The Real Business of Business is Building Leadership

In the most recent issue of FORTUNE magazine there was a special section on leadership. The section revolved around the secrets of key corporate leaders concerning the critical role a CEO plays in identify, nurturing, training, and promoting leadership inside a company.

Many executive directors like to throw around the phrase: “people are our greatest assets.” From a budget standpoint that is probably a true statement. (Most non-profits spend over 60 percent of their budgets on salaries and personnel.) But if people ARE an organization’s greatest assets, more dollars need to be put into actually advancing these people into positions of leadership.

Non-profits (or any business, for that matter) cannot grow and accomplish their missions without talented people leading the ship. Non-profits that provide their employees and volunteers with real opportunities to develop and grow become magnets for quality candidates.

With all of this said, let’s look at some for-profit best practices for developing leaders that we can use in the non-profit field.

  1. INVEST TIME AND MONEY. You can’t develop a leader without first investing time and money in developing a person’s skills and talents. The executive director should be spending over 25 percent of his/her time in people issues. The organization needs to allocate time and resources for designing leadership development programs, and for paying for conferences and workshops and other activities that will help develop leaders in the organization. Remember — leadership costs are aninvestment in the organization’s future.
  2. IDENTIFY LEADERS EARLY. This is an important concept! Give people lots of responsibility from the first day they start on the job. Watch to see if they involve people and can motivate people in the office; see if people begin to listen to and follow them. Hire interns; see if people work with them, even though they have no power or authority.
  3. SELECT WORK ASSIGNMENTS STRATEGICALLY.Some studies on leadership show that two-thirds of leadership development is derived from the job, one-third from mentoring and coaching, and a small fraction from actual training. Select job activities for the leader based upon what is going to move the organization forward rather than just what the person likes to do or is good at.
  4. DEVELOP LEADERS WITHIN THEIR CURRENT JOB ACTIVITIES. Within the existing job that the staff person has give her/him as much responsibility as possible and evaluate their performance constantly.
  5. PASSIONITELY SEEK FEEDBACK AND SUPPORT.Feedback is necessary to learn from your actions and move ahead. All employees should actively ask for and seek feedback as a way to learn and gain support. Honest assessment of your work is instrumental to your growth.
  6. WORKING IN TEAMS IS CRITICAL. Being able to work as a team is one of the central indicators of leadership. Leadership is a relationship between the leader and others, so accomplishing tasks through and as a team is a great learning tool.
  7. INSPIRING OTHERS. Do not lead by fear. Motivate people to become the best they can be and inspire people through a sense of mission that is deeply rooted in the values and customs of your non-profit.
  8. ENCOURAGE YOUR LEADERS TO BE ACTIVE ON OTHER NON-PROFIT BOARDS. Being on another non-profit board is a great way to practice and hone leadership skills. Encourage your employees to serve on another organization’s board in a leadership role. It will come back to help your organization.
  9. INCORPORATE LEADERSHIP INTO YOUR CULTURE. Leadership is not a program or project of your organization but is ingrained in the culture of your organization. It is a way of thinking and acting that becomes second nature and central to the mission. Devoting time to learning, to mentoring, to coaching, to success has to be built into the very fabric of your organization.
  10. COACHING AND MENTORING are essential components of the successful leader. Most of us have a special mentor or coach that has helped us through the hard times and has picked us up when we have fallen. Make sure you find such a person and rely on this person to assist you in your growth and development.