Granting Grace: The Next Step for Nonprofit Leaders
With increased expectations and shifting workplace norms, leadership within nonprofits has never been more challenging. One of the key strategies for modern leadership is fostering an environment of curiosity, using questions to build relationships and steer toward clear outcomes. However, for nonprofit leaders, there's another fundamental aspect that tends to get neglected — extending grace to yourself while tackling a plethora of responsibilities.
As leaders, we know being patient and understanding with their team members helps improve morale and overall team effectiveness. But it's equally essential for leaders to give themselves the same kindness and understanding.
For some reason, we tend to do this well when our staff grapples with external pressures, like helping sick children or caring for aging parents, but we forget to extend that kindness to ourselves. This struggle may not always directly translate into immediately increased productivity at work, but can help give us deep insights into what it feels like to receive compassion and empathy — qualities that are central to leadership.
The Power of Grace Amidst Pressure
Balancing the demands of work while caring for loved ones can be an uphill battle. When facing these challenges, it's crucial for leaders to work to extend grace to themselves even though it feels incredibly risky. Leaders willing to try will find the amazing power this grace can have on their teams.
When leaders are patient with themselves, they allow themselves room for growth and understanding. Recognizing that they’re not immune to the pressures and realities of life outside of work can make for a more empathetic leader. This empathy — born directly out of their own experiences — can help strengthen bonds within a team, promote a culture of understanding and eventually lead to increased productivity.
If you're a leader who finds yourself juggling myriad responsibilities, remember: It’s OK to ask for help. If this level of vulnerability or trust isn’t yet firmly established with your team, you may want to start with small steps. You might want to start meetings with each person sharing something they’re celebrating and something they’re struggling with. Then, as you share your experiences with your team, you’ll be showing them it is OK to be vulnerable. And that it is OK to not have all the answers at all times.
In fact, you’ll probably find that by creating a culture where not having all the answers is safe, your team will be able to share problems when they can still be addressed — long before they become crises.
Living in the Tension: Leadership and Life
Nonprofit leadership involves guiding your team to achieve your organizational goals. But that doesn’t have to be at the expense of your mental well-being. As a leader, your team looks up to you for inspiration, direction and motivation. By extending grace to yourself, you’re not only tending to your well-being but also modeling self-care for your team.
It’s generally not helpful to think of a work-life balance. For many leaders, pursuing that “balance” means consistently seeing how far they fall short. When they’re focused on work, they feel they are out of balance with the rest of their life. When they’re focused on other areas of their life, they feel they are dropping the ball around work priorities.
Instead, it’s more helpful to think of our lives as a whole. And just like a violin string can only make music when there’s the correct amount of tension, so it is with our lives. At times, this may mean leaning into work priorities. Or, it may mean delegating more, even those favorite projects that are no longer the best use of your time. It’s not about lacking professionalism or being dramatic at work. But it is about understanding that your personal life can influence your professional decisions and vice versa. This helps you set more realistic priorities and helps you encourage a more holistic view of leadership.
Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 2, “Begin with the end in mind,” still applies in this context. Too often nonprofit boards or teams feel the pressure to do it all or to do something in the very same way the other nonprofits seem to be doing it. But understanding the actual outcomes your organization wants to achieve gives you the courage to say, “not at the expense of the people who work here.” You gain the courage to respect your own boundaries and the strength to modify some expectations in order to still reach the same end.
The Continuing Role of Curiosity
This all goes back to the power of curiosity in effective leadership. Just like you’d use curiosity to drive conversations with your team, you can use curiosity to initiate conversations with yourself. As you face situations that drain you or life pressures that are far greater than you would’ve expected, starting by being curious with your reaction can help you change the situation or adjust your attitude. You may find the situation that drains you is one you can trust to a direct report or that your irritation with a project taking longer than you intended isn’t helping the project get done any faster.
This can help you understand the perspectives of your team members more deeply. And give you permission to ask what strategies they employ when they're feeling overwhelmed. And to more clearly see how they perceive their role in the organization's goals.
Extending grace to yourself and nurturing curiosity can form the bedrock of a supportive, open-minded culture. It allows for the understanding that everyone has different paths to their goals and paves the way for innovation and unconventional problem-solving.
The pressures of leadership in nonprofit organizations are immense. Alongside striving for curiosity and clarity in organizational goals, leaders must remember to extend grace to themselves. This empathetic and understanding leadership style, a style that still accomplishes organizational goals but is shaped by your own personal experience, can create a more compassionate work culture. As a leader, by showing kindness to yourself, you’re reminding your team that you really do mean it when you encourage them to be kind to themselves.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
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. A FranklinCovey-certified coach and Exactly What To Say Certified Guide, 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!