Being an Effective Leader for Your Organization
Table of Contents
Who is a good leader? Chances are, someone you know comes to mind. What makes them a good leader? What qualities do they have? Anyone can become an effective leader, with the willingness to learn and practice the necessary skills. You bring a unique set of competencies, life experiences, and values to the table which are the building blocks for making you a good leader.
As a board member you probably have a deep and vested interest in your organization and its mission. You are involved because you want to contribute to its success. Now, as a leader, you have the opportunity to play a stronger role in steering the board toward its vision, inspiring other board members, and shaping the future of the organization.
This factsheet explains what it means to be a leader, some of the competencies you will need, common pitfalls you might encounter, and ways to develop your leadership skills.
Reflect: What do you think makes a good leader? Do you know someone who is a great leader? Why do you think they're effective?
Whether you volunteered, were elected, or appointed, like other leaders, you probably have strong ideas about where you'd like the organization to head, and what you'd like to accomplish before your term ends.
Sometimes we equate a leader with a manager or boss. If we think about it though, the word "leading" really means to be out in front, showing the way. As a leader, your role is to inspire and guide people to reach solutions together, not manage them.
"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines if the ladder is leaning against the right wall." Stephen Covey
Reflect: Why did you accept the leadership position? What's your vision? What would make you happy to achieve in your term? What's the difference you want to make?
Leadership experts and authors like Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Peter Drucker and Peter Senge have spent a lifetime researching what makes an effective leader and developing leadership models. It would be impossible for one person to model all the behaviours or acquire all the skills they suggest. But if we look at the commonalities of their research, we can compile a list of competencies, traits and qualities that many good leaders demonstrate.
Think of this list as your Leader Toolkit. The more of these competencies (or tools) you can retrieve when needed, the more successful you will be at leading. When the job calls for a screwdriver, you want to be able to look in your toolkit and find a screwdriver. If all you have are hammers, then you're not going to be effective.
Place a checkmark in the "High" column if you think your skill level is high in any of these competencies. Place a checkmark in the "Medium" column if you think your skill level is average or medium. Place a checkmark in the "Low" column if you think your skill level is low.
Reflect: Which competencies and behaviours are your strengths? Which ones need more work? Do you have a quality that is not mentioned here that would be an asset to you as a leader? Which skills do you want to develop?
The first step in being an effective leader is knowing what is expected of you. Some of your duties are common to most leadership positions, but some may be specific to your unique situation and board. You may be able to consult:
Some of the duties you might have to perform are:
Reflect: What are some other jobs you might have to do? Add them to the list above. Put a star beside the jobs that you should learn more about. Who could help you?
You bring a specific set of skills, attitudes, knowledge and experience to the board, and so do each of your board members. Your group dynamics and how you interact with each other are unique. As a leader, you have to navigate your team through ever-changing circumstances while never losing sight of things like vision, mission, budget and time!
" great leaders choose their leadership style like a golfer chooses his or her club, with a calculated analysis of the matter at hand, the end goal and the best tool for the job." Robyn Benincasa
A single leadership approach will not be effective in every situation, so leaders must be flexible and adaptable. They evaluate each circumstance and choose the right approach for the task at hand. There are many on-line sites that you can access to learn more about leadership styles (see Resources). The following chart provides a basic overview of how to adapt leadership styles to different situations.
The grant application to get much needed funding is due next week! Here are four different leadership approaches to this scenario.
Effective leaders don't always have the answers, but they know how to ask good questions! Drawing out the best from your board members and yourself means asking lots of questions. Leading a constructive dialogue, helps visualize the future, experiment with new approaches, stimulate fresh thinking, or identify values. Here are some examples:
"A team leader's most important task boils down to only
two key questions a week that he or she should ask every team member:
It's no surprise that even the best leaders have to watch out for setbacks. Knowing in advance what might occur and thinking about how to respond, is good planning. Your anticipation may help you avoid the pitfall all together. Here are some common ones with suggestions on how to handle them:
Reflection: What are some of the pitfalls or challenges that you think you'll face with your specific team or board members? Look at the Leader Toolkit again and your identified low skill areas. How might you overcome these challenges? Brainstorm some ideas.
Leadership trends show a growing reliance on collaborative or collective leadership because it is becoming more difficult for one person to do it all! Sometimes other board members can share leadership tasks with you. In this manner, you are engaging the power of the whole group and using it to the best advantage.
Example: If one of your board members is an extremely persuasive and effective presenter, let them take the lead in the next major presentation.
Example: If one of your board members is well versed in understanding and leveraging technology, ask them to inform and guide the board on those matters.
You are not abdicating your responsibility for these functions; you are acknowledging your personal limitations and how to compensate for them. A good leader recognizes the strengths in others and uses them to the benefit of the organization.
Becoming an effective leader is a process and great leaders never stop learning.
Reflect: Think about your role as a leader each day:
Take the time to evaluate yourself and identify skills you can improve. Read some of the resources at the end of this factsheet and see which ones resonate with you. Network with other leaders and share experiences and advice. Learn from mistakes - that's how you get better!
Benincasa, Robyn. (May 29, 2012). 6 Leadership Styles and When You Should Use Them.
Blanchard, Ken. (2013). Leadership and the One-Minute Manager Updated Edition. New York: William Morrow.
Buckingham, Marcus. (May 11, 2015). 2 Questions Every Leader Must Ask.
Canadian Society of Association Executives. (2016). 44 Not-For-Profit Management Competencies.
Covey, Stephen, R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press.
Crawford, Joan. (May/June 2010). Profiling the Non-Profit Leader of Tomorrow.
George, Bill. (2015). Discover Your True North. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Goldsmith, Marshall. (2015). The Four Key Practices of Leadership.
Korngold, Alice. (March 26, 2012). The Single Best Way to Develop Leadership Skills.
Kouzes, James, M. and Barry Z. Posner. (1999). Encouraging the Heart. A Leader's Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. California: Jossey-Bass.
Larcker, David, F., Nicholas E. Donatiello, Bill Meehan, Brian Tayan. (2015). 2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations.
Murray, Alan. (2014). What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership? Adapted from The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management, published by Harper Business.
Olson, Lindsay. (December 27, 2012). 5 Leadership Trends to Watch in 2013.
Ontario Nonprofit Network. (2013). Shaping the Future: Leadership in Ontario's Nonprofit Labour Force Final Report, ONN Human Capital Renewal Strategy: Phase 1, Mohawk Centre, University of Toronto.
Petrie, Nick. (2014). Future Trends in Leadership Development. Centre for Creative Leadership.
Proud, Jill. (2016). Power Up: Lead and Live with Purpose.
Ridley, Elizabeth, Cathy Barr. (2006). Board Volunteers in Canada: Their Motivations and Challenges A Research Report, Imagine Canada.
Schawbel, Dan. (September 12, 2011). Standout: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution.
Senge, Peter. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. U.S.: Doubleday.
Senge, Peter. (June 4, 2015). What Makes A Great Leader.
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