Leadership Roles

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Many of my client conversations of late have been focused on Leadership…specifically, the relationship between paid leadership (staff) and volunteer leadership (Board).  Whether your organization is small, just starting out or large and well-established, it is important to periodically affirm leadership roles and responsibilities.  The delineation is pretty simple:  The Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and, if necessary, firing the Executive Director.  They are also responsible for fiduciary oversight.  The Executive Director is responsible for everything else, which basically means overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

So why does it get so complicated?  Often times – whether it is because the organization is just starting out, there is a change in leadership or even when there is a very strong, collaborative relationship – the roles can become blurred.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these examples.

New Organization

If the organization is new or just starting out, those in leadership positions may be required to wear a variety of “hats”.  The Executive Director may also be recruiting Board members, overseeing the finances, establishing programs, etc.  While this structure is typical for an emerging organization, it is important to have a clear understanding of leadership roles from the outset.  Drafting job descriptions for key staff positions (Executive Director, Program Director, CFO, Director of Development) and Board members – even if those roles aren’t filled for some time – will provide clarity and serve as an objective reminder down the road.

Change in Leadership

When an Executive Director leaves the organization – particularly when it is unexpected – a Board member may volunteer to (or have to) step in and provide day-to-day oversight and sense of stability to staff members and donors alike.  While this may be appropriate, and can work for a short period, it is not an ideal arrangement for a longer period of time.  Here are a few reasons why it is not an ideal long-term solution:

  • This reporting structure can be awkward or uncomfortable for staff members
  • The Board member serving in this role may not be well-versed or equipped to handle the significant responsibilities of the Executive Director
  • Continuous transitions in leadership may be confusing for donors and other supporters

If the organization plans to launch an immediate search to replace the Executive Director, this solution is acceptable; however, if the organization needs some time to get organized, confirm direction, etc., it may be more beneficial to hire an interim Executive Director to fill this role.

Strong, Collaborative Relationship

In organizations where the Board and staff have worked together for many years, the result is typically a strong, collaborative partnership.  There is mutual trust, and often a “rhythm” in the collaboration among the leadership.  However, it is important to remember that this balance can easily shift.  For example, if the Board members start getting “in the weeds” of the day-to-day programming direction and decisions, or if they begin to tell staff members directly what to do or how to do something, the established trust can easily be broken.

So, whether your organization is new or old, big or small and whether you are new to your role or have been in it for some time, it is healthy to review roles and responsibilities with the other leadership team members periodically.  Formalizing this process (perhaps as a part of your annual goal-setting conversation) will help keep your organization humming and provide an objective way to get things back on track if the relationship starts to shift.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

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Are you “tough as nails” or “soft as cotton?”

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As a CEO, or Executive Director, how would others describe you? Charismatic…pushy…a visionary?

What would your donors and staff say about you?

I’ve worked with many nonprofit leaders. A few have fallen into one of two distinct camps: Tough as nails or soft as cotton.

So which is best?

The soft as cotton leader was magnetic, warm, and a great listener.  He ruled with his heart and hired individuals he knew and trusted to run the organization he founded. Some of the staff members were friends who lacked a nonprofit background.  But he was confident they would find a way to reach the organization’s goals.   He was a consensus builder and attracted donors that inherently trusted him to make the right decisions for the organization.

On the other hand, the tough as nails leader didn’t always entertain the opinions of everyone around the table.  She would not be described as a consensus builder, but was intelligent and made swift decisions.  People might call her firm, but fair. She too, put the mission of the organization first.

These two people are opposites in my mind, but it takes all kinds of leaders to make the world go round right? So which ED would you trust to use your hard eared, donations wisely? Who would seek to guide your organization into the future?

You see, the warm, magnetic leader didn’t put the right people into the right positions to lead the organization. He ruled too much with his heart and not enough with his head.  This jeopardized the mission.

The tough as nails leader earned my dollar, my respect, my time.

I trusted this leader to sidestep emotions that might develop during tough decision and keep the mission of the organization first. As an individual, her magnetism was easily rivaled, but as a leader, she was solid, believable, and trustworthy.

Each of us has an impact on the level of trust that donors have in our organizations. Find the style that works best for you.  Most importantly be the type of leader you would follow.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Multi-Directional Managing

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After a career of 45 years, I’ve earned the title “Senior” Advisor.  But the truth is, like most employed people, I’ve spent my entire career somewhere in the middle of the management structure.  Think about it.  No matter where you are in management, you have responsibilities to manage down, up, and across your position.  Understanding the differences is important for people with positions of responsibility in non-profit organizations.

Most management theory has to do with giving direction to those beneath you in the organization: how to boost productivity, manage the work-load, and get the most out of people who report to you.  Chances are you spend the majority of your time managing down.  Your “to do list” probably has a list of deadlines and tasks to be accomplished, and getting those things done is a large part of what you were hired to do.

People who work in non-profit organizations also spend a good portion of their time managing up.  If you report to an Executive Director, look at your organization’s goals from his or her perspective, and think together about how you can help the ED to achieve the goals.  If you are an Executive Director, you know you have direct responsibility to members of your Board.  Good managers know that they need to spend significant amounts of time each week recruiting and retaining productive board members, and strategizing with them on the future goals and accomplishments of the organization.

The most neglected part of management is what I call managing across the organization and profession.  It took me many years to realize that I myself and the people who report to me cannot accomplish the goals for the organization in isolation.  Observing effective managers, I realized that they are adept at gaining support from peers within and outside the organization.  In a large non-profit, you as a development professional will be more effective if you work together with peers from marketing, intake, human resources, technology, accounting, etc. to accomplish the goals you all share.  In a small non-profit, you may have to look outside the organization to find peers who can complement your skill set and help you to think about how to accomplish your goals from a different perspective.  Some of the ways to do this include joining professional organizations, seeking consultant services, and/or attending professional workshops and national conferences.

The next time you visit your list of goals and objectives, take a few minutes to analyze it.  Make sure that you include goals to manage down, up, and across.  You will be more productive and happier if you do!

 by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions