“Stark underinvestment in leadership development undermines nonprofit leaders” and weakens their organizations, a new report by Third Sector New England warns.
The over 1,000 leaders and board members surveyed strongly support the need for sustained professional development for staff.
- Leaders “who do invest in professional development were significantly more likely to think their organizations have enough bench strength” for sustainability and leadership transitions.
- But staff professional development is a budgeted line item in just over half the organizations surveyed in New England.
- Although acknowledging the value of coaching, just over half of leaders have invested in coaching.
What can you do in your organization? Here are some approaches I use.
- Create a culture based on learning, embedding learning in every work process. The Learning Compass, based on David Kolb’s Learning Cycle and the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory 4.0, provides an excellent basis because you can use the Compass in business process improvement, problem solving, decision making, innovation, planning, team development, and communication.
- Create a performance management system based upon facilitating growth, not evaluating or “appraising.” Teach managers to approach supervision as coaches. Of course, all managers need a firm understanding of what a coaching approach is and is not, and they must be supported with skill development.
- Build bench strength by targeting rising leaders for formal mentoring and coaching. Peer problem solving, using methods such as the tuning protocol (adapted for using in the business sector) or the GROW coaching model, teaches coaching skills and fosters creative solutions to day-to-day work challenges. These problem-solving processes are especially powerful when facilitated by a certified coach who helps the group deepen its awareness and be more intentional about skill-building.
The Third Sector (TSNE) report points out that with baby boomer Executive Directors retiring, nonprofits’ lack of succession planning is a serious problem.
- Nearly two thirds (63%) of the 877 internal leaders surveyed said they intend to leave the organization in one to five years.
- Almost two thirds (64%) do not believe there is an internal leader who can succeed them.
- The report calls for preparing for leaders’ departures by developing “deep sustainability,” including strong leadership systems. No organization should be dependent upon individual leaders.
Here are steps to strengthen your leadership system.
- Imagine what would you be missing if the Executive Director or CEO were to leave next month? What if your top four or five leaders were to suddenly leave? This exercise will focus your attention on the need to identify the capabilities and skills that your organization must have in order to thrive. You and your board will likely also experience a sense of urgency about developing people and creating systems that are not individual-dependent.
- Create a plan for developing leaders. It is all right if it is not a comprehensive plan. When change is complex, sometimes more incremental approaches are even preferable (Senge et al, 1999).
These examples may help you see what I mean.
- Recognizing that she would leave before long, one CEO worked with her senior staff to consensually re-configure job responsibilities so that one team member became COO. Over the next year, that person grew in her ability to lead all aspects of the organization. In addition, all senior team members identified and trained direct reports to step into new responsibilities.
- Another organization created distributed leadership by first training about 10% of staff, including some supervisors, some managers and two senior leaders, in Culture of Quality Improvement (CQI) methods. Once these folks became certified, they further “seeded” shared leadership by heading up CQI project teams with manager and non-manager members, some of whom became the next cohort to receive training in CQI.
The TSNE report decries “the paucity of resources to support the success of nonprofits” in the Northeast and throughout the country. It challenges the long-held belief that low overhead for nonprofits is good management. Starving leadership development is, in fact, shortsighted, inefficient, and ineffective. In order to serve others, you have to take care of yourself and your staff.