Great Nonprofit leadership comes into play in every aspect of your day, as it’s essential to your team’s success.

When I took on a role as CEO, it seemed my team frequently faced some important and complex matters. Many of these involving our clients, team, or external key partners, and I was no longer available to help from start to finish. 

My job as a CEO — and one of the first valuable lessons I learned — was to ensure others had the tools they needed to resolve these situations. My role was to stand aside, needed.

Instead of jumping in, I had to rely on other leaders and team members.

My team resolved problems, ensured we were delivering our services satisfactorily, and provided me with specific information I needed to make decisions. 

All I could do was seek everyone’s feedback on whether I was supporting them appropriately, was too hands-on, or maybe too aloof. I asked questions such as: Did they have the tools they needed to do their job, was I “showing up” at appropriate points during the day or was I butting-in too much? 

Ideally, I wanted to strike the right balance between coaching people who needed specific help while staying out of the way of those who did not. Not easy, especially for a walking problem-solver like myself.

Great nonprofit leadership is a team effort.

If the team is not getting what they need, then our efforts to make an impact will be lacking as well. 

The second lesson I learned was that all information (other than financial data) gets filtered as it moves up the ladder. Problems might go unreported or get minimized. Status reports might be exercises in creative writing. Personnel problems might be squelched or overblown. 

I came to realize an important factor from these two lessons. I needed to be the best leader I could be if we were going to accomplish our mission. 

To do that, I would periodically evaluate how I was doing.

No one was going to tell me how poorly I performed or how inarticulately I said something. It was rare for a team member to suggest a personal improvement plan for the CEO. I had to figure that out myself and then get the proper training to address my shortcomings.

I was determined to be the leader that my team and organization needed me to be.

Letting my team or our mission down due to my lack of training, education, or skills, was not an option. This takes some guts to set aside your pride and recognize your potential faults! 

I was especially committed because the organization was so beloved by everyone. Many had been there for years and felt an emotional–if not legal–ownership of the organization. I could not let these true believers down, they were doing such great work for our clients.

As the “Keeper of the Flame” for this organization, I wanted to do the best job possible. It was an important responsibility. I am sure many of you feel and experience that same sense of “emotional ownership” in being the caretaker of something very special.

So, how did I self-assess? How did I improve my leadership?

I continued asking people what I could improve, how I performed, and where I might better serve them. I knew the answers would be carefully worded, but I wanted their feedback regardless.

My team completed a 360 Leadership Review for me. I then I gave them feedback on how I was going to address the problem issues they had pointed out.

I asked leader friends of mine how they developed into successful leaders. I read a lot about leadership and managing people. 

Books, seminars and coaches who could help me strengthen my skills, quickly became my best friends. I quickly learned about marketing, branding, financial management, and various HR topics.

When faced with familiar situations, I reflected on how prior leaders handled things and either followed their example or did just the opposite.

Being the same leader 5 years out that I had been when I started in that role, was not an option. Periodic and continuous self-assessment helped me grow as a leader while helping the organization grow as well. 

I never regretted asking myself how I could have done better after a meeting or an event.

Great nonprofit leadership is all about taking that extra step to bring yourself and your team to a higher level. Don’t let your pride get in the way, own up to your faults and use them as motivation to do better.

Ready to Lead Your Nonprofit Better?

From the Inside Out can you help you create a bigger impact with your agency. Discover how to lead yourself, your team, and your board. Put it all together and learn how to successfully lead positive change. Download Chapter 1 free!