Are You Focused on All 3 Areas of Leadership?
Assuming a new nonprofit leadership role can be a bit bewildering. One of the surprises new leaders have is that leadership requires a broader view than most leaders give to it.
Many nonprofit leaders tend to think of leading as something they do to others. Of course, it is necessary to lead the people you have been promoted to oversee. But nonprofit leaders who only focus on the team find themselves caught off guard when challenges arise. That is because focusing solely on the team creates a tunnel vision. In reality, leaders need to lead in three areas, not just one.
1. The Team
It is natural to develop team-only tunnel vision. In our typical nonprofit organizational structures, when you are an employee, you look to the leader. Ideally, the leader gives direction. Corrects course when needed. And ensures the staff has the resources needed for tasks.
So when you are promoted to the next level of leadership, rather than looking to the leader, you now look to the team.
Take an orchestra for example. As a musician, you look to the conductor. But if you were going to conduct the orchestra, you would need to get out of your seat, turn your back to the audience and face the musicians.
Unfortunately, that is not enough for a leader. Leading the team is one of three areas.
2. The Cause
In addition to being leaders of their team, nonprofit leaders need to be leaders in their cause. It is no longer enough to be good at your work. As a leader, you now need to be constantly gauging if your work is still the right work or if your work is even needed any longer.
As a nonprofit leader, you need to keep up with what developments are happening in the area of your mission. Are there new modes of accomplishing the same goals? Are there collaboration opportunities with other organizations? Are there legislative issues that might help or hinder you fulfilling your mission?
And, as a nonprofit leader, you need to constantly be aware of solid and equitable nonprofit fundraising strategies. If your nonprofit relies on donated funds to operate, you need to understand how donated funds actually happen. Before you were a leader, you may have had opinions about fundraising. Now it is necessary for you to have facts. You need to collaborate with your fundraising team, not just rely on them.
If you are not the executive director but a leader of a department then your cause is likely a mix of the mission awareness your executive director should have and the strategies and changes in your area of expertise. If you are a nonprofit chief financial officer, you would want to know not just about the mission area your nonprofit helps, but also up-to-date knowledge of finances and accounting. For example, you might want to make sure someone who understands nonprofits invests your nonprofit’s endowment, so it’s not invested in a way to protect assets from taxes — since nonprofits are not taxed.
For whatever level of leadership to which you are promoted, it is important to lead in that area in addition to leading your team. This will involve going to conferences, attending webinars, reading books and listening to podcasts. It may also include being on the board of professional associations — or at least less formally meeting with peers in similar roles.
Being aware of leading in these two areas will make you more effective as a leader. But it could certainly overwhelm you if you do not attend to the third area of leading.
For some reason, we tend to think the skills that got us promoted to a leadership level are the skills that will keep us in that level. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a new employee, you needed tactical skills that helped you solve a problem. If all you do with your new leadership role is solve problems, you will find yourself burnt out. You will have your own problems to solve and you will be solving those of each member of the team. Even worse, the people you think you are helping will think you are micromanaging.
As you grow in leadership responsibility, you need to grow in the ability to help people solve their own problems. This involves a deep level of personal leadership and awareness. It takes personal leadership to not jump in and come to the rescue when something is wrong. That puts you at the center of the activity. As a leader, you need to learn to let others shine.
This is where value clarification and finding out about your personality traits and strengths come into play. This will help you learn to speak the dialect of the other people you work with, To be able to connect with their values, and to be able to help them connect their values to the nonprofit’s work.
Personal leadership also includes taking time for your physical and mental health, including things like exercise programs, annual physicals and therapists. Modeling healthy habits sets a powerfully positive example for the entire nonprofit.
It sounds counterintuitive that the best way to beat overwhelm as a leader is to move from just focusing on your team to focusing also on your cause and yourself. But what leaders find is, as they focus on all three areas, they can identify tasks, strategies and patterns that reduce the number of emergencies. And that they have more ability to roll with the rapid changes happening in nonprofits right now.
So if you are leading, ask yourself if you are focusing on all three areas of leadership. And then set aside time in your calendar for each area. Your nonprofit deserves it. And so do you.
Concord Leadership Group founder Marc A. Pitman, CSP, helps leaders lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. Whether it’s through one-on-one coaching of executives, conducting high-engagement trainings or growing leaders through his ICF-accredited coach certification program, his clients grow in stability and effectiveness.
He is the author of "The Surprising Gift of Doubt: Use Uncertainty to Become the Exceptional Leader You Are Meant to Be." He’s also the author of "Ask Without Fear!"— which has been translated into Dutch, Polish, Spanish and Mandarin. Marc’s expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences around the world both in person and with online presentations.
He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing '80s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family!