An Open Letter to the Largest Percentage of the Nonprofit Workforce
Dear Generation Millennial,
In 2014, those of you born between 1980 and 2000 became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, including the social sector—those working in the purpose space either for nonprofit or for-profit organizations. Half of you are already occupying management roles.
Five years in, what’s clear to the rest of us is that you don’t view leadership the way previous generations did, or do.
You are much less interested in traditional, hierarchical leadership than in something that is much more collaborative and cross-functional.
In fact, you are not content to take up the leadership style that has preceded you. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, more than a third of Millennials surveyed believed that within 10 years, "... the CEO role will no longer be relevant in its current format." This may stem from the fact that, while 91% of Millennials said they aspire to leadership roles, 83% would also prefer to work for organizations with fewer layers of management—indicating that Millennials are seeking out a less top-down approach to leadership.
Never more has the notion that anyone in an organization can be a leader—and that leadership can sprout from anywhere in an organization—rung truer.
So are you a leader? If so, what makes you one? If not, why not and could you be? Is leadership born within you or made within you?
What’s more, is leadership something you can actually teach and learn? Can you be a leader without ever leading something? Business schools insist you can. Even today, three-plus decades into modern studies on the subject, there’s no real definition of leadership. We can make people more conscious of ethical dilemmas in business, of the difficulty of directing people in times of adversity and the confidence and communication skills necessary to do so. But the idea that such skills can be transmitted so that you can lead anybody at any time, well, that’s ideologically vacuous.
In truth, leadership is practically anything anyone wants to say it is, and leaders are anyone who is so designated or inclined.
And maybe that is the problem in the world today. The problem of online testing for leadership; of degrees in leadership; of confusing entrepreneurialism with leadership and entrepreneurs as leaders; of politicians who confuse power to disrupt with leadership; of other politicians who confuse access to public forum as leadership; of business heads who mistake fear with leadership; and other business heads who confuse title and leadership… and on and on…
The reality is, we are faced with a lack of true and inspiring leaders and true and inspiring leadership. And so we put our faith in you, the great Generation Millennial.
Consider the following thought from the great Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why”:
“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them; they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”
The problem is we need you to be the leaders to inspire the already motivated and that is where we are falling down and can’t get up. (That’s a commercial before your time. Google it. I promise you’ll enjoy.)
What is the most important thing you can learn about authentic leadership—what it is and isn’t? For my money, it’s that leadership in this world today is not about one’s knowledge (horizontal intelligence)—it’s about one’s wisdom (vertical intelligence), or known by another name, emotional intelligence.
To grow in your leadership, regardless of your title or your spot on the organizational chart at your job, here’s a short ingredient list:
You have realistic self-confidence: You understand your own strengths and limitations; you operate from competence and know when to rely on someone else.
Emotional insight: You understand your feelings. Being aware of what makes you angry, for instance, can help you manage that anger.
Resilience: You stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets. You don’t brood or panic. In a crisis, people look to the leader for reassurance; if the leader is calm, they can be, too.
Emotional balance: You keep any distressed feelings in check—instead of blowing up at people, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is.
Self-motivation: You keep moving toward distant goals despite setbacks.
Because you understand other perspectives, you can put things in ways other people comprehend. And you welcome their questions, just to be sure. Empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication.
Good listening: You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda.
4. Relationship Skills
Compelling communication: You put your points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated as well as clear about expectations.
Team playing: People feel relaxed working with you. One sign: They laugh easily around you.
If you think you can learn leadership, this is as good a place as any to start.
Sharks are not leaders; predators are not leaders—do not confuse getting ahead at any cost with leadership.
Take it from this Gen-Xer: You will go further by refining your emotional intelligence (wisdom) skills than you’ll ever get by amassing more and more knowledge. Tuck these following wisdom tips away:
- Leaders lead—behind the scenes in times of calm and out in front in times of turmoil.
- Leaders listen—always have ideas, but be ready to replace them in an instant if someone has a better one. Don’t be married to your ideas; be married to the best ideas.
- Leaders care—you are not the only one with a life; and if you don’t have one, don’t impose that void on anyone, but leaders do have lives.
- Leaders win and lose—when they win, they give the credit away… and when they lose, they assume the accountability.
- Leaders are relentless—they never give up… no matter what. Nothing is insurmountable.
- Leaders compromise—because sometimes never giving up equals compromise.
- Leaders smile—because it never hurts to smile, and it attracts others to their leadership.
- Leaders listen—because the person asking questions and doing the listening is ACTUALLY the person in charge of the conversation.
- And finally, leaders are much more concerned with doing the right things than with doing things right.
Scott Koskoski is the managing director of Changing Our World. Prior to joining Changing Our World, Scott served for four years as the co-founder and principal of a fundraising consulting firm that led a significant percentage of its clients to secure the single-largest gifts in their histories.
Prior to this, Scott spent 20 years as both a frontline individual contributor and development administrator, both participating in and leading fundraising teams and campaigns. His experience has been largely in major gifts, board engagement, corporate and foundation relations, annual giving, special events and staff leadership development.
Scott is a graduate of Mercyhurst University and Robert Morris University. He is a past trustee and National Alumni Association board president at Mercyhurst and currently serves on its Presidents Associates group. He is a former AFP board member for both the Denver Metro and Western Pennsylvania chapters.
Scott currently serves on the boards of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Resurrection Power, Washington Youth Baseball and is an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Washington, Pa.