Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity … Continue reading “Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership”

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program that confirmed some practices that allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills and create a path for sustaining my leadership.

Leadership

Today, serving the nonprofit sector as a consultant, I have the opportunity to be a facilitator of leadership development programs. I draw from my diversity of experiences as an executive director and the seven key themes that sustained me in those positions.

Start with fire in the belly.

You absolutely must be passionate about the work that you are doing. That energy is what will drive you in tough times and will motivate your staff to do their best work. When people are feeling down and struggling, they will look to you as a barometer of the organization’s health. If you can’t see the path to better times, they won’t either. This is not to say you should be wearing rose-colored glasses but, as suggested by Jim Collins in Good to Great, it reminds me of the “Stockdale paradox”: acknowledging the brutal facts, but never losing hope is essential to success.

Everyone is a leader; leadership is a team sport.

Leadership is not a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a “star is born” phenomenon. I learned this when I started playing Little League in 1972. Everyone is a leader in some way, and the trick as an “anointed leader” is to identify the key to opening that leadership pathway in those around you. One tactic to avoid burnout is to spread the load of leadership throughout your organization. In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., calls this “roving leadership.” The only way to open that leadership pathway is to listen deeply to those around you to determine how their passion fits with the vision of the organization.

When staff feel that their thoughts actually do matter and that everyone is in the same boat trying to get to the same destination, there is a greater interest in paddling together. You must be genuine and authentic in your actions. When you say you want people’s input, it must be true, and your behavior must be in alignment with your statements. Leaders who are dictators in disguise will only achieve what they individually desire. There is greater success in collective power than in the power of one.

Create an environment that rewards learning and innovation.

We live in a world that seems to be changing with greater speed with each generation. As a leader, you have to be a change agent, not an idea squelcher. Fostering the desire to learn and explore new ways to address challenges enhances your success. This will keep your work interesting and allow your organization to be more effective. Many of the leadership gurus — Peter Senge, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and John Kotter — all emphasize the importance of life-long learning as an attribute of effective leaders.

Recharge your battery.

It is very easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of communication, particularly email, and never lift your head. This trap will become a downward spiral to burnout if you don’t carve out some space on a regular basis that allows you to fully unplug. Whether it is doing something outside, reading something completely unrelated to work, cooking or playing music, you must protect a segment of time that is dedicated to clearing your head of everything that burdens you as a leader. You owe it to yourself and to the cause you are serving. Take Tony Schwartz’s Energy Audit to see how you are doing.

Celebrate.

The work that you do can be fraught with what seems to be insurmountable challenges on a regular basis. One approach to mitigating the effects of these difficulties is to create a culture of intentional celebration. It could be opening your staff meeting with a standing agenda item of “Thanks and Acknowledgements,” or creating the organization’s “Let the Fun Begin” committee that is responsible for maintaining a level of celebration in the organization. Social support networks enhance productivity, psychological well being and even physical health, so make your workplace such a network.

Build a network of support.

Being a leader, particularly in an executive director position, can be a lonely place. It is important to identify a support network, perhaps a breakfast club or monthly brown bag lunches with fellow executive directors who have the same struggles as you and who can offer insights and support in maintaining your sense of purpose and inspiration.

Preparing for nonprofits of the future.

Because my generation bridges the baby boomer and Gen X generations, I have been fortunate to see the world through glasses with both sets of lenses. A leader’s appreciation of generational work styles is critical to success. Boomers display a heightened sense of commitment, dedication and long-term loyalty to one organization and employ a more traditional leadership style, whereas Gen Xers approach leadership as a flexible, “open source” affair, a collaborative work style that conveys the sense that it is everyone’s business, and we all have to do our part to achieve success.

When approaching leadership with these key themes in mind, you are sustaining yourself and developing your bench strength. You are creating a pathway for the next generation of leaders who will be ready to take over when their time comes if it hasn’t already arrived.

This article was originally published at Causeplanet.org, February 27, 2009.

Is Your Organization Leaderful?

