Posts Tagged ‘leadership development’

Build your nonprofit leadership capacity with development programs and learning communities

In recent years, forward-thinking capacity builders have learned that they could build the leadership capacity of the nonprofit sector not just through direct individual consulting, but also through the design and delivery of leadership development programs and learning communities. These professional development modalities provide an intensive learning opportunity, usually for executive directors, structured on a peer-learning model. Through these programs, small groups of executives commit to working and learning together over an extended period, often a year, or, in the case of a learning community, longer. The groups are supported by consultants/trainers who are experienced in organizational capacity-building, leadership development and the nurturing of learning communities.

The goals of these programs include:

Enhancing participants’ management and leadership skills;

Creating networks of nonprofit professionals that can sustain and develop their members; and

Developing each participant’s awareness of the impact of his or her personality upon his or her leadership style.

Leadership development programs

Leadership development programs, which are more formal than learning communities, often work from a core curriculum, which is customized for each cohort and timeframe, and generally covers the following areas:

The role of the executive director—leading the organization

The relationship of the executive to the board—getting the most out of the board

Understanding and managing strategic issues—growth, competition, new ventures

Managing people—volunteers, staff and interns

Communicating your message—internal and external communication strategies

Developing a nonprofit that people want to support—fundraising strategies

Leveraging resources—board members, consultants, peers

Setting and measuring goals—you don’t have to be a research wonk to do it

Developing a lifelong, sustainable approach to leadership development

Leadership development programs usually combine a small amount of reading with discussions and role playing, as well as group and individual projects. The group leader ensures that key concepts are communicated in each meeting, using discussion among peers as an important learning tool. The leader seeds conversations and presents cases for discussion by the group. Group members are encouraged to contact one another between meetings—enhancing the peer-to-peer approach to learning and support.

These programs can also contain informal communication vehicles developed to facilitate between meeting contact. For example, a program might utilize a Web site that is accessible to group members only, where members can post their respective strategic plans or other documents, ask one another questions, etc. These sites can be quite simple and bare bones, or they can become much more elaborate “knowledge management centers.”

Currently, most leadership development programs are designed for executive directors. However, both funders and nonprofits are increasingly asking for similar programs aimed at other organizational leaders and mid-level managers (e.g., the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, program director, development director, etc.), who may be future executive directors. In this way, the current management structure can be deepened as the future leadership pipeline is strengthened.

Of course, the curriculum for these leaders is somewhat different. In place of the leadership development program’s heavy emphasis on the challenges executive directors face working with boards, there might be somewhat less attention to this still critical area, with the addition of a section on “managing up,” or how to manage from the middle of an organization.

Learning communities

Learning communities have similarities to more formalized leadership development programs, but differ in a few meaningful ways. For example, learning communities usually do not have a pre-determined curriculum, but instead are composed of a group of peers, usually executive directors (although this too is changing, with aspiring leader learning communities also on the rise), meeting regularly to discuss issues of mutual concern. The topics for consideration mirror those in the curriculum of a more formal leadership development program; however, they emerge naturally from discussion.

Learning communities are often used as a sustainable follow-up modality to a leadership development program, since they can be self-managed and continue for as long as the members have interest. In creating a variety of leadership development programs and models, and in facilitating various learning communities, I have learned that three elements are essential—not just to the overall success of each program, but also to the individual success of each meeting or session. These three elements must be present for participants to get the most learning out of their participation and to come away with a perception that their time was well spent.

The elements are:

Hard skill development: Participants must actually learn something new and useful at each session, such as how to run a better board meeting, read financial statements, manage a troublesome staff person or develop a personal performance plan.
Networking with peers: Participants need time and opportunity to connect with their peers in the group, through activities, discussion, exercises or other means.
Self-reflection: Participants must be given an opportunity to see themselves as others see them, in order to both build on their strengths and minimize any weaknesses in their self-presentation, communication style or other behaviors.

Well organized and ably facilitated, leadership development programs and learning communities are useful tools for capacity building. Not only do they help participants to develop skills and networks that will improve their job performance, but they are also generally reported to reduce stress and burn out, which may lead to longer tenure in their current jobs. For a board wondering how to keep its high-flying executive director or development director motivated and engaged, these tools might be something to consider.

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84,000 reasons why your board should address this agenda item

According to a study by the Bridgespan Group in 2006, the nonprofit sector will experience a shortage of 84,000 leaders. A follow-up study in 2009 reported this gap is growing despite the 2008-09 recession.

