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January 20, 2022
Rules for Effective Leadership
By Steve Smith

Steve Smith
Steve Smith
There are best practices leaders can follow that will help a nonprofit, and most importantly, the people who make up the organization, stay focused on the endgame, avoid the pitfalls along the way, and reach its maximum potential.

An organization's leaders need to be clear on what the goal is and then work to align resources throughout the organization to get the job done.

Here are 10 tips for keeping you and your organization riveted on the goal, minimizing the meanderings off course, and achieving the results you intended:

  1. Effective leadership starts with effective listening. Maybe you’re the numero uno on the organizational chart, but that doesn’t mean you have the best answer to every question. Synergy is a proven plus: engage people in problem solving, hear what people around you have to say, and use an open communication system. Suggestion: at staff meetings, rotate the chair responsibility so each member of the team can lead.

  2. Practice situational leadership with people who work for you. Ken Blanchard (Management of Organizational Behavior) teaches that you need to provide the proper level of supervision to meet your staff where they are. Frequently, less is more. Assessment of people through a strong performance review system gives information about people’s competency and skills. When you monitor performance, you can match the degree of capability of the employee with the appropriate level of supervision.

  3. Reserve time for planning and contemplation. Among the most important tasks of leaders is planning. The leader has to stay several steps ahead. A CEO I know is careful not let himself get drawn in to the minutiae of his direct reports. Good delegation leaves time for thinking and looking beyond the horizon, and preparing for what’s next.

  4. Manage time: meetings, phone calls, tasks. Whether it’s a Blackberry or the good ole Day Runner, plan your time. Don’t let email or deskwork take over. Stay in charge of your calendar. Get out of that office and feel the pulse of what’s happening in your world.

  5. Map priorities: know where you’re headed and get there on time. Keep track of your priorities. If you’re the CEO, keep those priorities easily accessible and note your progress toward achieving them. Your board of directors is likely tuned in to this, and you want to be able to show them you’re on track.

  6. Share the stage: mentor others to show their stuff. Let the boss know when someone on your team has performed above and beyond. When it’s been earned, ask the person into your office and thank him/her. Let your people know you notice when they do something notable.

  7. Commit to continuous improvement. How will we make this better? At every performance review, be sure to ask, “How can we achieve more?” It’s especially important to ask how you, as supervisor, can help enable an even better performance.

  8. Plan, delegate, execute. The leader should be aware of the example she/he is setting. There is no room for sitting back and watching others do the heavy lifting. As a leader, you need to demonstrate awareness of your commitments to execute certain tasks and then deliver on something promised to a person who reports to you.

  9. In nonprofit work, it’s about the care and feeding of relationships. N’est ce pas?

  10. Effective leadership is measured by delivering results. There are results indicators for everything. If it can’t be measured, how do we know we’re achieving the results we promised our clients?
Keep these 10 rules of leadership in front of you, and check in on them each week. They will help you stay focused and will help keep those around you focused, too.

Steve Smith is principal of It's The Results, a consulting company that provides coaching, strategic plan facilitation, assessment of organizational effectiveness, and interim executive services to nonprofits. Call him at 781-334-4915 or email to
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