I’m excited to lead a discussion on Leadership Succession Planning for Wegner CPAs Nonprofit Roundtable, in Milwaukee on October 15, and the subject of succession planning has led me to reflect on my past experience as an executive director of five different nonprofits. Unsurprisingly, not one of those organizations had a succession plan in place … Continue reading “Is Your Organization Leaderful?”

I’m excited to lead a discussion on Leadership Succession Planning for Wegner CPAs Nonprofit Roundtable, in Milwaukee on October 15, and the subject of succession planning has led me to reflect on my past experience as an executive director of five different nonprofits.

Unsurprisingly, not one of those organizations had a succession plan in place before I departed.  In one instance, a successor was named before I departed. In another, I was able to help identify an interim executive director before leaving.

In all of these situations, my departure was disruptive for the organization, not because I wasn’t replaceable, but because change in leadership is disruptive. Having a plan in place would have lessened that disruption.

baton

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services has published many resources on Executive Transition and I have found “Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofits”  to be a very informative guide to preparing for the inevitable…leadership transition!

Tim Wolfred cites three types of succession plans:

1.    Strategic Leader Development

2.    Emergency Succession

3.    Departure-defined Succession

Each of these approaches start with building leadership within the organization. Disruption is minimized when successors come from within the organization.  Here are some key questions to gauge how prepared your organization is for leadership transition:

1.    Does your organization have a strategic plan that includes staff leadership development?

2.    Is the board evaluating the executive annually? Does it understand the scope of the position?

3.    Do the executive director direct reports receive evaluations and are they solidly performing?

4.    Is the top management team high performing and capable to lead the organization in the absence of the executive?

5.    Are key external relationships shared beyond the executive – with either another staff person or board member?

6.    Do the organizational financial systems meet industry standards and are reports generated regularly for board and staff?

7.    Do operating manuals and personnel policies exist? Are they easily accessible and up to date?

8.    Have top program staff documented key duties in writing and identified another staff person to assume duties in an emergency?

If you answered  “yes” to all of these questions, you are miles ahead of the majority of nonprofits. You can then focus on building the leadership throughout your organization through targeted professional development plans and documented emergency succession plans. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you have a place to start to build the organization’s capacity for transition.

Don’t wait until you or your Executive Director have one foot out the door.  Your organization will be in much better shape if you plan for the transition.  That is the type of legacy all leaders want to leave.

What advice do you have for nonprofits facing a leadership transition?

Launching Leadership Advanced Milwaukee

About 18 months ago, I met with Steve Zimmerman, Principal of  Spectrum Nonprofit Services.  Steve and I both came to Wisconsin from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Previously, Steve had worked for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I had worked for La Piana Consulting. We met to discuss our perspectives about the nonprofit sector and how … Continue reading “Launching Leadership Advanced Milwaukee”

About 18 months ago, I met with Steve Zimmerman, Principal of  Spectrum Nonprofit Services.  Steve and I both came to Wisconsin from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Previously, Steve had worked for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I had worked for La Piana Consulting. We met to discuss our perspectives about the nonprofit sector and how we might collaborate.

MIlwaukeeNightSkylineIn sharing his observations of the Milwaukee nonprofit sector, one comment Steve made sparked the design of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee (LAM).  His statement below resonated with me as I’m sure it resonates with many readers of this blog.

“Nonprofits have access to a lot of tools to aid in management, but it takes leadership to utilize those tools to their fullest potential and there aren’t as many resources dedicated to developing and supporting those leaders.” – Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services

I am passionate about helping nonprofits invest in their greatest asset: their leaders. I’ve spent most of my nonprofit career leading various-sized nonprofit organizations and the majority of my consulting work has been focused on designing and facilitating nonprofit leadership programs.  I founded Vista Global Coaching & Consulting with an emphasis on consulting organizations and coaching leaders so they can make a difference in the world.

Since that first meeting, Steve and I designed the LAM program based on a peer-centered learning model.  We met with potential funders to recruit support for our nonprofit leadership program that blends management skill development and leadership development.  Our concept was well received and funding was confirmed in March 2013.  We began recruitment in the end of May 2013 and selected our inaugural class on August 1.

