . . . I believe it is likely the biggest factor in determining your successes and failures.

I’ve worked with non-profit organizations that have great programs, great mission, great vision, great staff, great systems, great policies and practices and great history, but they find themselves “in the tank” because leadership is lacking. As John talks about in his post, the leaders in my example are casting a “long shadow” and its impact is negative.

I’ve also worked with non-profit organizations that have serious gaps and deficiencies. They lack resources, their technology is bad, their systems and policies are poor or nonexistent. . . and they seem to overcome all of it. In these cases, it is always the leader who makes a huge difference.


I’m also not just talking about a non-profit organization’s executive director. I’m also referencing board leadership.

The reason I am on a leadership kick this morning is because of an online article I read a few weeks ago about J. C. Penney at

Here is the story in a nutshell:

  • J.C. Penney’s hires a new CEO.
  • The new CEO boldly casts a new vision and changes everything!
  • Everyone follows the new CEO. (He has a LONG shadow)
  • The new strategy doesn’t seem to work and a lot of money is lost.
  • The board fires the new CEO and stock prices go up as investor confidence rises.
  • The board hires the previous CEO and stock prices go down.

There is a lot going on with this story, and I suspect John can carve two or three different blog posts out of it. However, I will point to the one obvious thing . . . “LEADERSHIP! Everyone places tremendous importance on this idea and that person casts a long shadow!”


Now there are all sorts of ideas floating around about leadership. Servant leadership, situational leadership, democratic leadership, charismatic leadership, bureaucratic leadership, and the list goes on and on. There are also all different kinds of leaders.

One point of view on leadership that I’ve become enamored with in the last few years comes from organizational psychologist and management consultant, Noel Tichy, who has worked with a number of troubled and successful companies throughout the years. Here is what he has to say about successful organizations and leadership in the introduction of his book, “The Leadership Engine“:

“The answer I have come up with is that winning companies win because they have good leaders who nurture the development of other leaders at all levels of the organization. The ultimate test of success for an organization is not whether it can win today but whether it can keep winning tomorrow and the day after. Therefore, the ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decisions and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to be leaders and builds an organization that can sustain its success even when he or she is not around. They key ability of winning organizations and winning leaders is creating leaders.”

Uh-oh . . . I may be starting to border on another hot topic and age-old question . . . “Can leadership be taught or are leaders born?” John tackled this question (with regards to a servant leadership paradigm) in his post titled “Born, Not Made“.

I going to stop here and remain at 50,000 feet with my original observations:

  • leadership is important,
  • everyone looks at the leader and they cast a long shadow, and
  • leadership seems to be the great equalizer (and it can make or break your organization).

Does your non-profit organization have great leaders sitting in the CEO and board president’s chairs? How do you know if they are great leaders? Have you ever seen a great organization with bad leadership at the helm? Do you have a “point of view” around leadership like Noel Tichy or John Greco? If so, what is it?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

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