People perform at their best when leaders cast a compelling vision and provide everyone with enough leeway to pursue it. This is especially true in the nonprofit world.

Many are motivated by an agency’s mission and their personal calling rather than annual compensation. Of course, a leader must provide context and set certain boundaries, like deadlines and cost, but you get the picture.

When leaders become micro-managers, constantly looking over everyone’s shoulders, not providing all the necessary information and tools, they demotivate their team. Its like admitting to them that they can’t be trusted with anything important and need to be tightly led so they don’t mess up. How insulting is that!

Maybe you work for someone like that. If so, you know exactly what I mean. You’ve probably moved on to greener pastures, too.

Today, people want to do important work, and want to feel their efforts are critical to the organization’s cause and its success. This can’t be done by closely managing everyone. It takes leadership to empower and equip others to join in and do the work.

How is Nonprofit Leadership Different from Nonprofit Management?

New and even some current leaders often have the wrong understanding of what leadership is.

Even the US Armed Forces provides ample room for service people to make decisions. The same should hold true for nonprofit leaders.

Leadership has been described as ‘doing the right things’ whereas managing is ‘doing things the right way’. A leader may feel he/she should try to be everywhere and involved in everything but that is a huge mistake.

I think Steve Jobs said it best when we spoke about hiring, saying,

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. It makes more sense to hire smart people and train them enough so they start telling you what to do.”

The same idea can be applied to nonprofit leadership. Leaders know a little something about everything that is going on in their agency, but team members know important details about their specific responsibilities.

Their skills and knowledge must be respected and allowed to flourish. The result is a better and stronger nonprofit team.

Benefits of Leading Instead of Managing

When I led an organization and chaired my first team meeting, something struck me right away. Each of these people knew much more about their individual areas than I ever could.

Our success depended on my ability to help them succeed in their role. Nothing good could come from me nosing around and inserting my opinions.

I had to become a leader, not a manager. I can’t tell you it was easy, because it wasn’t but I can tell you it was immensely rewarding.

As I leader, I was able to watch my team excel and grow in their skills and develop their own leadership abilities. That was the payoff for me – the satisfaction of developing others.

Another unexpected bonus was we kept our core leadership team in place for a long time. Even when we faced tough challenges and members were being recruited by competitors, we stuck together.

Everyone felt so confident in their role, how they were treated and their professional development that they had little interest in leaving.

Leadership allowed our team to feel like they owned our results. With that ownership and sense of responsibility, our members were constantly looking for ways to improve. They were “all in”.

Need Some Help?

Leading a nonprofit can present many unique challenges. To make a bigger impact in your organization you need to leverage your unique strengths! Take the Leadership Edge quiz to discover your primary leadership style, areas of strength and key benefits for your leadership personality.