Once I became a leader, it did not take long to understand just how powerful, yet simultaneously powerless, I was to impact the future. On one hand, I led an organization of 350 people and was responsible to see that we were headed in the right direction. On the other hand, my team were the ones responsible to actually carry out our plans. I became a bystander, a scorekeeper to ensure we stayed true to our strategy.
We could develop a fantastic plan with nicely printed out photos and charts, detailing exactly what to do and how to do it, but if the team did not carry out the plan in line with our values and priorities, that plan would fall through. I had to face the fact that I might not realize this was happening until it was too late. This was one of the scarier moments early in my nonprofit governance.
I came to realize the organization’s success (and my success, for that matter) depended on more than just how well I performed as the leader. Before becoming the leader, I was responsible for my own work. It was my responsibility to find the tools I needed to be successful. Now, my span of responsibility had grown significantly, but my control over many important features of success seemed minimal.
“I came to realize I had very little control, yet all of the accountability, of results.”
In addition, I had several key “no going back” decisions I needed to make. I had subordinates with performance problems that I needed to address. I tried hinting to them a bit to up their game, but that strategy did not work. I found it hard to find the right words to speak directly to the people whose job performances were unacceptable. I was stuck with poor performers who I could not get through to.
Organizationally, I thought we had designed a great strategy, but I knew it had some wrinkles. Unfortunately, they were in areas that were not my strong suit. Trying to straighten out the wrinkles on my own did not go particularly well.
So there I was, a relatively new leader whose organization had results problems, strategy implementation problems, and individual performance problems. Nonprofit governance was challenging me in ways I had not expected. Our previous success was showing signs of slipping.
In time, I became somewhat frozen in my leadership. I was reluctant to step out and lead from the front. I was unclear on my next steps, had lost some confidence, and felt terribly overwhelmed each and every day. I had decisions to make, messages to deliver, and priorities to set. I felt stuck. So, I swallowed my pride and decided to make a change.
At a friend’s suggestion, I hired a personal coach. My coach provided a safe place where I could brainstorm my ideas with someone who had no agenda other than to help me succeed.
He created a safe environment where I could toss out any idea or frustration and work with him to find and implement solutions. I had believed I could lead on my own, but I was only making things worse by not addressing the problems head on. He provided me with the support I needed to lead boldly with courage and wisdom.
If you need to make some tough decisions or need help with nonprofit governance, you should consider how a coach could help you.