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As the next generation of young nonprofit professionals gears up to take on new management positions, it’s imperative that you have a strong, ongoing leadership development program in place. That way, when the time for transition arrives, everyone’s life will be a whole lot easier—your staff members will already feel prepared for their new responsibilities, and you’ll spend less of your own time training them.
It won’t happen overnight, but having an effective leadership training program is an essential part of your organization’s longevity and prosperity. Here are some tips on how to create a good one.
Determine your leadership needs
First, keep in mind that leadership is defined differently by each organization because each organization has its own unique mission. Before anything else, determine which traits make up a good leader specifically for your nonprofit and its goals.
You can then evaluate any gaps you may have in your leadership, now or in the near future. If there’s anyone who may be leaving soon (say, for retirement or a new job), determine which aspects of their leadership would be missed if they left tomorrow. What would your company lack? Which traits do you value in that person the most? From there, you can focus on fine-tuning those qualities in their potential successors, and, vice versa, examining which new skills your future leaders will bring to the table that the person in the current position may lack.
Before you dump your entire leadership program’s budget into formal training, remember the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. Studies show that when it comes to retaining new skills, 70 percent of learning occurs independently through projects and practice, 20 percent occurs through personal instruction from peers and higher-ups and only 10 percent comes from formal instruction. However, organizations often allocate the bulk of their budget and time on that 10 percent.
Yes, things like training materials, conferences and lectures are helpful, but they’re inefficient on their own. Instead, make leadership development a part of your everyday process by providing your staff with projects that truly challenge them, and be there to give advice along the way.
One of the biggest mistakes nonprofit executives can make is having tunnel-vision when choosing their successors. Strong leaders can and will come from anywhere in your company, so give each of your staff members an equal chance to develop their skills. Some of your employees will be happy with the position they’re in, or would rather pursue a different, non-managerial path, so you won’t have to worry about an all-out brawl among your staff for a single position. But by ensuring that every employee is aware that these leadership training opportunities are available (and by encouraging everyone to participate in them), you’ll get a wider variety of applicants.
On that note, the best way to create a staff full of strong leaders is to be one yourself. If you make it your mission to inspire your staff to become the next generation of nonprofit changemakers, they’ll follow your example. Show passion for your work, take risks and exemplify all the characteristics you’d like the future of your organization to uphold. Good luck!
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