On September 11-12, 2013 the first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows and board members from their organizations will convene to begin their 8-month journey.  In this kick-off session, some of the topics we will explore include personal leadership, the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards, nonprofit organizational life cycles and articulating your organization’s intended impact.

I am honored to be partnering with Steve and this impressive group of dedicated nonprofit leaders to build stronger nonprofits and a stronger community.  A warm welcome our first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows:

Kate Bradley, Education Director, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

Maureen Crowley, Program Director, Charles E. Benidt Foundation

Martina Gollin-Graves, Project and Outreach Manager, Mental Health America of WI

Beth Haskovec, Executive Director, Artists Working in Education, Inc.

Carol Keintz, Executive Director, Next Door Foundation

Amy Lindner, CEO, Meta House, Inc.

Dan Magnuson, Executive Director, Pathfinders

Laura Maker, Director of Development, Diverse & Resilient

Brenda Peterson, Executive Director, Volunteer Center of Ozaukee County

Kim Schubring, Family and Youth Program Director, Bay View Community Center of Milwaukee

Donna Triplett, Director of Development, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center

Is your foundation interested in supporting nonprofit leaders? Are you a nonprofit leader seeking resources?  Contact me today and let’s work together to make a difference in the world.

The Road Signs of Leadership in Action

I recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an incredible place rich in culture, natural beauty,  archeological history, delicious food and fantastic weather. But that isn’t what this blog post is about! My partner Andy and I have spent a lot of time in Latin America during our lives.  I think it … Continue reading “The Road Signs of Leadership in Action”

I recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an incredible place rich in culture, natural beauty,  archeological history, delicious food and fantastic weather. But that isn’t what this blog post is about!

My partner Andy and I have spent a lot of time in Latin America during our lives.  I think it is fair to say that the “rules of the road” and common courtesies that we experience while in our vehicles in the United States generally don’t apply.  I would say that more often, it is every driver for him or herself.

As a pedestrian, you adjust and prepare for sprinting across the street when it appears the coast is clear, regardless of whether there is a light in your direction or not because that rule doesn’t often apply.  If you are a Californian and you are accustomed to stepping off a curb to see all vehicles jam on their brakes to allow you to cross, you need to hit the delete button because that behavior could result in a visit to the hospital.

This trip something changed. In fact we noticed as soon as we arrived, cars were following traffic laws, cars were stopping when we crossed the street. We looked at each other and both acknowledged something had changed.

We then spoke to an American who had been living in Oaxaca for 10 years and she said, “yes, the city has made a concerted effort to make driving more civilized and it is working.” We asked “How?”  She said, “They put up these Yield signs that said, ‘1 x 1, First you then me’.”

Oaxaca Traffic Sign
“First you then me.” – new traffic signs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw this sign and watched drivers do just that…..”First you then me.”  I thought to myself, “This is leadership right here on the streets of Oaxaca City!”  I am a believer in the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. It is easy to remember and it is globally transferable.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

  1. Model the Way: Do what you say you will do and others will follow.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Streets where traffic moves smoothly and cars share the road with pedestrians.
  3. Challenge the Process: Take initiative to do something innovative like put up new signs.
  4. Enable Others to Act: Trust that others will follow if you foster collaboration. This only worked because everyone collaborated.
  5. Encourage the Heart: Create the spirit of community, celebrate success. As pedestrians we were thrilled when drivers waved us across the street.

Have you seen leadership in action while walking down the street? Share your story!

What’s Goverance Got to Do with It?

Over my twenty years in the nonprofit sector I have held different seats at the governance table. As a member of an all-volunteer organization, I’ve experienced serving on a board that worked essentially as the staff. As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I experienced a relationship with the board as my boss. While serving … Continue reading “What’s Goverance Got to Do with It?”

Over my twenty years in the nonprofit sector I have held different seats at the governance table.

