“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” –Rosalynn Carter
I like to think of building a career in association leadership and management like tending to gardens, too. Sometimes people consciously choose association work because they are committed to a specific cause or have a commitment to service. Others come because they see a job opportunity to apply a specific skill they have or profession they’ve chosen. The association’s purpose may initially be secondary. Either way, once they have the job, a role of the leader they report to is to support them in their success by helping them see new and different possibilities – perhaps even helping them build a pathway to a future leadership position when the time is right.Take a minute to jot down a few notes. Right now, this year, what’s motivating you in your career? Is it your desire to be of service to others, to be efficient and productive in accomplishing a significant project, to be independent, to be valued, to be “the change you want to see in the world”, something else? Take pride and be confident in defining it. Self-interest is a human need and like a garden, when we tend to it lovingly, it blossoms. As it grows it makes it possible for us to reach beyond ourselves and be fully available for others.
In our work, we hold a belief that everyone working in an association is a leader, no matter the position or job title. Everyone is a leader in the way they influence others and motivate themselves in their work every day. Often in associations, there are a limited number of promotional opportunities and they can become available infrequently. That means that leaders need to help team members become the very best they can be in the positions they are in. Although some people know early on in their career their defining calling, most do not. Many people are not like my father-in-law Stan Hinden who knew from middle school when he wrote his first article for the school paper that he wanted to be a journalist, or me who knew in college that I wanted to pursue a life in nonprofit management and leadership.
A second way is to intentionally explore a person’s interests and aspirations and turn over the soil with special projects that offer a variety of related experiences. This includes learning grant writing, researching and reporting on best practices for a specific service approach or guiding a procurement process for a big cost item. And in connection with both planting seeds and turning over the soil is the need to water the ground with constructive foresight to make adjustments. Here it is important to offer positive reinforcement about what’s going well so they can do more of those things that are of interest and call upon their strengths. This means being a coach, taking the time to explore with them what they are learning and where they are struggling, asking expanding questions and offering ideas and tips to consider.Leaders are in a unique position of opening doors and creating opportunities to help team members become the very best they can be in the positions they are in. Here are four different ways leaders can do this with individual staff and with teams. One way is to see the potential in another person and plant seeds with stretch experiences that let their skills shine and in a sense reveal their strengths to them. Some seeds are presenting at board meetings, facilitating internal training or workshops at local conferences, or leading a committee.
A third way to bring out the best in team members is to involve a team in looking at trends in the association’s or a particular program’s external environment and imagining the knowledge, skills and abilities staff will need to stay relevant and competitive. With this information, an association can plan structured ways for staff to develop professionally. For example, The Institute for The Future, Future Work Skills 2020 Report http://www.iftf.org/futureworkskills/ identified these top ten skills: transciplinarity, sense-making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, design mindset, new media literacy, virtual collaboration, cross cultural competency, cognitive load management and computational thinking. While all these skills may not be relevant for every association, the study offers a helpful framework for thinking about the future.
And a fourth way to support staff in developing into their best is building a shared vision with your team that reveals the association’s or program’s direction and helps each team member see their role and its potential evolution in that future. In a recent initial strategic planning work session with the staff of a Community Development Financial Institution – a nonprofit loan fund that makes financing available for affordable housing development, community facilities development and neighborhood revitalization initiatives – we worked on mapping the Fund’s growth trajectory in seven key areas of customer service, the loan fund committee, raising more capital for lending, marketing for new projects, moving opportunities to actual projects, leadership and staff professional development and operating systems and tools. In each dimension we looked at the Fund’s current strengths/assets, opportunities in the next three years, aspirations for building capacity and measurable accomplishments, and meaningful results from the new strategic plan. At the end of the session, a team member said, “now that I can see where the Fund is heading, I can begin to imagine my position in the future. I’m concerned it’s a lot but I’m excited too because I believe in what we are doing.”
In leadership, it’s important to bring out the best in individual members and teams to build engagement and commitment to your association mission. Developing this commitment is a critical aspect of nurturing a shared vision with your team and offers each person, regardless of their role, the opportunity to begin to see how their long-term interests can begin to be served now. When vision and team member aspirations are in sync, that’s a garden that can yield a rich harvest. So as the bounty of the Fall harvest hits its peak, what are some ways you can show your team how their long-term interests can be realized by enlisting in a common vision? (“The Leadership Challenge” A Wiley Brand) (www.leadership challenge.com)
Managance Consulting & Coaching is on a mission to ignite passion and energize opportunity in association and other nonprofit organization work places. www.managance.com Denice Hinden, PhD, PCC, President and her team inspire leaders and teams to their next level of leadership and develop more trusting “we-centered” organizational cultures with transformational leadership development and engaging strategic thinking. Denice is Certified in Conversational Intelligence®. Do you have an idea you would like to explore. Contact Denice to schedule a complimentary discovery conversation – firstname.lastname@example.org – 866-481-2290.
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