This post contains a few of my reflections on nonprofit leadership challenges. My caveat is that while these are mostly general observations, they are mainly flavored by my experiences. In setting down these observations, I hope to provide offense only to those who deserve it – i.e. the Quislings and sycophants who, along with their feckless masters, took advantage of my evolved consciousness You know who you are!!
The best audience for this piece is people who are thinking of moving into nonprofit leadership or who have been on the job for a short time. Two really good books on the topic are “Leadership on the Line” and “The Leadership Challenge” (not affiliate links). Some of these observations are unique to my experience. They will be the subject of a book on my nonprofit adventures and the interesting characters who populated them. I tried to start this out as a Top Ten list but more and more reflections intruded, so here goes:
1. Decide what kind of leader you are going to be before you start.
2. Expect ingratitude – from my experience, ingratitude is mainly a male trait.
3. Do not join an organization where the founder is still active – unless you are prepared to be merely a spokesperson.
4. Develop your network before the big job so that you can bring in your own team.
5. Get a guarantee that you can bring in your own team.
6. If you are Latino or African-American and board members start telling you how articulate you are, start looking for another job.
7. Get a contract.
8. Avoid working for a board that has a majority of members with too much time on their hands – or too many lawyers.
9. Provide well-structured feedback immediately – whether it is positive or not.
10. Hire for loyalty, passion, intelligence, courage, and sense of humor.
11. Don’t let sympathy get in the way of getting rid of the “dead wood” as soon as you can.
In future posts I’ll provide more details, insight, and cautionary tales. If you’re doing it, or thinking about doing it and want to get in touch for sympathy, to rant, or feedback, please contact me. For those of you in the nonprofit trenches, I’d love to hear your additions to my list.