NFP Leaders Better Get Used To Wearing Some New Hats

By Chris Gandy

One of the most common questions we are asked by Not for Profit Boards who find themselves in a position of suddenly having to search for a new Chief Executive is:

“What should we look for in a new CEO?”

To be honest such questions fill us with joy as they demonstrate that the mindset of Boards is finally moving away from the slavish tradition of dusting off an old Position Description and launching an executive search for someone who is a clone of the previous incumbent.

At last Boards are beginning to acknowledge that the world served by our NFPs continues to change at an extraordinary pace. And to thrive and not merely survive in this disruptive space, not for profits will need new leaders – one’s who not only exhibit the traditionally identified leadership skills and attributes such as strategic thinking, being tech savvy, great communicators and financially smart but also people who are accomplished ….

Tightrope Walkers

In many ways, effective leadership is becoming a giant balancing act as we seem to be confronted with an ever increasing range of competing priorities. Probably the most fundamental of these for NFP leaders is the perennial struggle between Cause and Cash. We drum into Leaders that the Cause must always come first but the reality is that “No cash, no cause”.

Other forces threatening to buffet our intrepid tightrope walkers are the competing demands of stakeholders, whether they be staff, board, clients, funders, government or the broad community.

To survive, leaders will need to keep the organisation’s Cause front and centre and create logical, fact-based prioritisation processes; develop methods to identify and resolve resource allocation conflicts; and create structures to encourage employee collaboration.

System Leaders

The Stanford Social Innovation Review nailed it in their article “The Dawn of System Leadership” which argues that:

“The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society’s most intractable problems require a unique type of leader—the system leader, a person who catalyses collective leadership.”

This proposition is based on the realisation that many can achieve so much more than one.  The fact is, single organisations can’t achieve system change. As a result, System Leaders understand that a collaborative approach, especially for many resource-poor organisations, can achieve significantly more than a single entity can.

Critically, instead of focusing solely on their cause, organisation, board, staff or stakeholders etc. System Leaders connect and interact with the world beyond their own walls and develop three core capabilities in order to foster collective leadership:

  • The ability to see the ‘big picture” – This in turn helps people develop a shared understanding of complex problems.
  • Fostering reflection – This is an essential doorway for building trust where distrust had prevailed and for enabling collective creativity.
  • Shifting reacting to co-creating the future – Skilled System leaders help people move beyond just reacting to tough problems to building positive visions for the future.

Social Entrepreneurs

As social entrepreneur’s, tomorrow’s leaders will be prepared to take reasonable risks for the benefit of their organisation’s cause.  But like true entrepreneurs they will have some basic traits three traits the Harvard Business Journal has identified as necessary for entrepreneurial success:

  • Resourcefulness – An ability to solve big problems with a small teams and minimal tools at their disposal. This will train both them and their teams to always approach problems creatively and make innovative thinking the norm in the workplace.
  • Curiosity – Successful entrepreneurs are reputed as often lying awake at night thinking of how they can improve systems in their organisations. They are always looking for better and more effective ways of doing things. When Dell CEO, Michael Dell, was asked to name the one attribute CEOs will need most to succeed in the future, he said:

         “I would place my bet on curiosity”

  • Perseverance – It is said that the road to entrepreneurial success is littered with failures. With each failure something a little different is learnt – better strategies, better systems, better trained staff. As Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, puts it:

          “Perseverance and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success”

Walk the Talk

Cause effectiveness is all but impossible without an inspired and motivated team of staff and volunteers. But the world of work is changing rapidly, even in the not for profit sector, and the successful leaders of tomorrow will need to adapt to and leverage off these changes. Models of engagement between employees and employers will emphasize creativity and individual empowerment. This will mean tomorrows leaders must have the skills needed to redefine the leadership, management and systems needed to shape and empower their teams and to ask, observe, listen to and motivate each person selectively.  It also requires recognition of the power of the individual and understanding that what you say matters but what you do matters more

Beacons of Hope

To quote Napoleon Bonaparte…

“A leader is a dealer in hope”

With media channels saturated with bad news and fear mongering, our communities are in urgent need of hope. We long for leaders who dare to imagine the possibility of a better world and inspire us to follow them on that quest.

Hope is a power that keeps us going even during the toughest of times. Tomorrows leaders will harness this to audaciously fire community problem-solving and collaborative action – and in the process effect real positive social change.

Truth is, leaders today have to don a number of hats. Seems to me, those serving in the not for profit sector are going to need to learn to wear some new ones, and fast.

Chris is the Founder of Cause & Effective. He and his team help cause-based organisations maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks when their CEO departs.



About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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