What You Can Learn From the Spice Girls About Nonprofit Leadership Strategy
The role of a nonprofit CEO or leader extends far beyond strategic oversight and financial stewardship. Many nonprofit leaders are surprised at how much they are required to nurture a culture of understanding, empathy and genuine human connection.
Since leading a nonprofit takes so much time and involves so many moving targets, it can be easy to forget to build the people around you. Not just expecting them to be task-completers but actually helping them grow as individuals.
If you’re having this challenge, try picturing your direct reports singing the Spice Girls’ line, “I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.” This might help you with the essential-but-often-overlooked aspect of leadership — the importance of knowing the personal stories, aspirations and dreams of your team members.
In the nonprofit sector, work often springs from a place of passion and purpose. Understanding your direct reports’ individual motivations can significantly enhance the organization’s culture and effectiveness. So, let’s delve into why really knowing your team’s stories is so critical, and how you can foster this understanding within your organization.
The Power of Personal Stories
Personal stories are not just about an individual’s background or their career trajectory. They encompass their values, their aspirations, their dreams and what they genuinely want out of life — both professionally and personally. These narratives provide insight into what drives and motivates your team members, offering a unique window into their hearts and minds.
Leaders who take the time to learn and understand these stories can cultivate an environment that respects and appreciates individuality. They can create a workspace that is not just about achieving the organization's mission, but also about helping each team member to fulfill their own personal mission. And they will be pleasantly surprised how much more effective their team members are when they can see their work tasks supporting their greater personal story and when their jobs are helping them get what they want, what they really, really want.
This leads to three outcomes for nonprofit organizations.
1. Boosted Engagement and Satisfaction
When leaders show genuine interest in their team members' stories, they communicate a powerful message: “I see you. I value you. I care about your journey.” This recognition fosters a sense of belonging and boosts morale, engagement and job satisfaction, thereby enhancing productivity and reducing staff turnover. Employees who feel understood and valued are more likely to stay and contribute their best work to the organization.
In tight job markets, some organizations find this level of engagement also helps reduce recruiting costs. Rather than relying on job sites, your current staff becomes a great recruitment tool for highly qualified people.
If you are a more people-centered leader, learning these stories will seem natural. If you are more of a task-centered leader, you may need to make this a goal.
2. A Cohesive Team
Knowing your employee’s stories also helps build more cohesive and resilient teams. Understanding each other's backgrounds and dreams fosters empathy, enabling team members to support and appreciate each other on a deeper level. This deeper connection fosters resilience in challenging times, a vital asset in our dynamic that is often unpredictable nonprofit sector.
3. Growth and Development
Knowing what your team members really, really want also aids in talent development. By understanding their dreams and aspirations, leaders can provide opportunities for growth and learning that align with their team members' personal goals. This alignment between personal ambitions and organizational opportunities becomes a powerful motivator, driving passion and excellence for your nonprofit.
How to Learn What They Really, Really Want
I recommend nonprofit leaders create a dashboard for direct reports just like they would do for major donors.
List each direct report and their goals. Include your goal for them for the year and their professional or life goal for the next three to five years. If you don’t know what their life goal is, ask.
Develop monthly goals. Add each month of the year and decide one thing you can do to help them to your goal and their goal. Perhaps it is encouraging them to get the certification they seek. Or, giving them support in organizing a training program for the staff. But even if it is something not work-related, your intentional support can have more impact than you realize.
This is not to say you should stop your job to support all of the hobbies and activities of your team. But helping your team know you see them and value them enough to remember to ask about something they value will help you grow as a leader. And often leads to fewer crises ending up on your desk because your staff begins to bring their entire self to work. So they think more holistically. And address issues before they are catastrophic.
The reason for the calendar is that this process is ongoing. Personal stories and aspirations evolve, and it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open. With a dashboard, you know the one thing to do for each direct report in that month.
If you are a nonprofit leader and you don’t know what your direct reports want, what they really, really want, you have work to do. If you do know the answers, you are helping address the essence of what every team member seeks — to be seen, to be valued and to have their dreams and aspirations acknowledged.
By fostering an environment that understands and values personal stories, nonprofit leaders can enhance morale, engagement, resilience and productivity, creating a workplace that supports both organizational and personal missions. After all, a nonprofit is only as strong as its people, and understanding their stories is a crucial step toward building a resilient, passionate and effective team.
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!