Leadership – Are You Looking In the Mirror?


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  I read this really great article by Nicki Roth, posted on the Bridgespan Website .  She talks about how, too often leaders do not take a good look at themselves when the organization is in need of change.  They look at other things like their staff, boards, funders, etc.

In the time that I have been coaching nonprofit executives, I can see a major distinction between those who are going to serve long and prosper and those who are not.  Strong leaders are interested in constantly learning and improving their leadership ability.  Just as they want to develop their employees, they want to develop themselves.

The best athletes, review their game and work on areas of improvement.  The beauty of it is, we are not perfect – which means we can constantly improve.

Here is a great excerpt from Roth’s post:

How do you know the change has to come from you?

Honest self-assessment starts with asking the right questions. Explore your need to change by answering the following:

  • Have you received feedback that you need to shift gears? Have you heard specific recommendations like “you need to be more decisive” or “you need to focus more attention on the daily management issues”?
  • Do you dread walking into specific meetings or interacting with certain individuals? Do you find yourself making excuses to not show up?
  • Do you feel frustrated or powerless in getting others to make necessary changes?
  • Have you set yourself apart from everyone else? Are you asking others to do one thing and you are doing another?
  • Is there buzz in the office about you that makes you feel defensive, disheartened or angry?

If you answered yes to any/all of these questions then it’s likely that you are the one that needs to make some changes.


What’s In Your Pitch?

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Do you have a good way of describing your professional business so that the person listening is interested enough to ask questions or ask for your card?  In her article, Deborah Grayson Riegel points out that we often don’t sound “real” when we give our pitch.  Give your elevator pitch to someone who cares about you and if his or her first response is “what?” then you need to take Riegel’s tips.

I especially like her tip about using common vernacular.  Jargon only means something to someone in your industry.  The person on the metaphorical elevator, may not be in your industry and will not understand what you mean.

I will add one tip that Reigel leaves out – when the person lobs the question, “What do you do?” Do not start your sentence with “So” because it is an unnecessary affectation and so over used.

Internal vs. External Does Matter

I just read Susan Battley’s article about success rates for insider chief executives versus outsider chief executives. I must admit, the research surprised me a little.  Studies have shown that Chief Executives who are promoted from within are often more successful than those who are brought in from another company. In fact, CEO’s who are brought in from the outside actually have twice the failure rates as those who are promoted from within.  The more successful CEO’s who were hired externally, were those who brought in a new executive team of leaders.

I found myself surprised by this because I have often heard how the internal candidate would have too much bias against them merely due to history, whereas the external candidate is a blank slate.  What is not surprising, and I think the real point of the story, is the impact of culture on success.  It stands to reason that if the culture is positive, the organization is doing well, and the internal candidate has been developed to lead, success will result.

If the culture is not good then the internal or external candidate must shift it by changing the players in the game.  Under those terms, success will happen, but, it takes time.

#GivingTuesday – The New Philanthro-tier

You are on Twitter and wondering what the heck is all this #GivingTuesday hype you keep seeing, but you don’t ask because you want to be cool.  And you are cool – you are on twitter after all.  I write this post in an effort to help you maintain your coolness.

#GivingTuesday is a way to promote the importance of giving this holiday season to a nonprofit/charitable organization.  Some very clever people  came up with an idea of starting a new tradition and using social media to encourage people to “get out the give” on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

I am very excited about all of the activity I have seen so far, and I hope that next year, more nonprofits will unleash the power of #GivingTuesday in advance of the actual day.

Research proves that the reason people give is because they are asked to give.  I think we should do more than just ask people to give; we need to tell people why we donate money to charity.  Now I have not done the research here, but I believe people are more likely to give when they are surrounded by people who give – it becomes part of their inner circle norm.  So here is my philanthropic profile:  My largest donations are given to the United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters.  They are my largest gifts because I am closely connected to them.  Then I give multiple smaller gifts to causes that my friends and family ask me to support like March of Dimes, St. Jude’s, and Girl Scouts, to name a few.

So, stay cool and support #GivingTuesday – donate to a charitable mission that is important to you and has the structure in place to use your money wisely.  If you do not have the money to give, that is okay, you can still participate in #GivingTuesday by giving your time – volunteer for a nonprofit organization in your community.

A New Excellent Resource

Some amazing work just came out from Bridgestar and they are giving it away!  If you are not familiar with Bridgestar, you will want to get acquainted with their work soon.  This has been a tremendous resource for me as a nonprofit leader.  Bridgestar is an initiative of the Bridgespan group.  Bridgespan is a group of highly talented and brilliant nonprofit consultants. I first became acquainted with their work at Big Brothers Big Sisters.  We were developing a strategic plan for our national network and hired Bridgespan to help us through the process.  Bridgestar is a tremendous resource for nonprofit leadership.  Their latest work is something you must read and figure out when to implement - Plan A: How Successful Nonprofits Develop Their Future Leaders. 

Is your organization focused on strengthening its leadership and building a pipeline of leaders?  If you truly believe in the greatness of your mission, then you have an obligation to ensure you are not putting that mission at-risk.  Further, you are not fulfilling your obligation to your mission if you are not investing in leadership.

Too often this focus on leadership is neglected because so many funders only want to fund programs and not leadership.  Far too many investors fail to recognize that the best return on investment is in building and strengthening staff and board leadership of nonprofit organizations.

“Linking leadership to the mission is a highly effective way to prove that leadership development, far from being ancillary to an organization’s real work, is integral to it.”

I encourage all of you who strive to do great work, read this guide, get inspired and find the resources to implement this work in your organization – your mission deserves it.