Author Tom Adams addresses these statistics and common challenges below that prevent us from grooming enough new leaders to enter the pipeline, such as:

treating people as disposable commodities,

colluding with funders and government agencies about what it truly costs to run an effective organization,

preferring hero leaders to ordinary leaders,

romanticizing the private sector’s pool of leaders,

and overlooking potential leaders who are ethnically and age-diverse.

We must overcome these obstacles and embrace the opportunity to purposefully lead our organizations beyond the person who currently holds the CEO title. After all, since increased impact does come from successful transitions, preparing leaders for their jobs and retaining them are central to nonprofit sustainability.

Adams shares six more reasons why succession planning should be on your next board agenda

We interviewed Tom Adams about his book The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide and uncovered some essential conclusions about great transition planning:

1: Yield better organizational results by championing leadership continuity

CausePlanet: We appreciate your establishing the irrefutable connection between effective leadership and organizational results. What is the most important step in broaching the succession planning topic if it hasn’t already been introduced by the incumbent CEO?

Tom Adams: First make sure a positive working relationship and trust exist between the executive and board chair/board. Without trust, this easily goes off rail. A second early step is for the board chair/champion to understand this is bigger than the CEO–it is about leadership continuity for the executive management team, key managers, staff and board.

2: Build a culture of consistency

CausePlanet: What’s the best way to get the board and staff past thinking of succession planning as a “replacement plan” and more to considering the comprehensive approach of building a culture of a consistently well-led nonprofit?

Tom Adams: Ask them to reflect on why they do the work. What motivates passion for this mission? What have they co-created? What is their legacy? What actions are needed to ensure this capacity endures and is sustainable? Best practice involves initiating a sustainability and succession planning process together.

3: Work out the values to inform your succession policy

CausePlanet: Will you please explain the importance of a succession policy and the role it plays in the overall succession plan?

Tom Adams: There is a lot of emotion and urgency when an executive announces plans to depart. It is better to work out the values and procedures to guide the transition and search before the transition occurs.

4: Consider timing before you leap

CausePlanet: In phase four, the implementation stage, of a succession plan, you provide a list of immediate changes possible for most organizations before a CEO departs. Some of them include updating the website and communications materials or filling strategic positions before the new CEO is hired. Wouldn’t these be changes better implemented by the new CEO who will live with these changes?

Tom Adams: It depends on when succession planning occurs and if it is combined with sustainability planning. If planning begins two to four years before departure, these investments increase capacity and reduce possible distractions for the new CEO. If departure is in the next year, then most key hiring can wait until the new CEO is on board. This is all situational.

5: Overcome common barriers and misconceptions

CausePlanet: What’s the most common barrier to or misconception about succession planning that prevents nonprofits from engaging in the steps to begin a plan?

Tom Adams: There is a normal fear of misunderstanding–the executive feeling forced out or the board feeling the executive is concerned about confidence in her/him. So it is easy to put off. The second barrier is a narrow understanding of the benefits. Succession planning ought to be more than a check-the-box completion of some boilerplate documents. It is a strategic process that advances mission effectiveness and the leader development culture. When seen more broadly, it is still hard to find time. With the CEO and board champions, it happens and the value becomes clear.

6: Make inclusiveness a way of thinking, working and leading

CausePlanet: Having recently added Embracing Cultural Competency and Cause for Change: The Why and How of Millennial Engagement to our summary library, we applaud your chapters that emphasize an examination of ethnically and age-diverse leadership candidates. What do you want most current leaders to know about diversity’s connection to effective leadership?

Tom Adams: Effective leaders and organizations are connected to the communities they serve. To do this well requires diversity and inclusiveness among leaders and staff. Differences advance creativity and increase mission impact. It is too easy for older white folks to say, “We tried.” The older white folks are the privileged ones who have enormous opportunity and benefits. They have a business and moral obligation to embrace and advocate for diversity and inclusiveness. While it goes beyond race, ethnicity, gender and age, it needs to start there and become a way of thinking and working and leading.

It is obvious transition planning affects every aspect of leading a nonprofit, such as the invisible yet highly impactful forces of culture and values. And yet, organizational impact has the most to gain or lose from our willingness to address leadership transitions. We all work so diligently for the incremental success we achieve toward our causes; don’t let lack of transition planning put your efforts in jeopardy. Let these 84,006 reasons be enough to get you and your board putting a plan in place. Your cause deserves no less.

See also:

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

The Leadership Challenge

The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide

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