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January 25, 2021
 
Nonprofit Success Flows from Employee Engagement
Book Otherwise Engaged

Nonprofit leaders, like their counterparts in business, achieve success by understanding the intangible aspects of their relationships with employees so they act in ways that enhance the organization, for which Otherwise Engaged provides pragmatic guidance.

At its core, organizational leadership is about engaging employees. And its success flows from “gaining a better ‘grip’ on the intangibles” of those relationships and recognizing, and even embracing, the fact that “the intangibles are…intangible,” writes author John Guaspari, who has consulted on leadership across scores of industries and written six other books on the subject.

“Engagement is not a matter of leaders engaging employees. It’s about leaders creating the conditions necessary for employees to be more fully engaged in their work,” Guaspari writes.

It flows from employee empowerment, which he describes as “the sense of assuredness that people at all levels of the organization have as they do their jobs.” It’s something that can’t be bestowed, and flows from employees feeling safe to exercise judgement and then act, which, in turn, is based on mutual trust and respect.

More than just relying on words like “trust” and “respect,” Guaspari digs down into what these concepts mean. He defines “trust” as “a feeling of confident expectation,” and then parses what exactly that means, offering concrete actions steps leaders can take to help create an environment of trust.

He does the same for “respect”—defined as “giving due consideration to the other”—explaining what is meant by “due,” “consideration,” and “the other.”

Nonprofit leaders have so much to do, often simultaneously—strategize, manage technology and operations, raise funds, and enlist board members, volunteers, and other stakeholders—all of which depends on assembling and directing a staff, be it only a few people or maybe a cast of hundreds. Who has time to dwell on the issues discussed in Otherwise Engaged?

Guaspari addresses this head on: “Higher levels of employee engagement should be your objective; the research is clear and compelling on that point. Tapping into higher levels of effort, energy, and expertise that your employees have to offer will increase the return of your investment in human capital.”

Written for a business audience, the problem and solution outlined in Otherwise Engaged apply equally to nonprofits. Clearly, nonprofits and businesses differ, e.g., nonprofits are cause oriented and seek to make a difference; businesses are market oriented and seek to make money. However, they’re similar in that all need to engage the people who work in their organizations in order to meet their goals.

Failing to engage employees, according to Guaspari, risks creating “the kind of Hobbesian environment—nasty and brutish—in which no business [or nonprofit], much less its people, can survive for long.”

Otherwise Engaged is available from Maven House Press.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
December 2020

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