Leadership is one of the most talked about, but least understood concepts in the Non-Profit field. There seems to be consensus that not all managers are leaders. There is however less consensus regarding the principle of whether managers are ‘made’ and leaders ‘born’. Both of these aspects are of importance in terms of leadership versus management in the Non-Profit sectors, and the debate is ongoing. Of even more importance is actively promoting and endorsing the debate on the need of leadership in the nonprofit sector.
As in most organisations, nonprofits needs both managers and leaders – most have managers, but many lack leaders. Many managers are extremely capable in performing individual management tasks of planning, controlling, organising and leading. But many management teams are ineffective because they are waiting for decisions that are not forthcoming. They are confused and frustrated by the organisations lack of priorities, poor communication, the fact that the organisations ideals do not match day-to-day reality, decision making processes that are not clear, internal controls and systems that do not produce, focus on technical issues as opposed to principles etcetera. The aspects that confuse and frustrate managers are easily addressed by leadership.
In the corporate world
- No business would deliberately under-invest in the leadership team that is responsible for delivering the required and agreed results. However, in the nonprofit field many Non-Profits themselves, or the funders who fund them, are limiting the time and resource invested in leadership development or recruiting;
- No business, looking to be around in the future, would underinvest in succession planning. However, we continuously fail to do leadership succession- planning in the nonprofit field;
- No business would blindly keep supporting a leader that does not deliver: Headlines regularly inform us of the public downfall of leaders. The failure of these leaders can be linked to various reasons
- Shift in leader’s focus (thinking becomes more contractive than expansive);
- Risk aversion (driven by fear of failure rather than a desire to succeed)
- Lack of Integrity (when achieving results become more important that the means of their achievement)
- Relying of the title to lead – a good leader does not need a title to earn the respect of their team
- Expecting results from what you know as opposed to what you do. A strong leader is knowledgeable, but wisdom comes with knowing their results is due to what they do.
In addition, there seems to be a fear in the Non-Profit field of creating more leaders, and not fully buying into the concept that great leaders create more leaders. Power struggles only occur if the top leadership is not stable and strong. Coupled with this is the challenge of delegating - many ‘leaders’ delegate tasks and responsibility - blame-shifting if something does not work out. An effective leader, creating more leaders, will always be comfortable taking responsibility for the outcomes of their subordinates.
The competition and survival struggle in the Non-Profit field is very demanding – also the operating conditions are not stable. The ‘marketplace’ of the nonprofit field has changed considerably and will continue to do so. The lack of nonprofit leaders means that organisations fail to take cognisance of these facts - this is, and has been, catastrophic for many nonprofits. The lack of leaders, or incompetent leaders in the implies that many organisations lack mental toughness - doing what comes naturally (as opposed to what is needed) and doing what is easy and popular (as opposed to what is difficult and unpopular)
The response of many nonprofits is to expose management members to ‘leadership’ programmes – however many ‘leadership’ programmes available to nonprofits are focussing on improvement of technical skills and system development. Ultimately, nonprofits end up with more skilled managers, but still no leader. Nonprofits often try to compensate for the lack of leadership by investing in bureaucracy - more managers, more controlling, more rules.
Nonprofits at present quite often have positions that can be described as ‘managerial leadership’ - requiring a spectacular number of skills from one person or position. This may be the reality - but it does not explain why the managerial leaders tend to focus on the managerial aspect as opposed to the leadership traits. A true leader in a managerial leadership situation, should be able to implement and develop actions to promote active leadership.
Nonprofits need to commit to drawing in appropriate leadership into their organisations. The reality is that the lack of resource (in particular financial) do limit the options of nonprofits in this regard. The organisation does however, have to enter into a debate of their priorities – if they are not going to invest financial resources in an effective leader, they cannot continue having circle discussions about why their organisation is continuously losing ground.
More important that drawing in leadership from outside – nonprofits need to develop processes and allocate resources for succession-planning and horizontal mobility within the organisation- by identifying and developing appropriate and suitable managers and staff who have leadership qualities.
“A strong nonprofit leader drives a sense of mission down through the organisation, upward into the board and outward in to the community. He or she is willing to do whatever it takes to enable the organisation to follow their mission effectively.” (Light, P. 2002. Grasping for the Ring: Defining Strong Nonprofit Leadership).
- Pauline Roux is the managing partner at The Organisational Puzzle.