Qualities that Will Help Nonprofit Leaders Lead Their Organizations
For nonprofits responding to the leadership succession challenge of the next five years, during which nearly two-thirds of all executive directors are expected to step down, now's as good a time as any to ponder the qualities future leaders should possess, as offered in Leadership Is an Art.
What does author Max De Pree, writing as chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., the famous furniture company that created the iconic Eames chair, have to say to nonprofits? And given that Leadership Is an Art was published in 1989, is what he has to say still relevant?
The answers are: "a lot" and "yes."
De Pree's observations, while based on his work in the for profit sector, apply to organizations of all types and sizes.
Choosing leaders is the most vital and important matter for all organizations, according to De Pree. Leaders help guide their organizations by telling why rather than how. They think beyond the immediate and encourage others throughout the organization to do likewise to foster a community that can realize its potential.
"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you."
"Leaders are also responsible for future leadership. They need to identify, develop, and nurture future leaders."
"It is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people's gifts and talents and skills... Recognizing diversity gives us the chance to provide meaning, fulfillment, and purpose..."
"Leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum... It is the feeling among a group of people that their lives and work are intertwined and moved toward a recognizable and legitimate goal."
"Anything truly creative results in change, and if there is one thing a well-run bureaucracy or institution or major corporation finds difficult to handle, it is change."
"Three of the key elements in the art of working together are how to deal with change, how to deal with conflict, and how to reach our potential."
"How can leaders expect a commitment from the people they lead, if those people feel thwarted and hindered?"
"Every family, every college, every corporation, every institution needs tribal storytellers. The penalty for failing to listen is to lose one's history, one's historical context, one's binding values."
"Each of us is a social being and our institutions are social units. Each of us has a deep-seated desire to contribute... We are interdependent, really unable to be productive by ourselves."
"Communication is an ethical question. Good communication means a respect for individuals. The real challenge is to make good communication a handy and well-used tool."
This small (136 pages) gem of a book, which became a classic, ought to be read, absorbed, considered, and then re-read and thought about some more.