Leadership Is Trying Something New

Your courage to lead will provide your nonprofit with the opportunity to flourish.  Leaders make decision.  Leaders take action before they are forced by circumstances.  When circumstance force action, it indicates that sustainability has declined.  By courageously taking action, you will protect the sustainability you have worked hard to create.

Leadership is setting the direction for others to follow.  Expect to be wrong more often than you are right and remember that it is rare for someone to make an unrecoverable mistake.  The only time everything you try works is when you are following someone else’s lead and doing what they already proved will work.  When your nonprofit is following the lead of others, you should expect your mission’s sustainability to be low.

Leading means accepting risk as part of life.  Leader are vulnerable.  Without risk and vulnerability, it is impossible to be creative, innovate, and adapt to change.

If your board is hesitant to take risks or critical when things go wrong, it is important to assess the situation objectively.  You might need board members who are more risk accepting.  You might need to exercise more care when setting expectations.  You might want to articulate the consequences more clearly before taking the next risk or remind the board that the consequences were less than originally projected.

As long as the board has multiple options, they agree to share the responsibility of any project they approve.  If they were put in a box (only one option), it is unfair to expect them to accept responsibility.

No one is right all of the time nor is anyone wrong all of the time.  Remember that it usually takes multiple successive major failures to threaten the survival of a nonprofit.  It is always appropriate to try again after making some adjustments based upon what was learned.  After a failure, it is good to be a little more cautious but it is unnecessary to be fearful.  Tighten the controls, take a smaller step forward, and double check everything before trying again. You are still the leader.  Change must still happen.

Establish the early indicators of success so that everyone can determine quickly when things might be deviating from the plan.  Periodically encourage your board to re-evaluate their decision to proceed (refresh their sense of responsibility, commitment, and involvement).

A small problem at the wrong time can feel like a major setback.  When the board has an objective assessment of progress, it is easier for everyone to make a wise decision.  When something goes wrong, there is as much risk in stopping too soon as there is in continuing too long.  This is when a strong leadership team (board and staff) is important.  The only way a team can build the necessary strength and confidence is through experience.  It also takes time for the board members to learn how to apply their talents and experience to your nonprofit’s unique needs.  It takes courage to give the board the experience it needs to be the team you want and need.  Be courageous.

Next Step:

Be courageous (accept risk and vulnerability as part of leadership)

Articulate the options, risks, contingencies, and expectations

Share the responsibility with the board (give the board options other than yes or no)

Provide the board with periodic objective assessments of progress

Change leads to success (yours and your nonprofit’s) and improved mission sustainability.  Be courageous.  You know what changes will benefit your nonprofit.  Turn what you know into action.

Take It Further:

Recruit board members who are risk accepting

Work with your board to establish reasonable risk parameters

Develop the courage of your staff so that they can be more risk tolerant


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