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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published March 15, 2015

A Notable Leadership Lesson from Non-Profits 

A Notable Leadership Lesson from Non-Profits

This article is written by Predictable Success Consultant Carissa Figgins.

Developing leaders within an organization has always been an important area of focus.

While the methods may vary from business to business, the emphasis tends to be on developing leaders individually. 

What if there was a better way to go about it? One that not only ensures individual leaders succeed, but the organization as a whole would as well – and be stronger for it?

Non-profit organizations are applying this strategy regularly, and now you can as well.

Me vs. We 

When organizations focus on cultivating leaders individually, it can limit the scope of their growth and perspective. Specifically, as individuals develop their own independent leadership skills and apply them to their teams, they can become “siloed” – focusing exclusively on their employees and areas of responsibility.

By never moving on to engage and collaborate with other leaders and cohorts, they lose sight of how they can contribute to the organization as a whole, to the detriment of themselves and those they work with.

Instill Commitment Company-wide 

If cultivating leaders individually often leads to limited vision, what’s the better alternative? The answer lies in developing leadership throughout the organization. One of the essential elements of this is The Enterprise Commitment, where everyone agrees that:

“When working in a team or group environment, I will place the interests of the enterprise above my personal interests.”

A key place to see the power of the Enterprise Commitment played out is in non-profits and faith-based organizations. It is crucial in these environments for the entire group to come together – from top down and cross-laterally – and lead as a community to accomplish the mission and values of the organization.

Here are three ways this leadership concept is successfully applied within non-profit organizations: 

1. Non-profits provide the perfect venue for pitching in wherever is needed.

Regardless of their size, the majority of non-profits are working understaffed from a budgetary standpoint.

However this provides a rich environment to develop leadership opportunities throughout the organization. There are countless opportunities for anyone at any level to take on more leadership responsibilities in this sector. Activities such as fundraising and development, which impact the whole organization, can provide opportunities for individuals to develop a wider set of specialties.

Especially for smaller organizations, it’s very much all hands on deck. The enthusiasm of working towards a common goal encourages individuals to go beyond their regular jobs and lead a lot further out.

2. External compliance and regulations provide advantages to developing leadership.

Regulations are always a headache no matter what industry you work in. However, highly effective non-profit teams use this accountability to strengthen leadership throughout their organizations.

Non-profits must continually show their effectiveness in measurable outcomes – to justify funding, if nothing else. Non-profit leaders build a culture that reinforces compliance. This allows for everyone in the organization to take ownership for evaluation and appraisal results.

Non-profits have to particularly focus on alignment and partnerships through management, the board of directors and staff members, as well as volunteers, which in turn infuses leadership responsibilities to everyone involved in the enterprise.

This allows the organization to collectively and efficiently work towards common goals rather than individual leaders exclusively racing towards hopefully the same level of compliance.

3. Passion is contagious. 

The history of any non-profit reveals one or two people with a heart seeking to make something better in the world. Their passion develops heroic leaders who would do anything for anyone at any time on a grand proportion.

However, what effective non-profits have discovered is everyday acts of leadership, not just grandiose heroic actions, throughout an organization are what lead to sustainability of a mission. For individuals involved in the non-profit world, there is a desire to make a notable contribution to a cause that is personally relevant to them.

However, that passion and desire is not limited to top-level management. This passion is contagious and easily permeates, providing opportunities for everyone from the janitor to the intern to the volunteer to the board president to make a significant difference.

Building Leadership Momentum

Non-profit leaders recognize that leadership has to come from the rear, from staff, from volunteers, or the board to ensure innovation and engagement from across the ranks is continually moving the organization forward.

When you look at leadership development within your organization, are you cultivating a culture of leadership or a cadre of individual leaders? If it’s the latter, perhaps now is the perfect time to make change.

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