As a member of an all-volunteer organization, I’ve experienced serving on a board that worked essentially as the staff. As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I experienced a relationship with the board as my boss. While serving as a board chair, I was the leader of the board. In my professional work as a consultant, I am brought in to support boards in reaching their greatest potential.

What have I learned based on my experience in each of these roles? Your organization is only as healthy as your board.

governance wordle

When boards and board members are working in coordination with staff, the organization has leveraged the talents, and resources of 10-20 more people…for free!

When boards and board members are not working in coordination with staff, the organization stalls out.

I have seen the latter dysfunctional situation often as both a board member and as a consultant.  In these situations, staff start to work around or ignore the board, viewing the board as “a necessary evil.”  Board members wonder why the Executive isn’t “doing as they say.”

So what are the key elements to an effective board-executive partnership?  Although it was originally written for the corporate sector, the work of David Nadler, Beverly Behan and Mark Nadler, published by the Harvard Business Review on Building Better Boards, is a timeless resource for building engaged boards.

Key Elements of an Engaged Board

1. The Mind-Set: Board-building is an ongoing activity, continuous improvement means annual self-assessments.

2. The Role: The board needs to be an engaged partner with the chief executive and playing the correct role for each situation. Is it a fiduciary role, strategic role or generative role? This resource explores the role of Governance as Leadership.

3. The Work: Identify the areas where the board can add the greatest value and focus attention here.

4. The People: The right people are not merely based on technical expertise but other competencies related to programs, external environment, quality of input and style of interaction.

5. The Agenda: Agendas dictate the work of the board. “show and tells” kill board meetings and crowd out time for serious and important discussions. Boards need to find ways to engage with the organization outside of official meetings so “show and tells” during meetings can be limited.

6. The Information:  Boards can be left in the dark by either too much information to digest or information malnutrition. I have seen board tomes of 300 pages! Don’t only be a “recipient” of information but seek it out.  Board members should be encouraged to collect and share information that they have identified externally.

7. The Culture: Robert’s Rules of Order are great obstacles to an engaged board. Use them sparingly.  Engaged board cultures are characterized by candor, willingness to challenge thinking (respectfully), camaraderie, and teamwork.

Where is your board in getting it right?  Take a look at some of the other great resources on nonprofit governance or contact me to discuss next steps in building an engaged board.

Resources:
BoardSource
Blue Avocado
Nonprofit Quarterly

How to Design Opportunities for the 21st Century Volunteer

Volunteerism in the U.S. has changed significantly over the last 50 years.  In 2012, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 64.5 million people volunteered in the previous year.   In previous research conducted in 2008, the largest change in the hours spent volunteering was in the 20-24 year old age group.  In the most … Continue reading “How to Design Opportunities for the 21st Century Volunteer”

Volunteerism in the U.S. has changed significantly over the last 50 years.  In 2012, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 64.5 million people volunteered in the previous year.   In previous research conducted in 2008, the largest change in the hours spent volunteering was in the 20-24 year old age group.  In the most recent report in 2012, the people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer.

For volunteer programs to be successful moving forward, they must be designed to appeal to these demographics. What does that mean? Between juggling full-time work and starting a family, younger volunteers need fun and flexibility.

Volunteer opportunities need to be broken down into small pieces. “Episodic volunteering” is a term used to provide smaller, more manageable commitments.  Microvolunteering is even less time commitment. This allows individuals to offer minutes of their time to help organizations.   Sparked has developed a internet based platform that allows individuals and organizations to solve problems online in real-time all over the world.

So how do you design a volunteer program for the 21st Century volunteer?

1. Break it down: Provide short-term opportunities.

2. Ask yourself: How can we use the internet?

3. Find that Perfect Match: Align the interest of the volunteer, the organization and the client being served.

4. Make it fun!

Do you want learn more about effective volunteer engagement? Watch this presentation I recently gave at the University of Wisconsin, Communiversity Series, in Madison.

Or explore these other resources:

Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources in the Community (McCurley & Lynch, 2011)
The Volunteerism Bibliography
Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action
Corporation for National Service
Virtual Volunteering Project
Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement