One of the worst things you can do, I think, as a non-profit professional is to burrow down inside your own organization, live like you are in a cocoon, and only look from within for ideas.

It is tremendously unhealthy to think that you can run a successful mission-based community without trying to get as much input and inspiration from the outside world as you can. In fact, I think such an attitude demonstrates a horrifying level of institutional arrogance that will ultimately doom the organization.

So, that being said, I think that there is great value in continually keeping an eye on what others are doing that is bringing them success in a variety of areas. I have always suggested undertaking as many collaborative projects as you can, because that act of joining forces can make an individual non-profit much stronger in the long run.

Also, when you work together with another like-minded group, you get the chance to observe personality and leadership traits in others, some of which you admire and respect, while others don’t impress you as much.

Here is a list of traits in non-profit leaders that I have personally experienced that I have tried to incorporate into my own leadership style.

Curiosity. If a leader isn’t interested in what others are doing, he or she won’t bring many good ideas to his or her own group.

Willing to take a risk. If a leader is afraid to fail, nothing great is ever going to happen within that organization.

Willing to learn from everyone on staff. If a leader doesn’t believe in the value of every team member, he or she will never win true loyalty from the staff.

Not defensive. If staff members sense that a leader is thin-skinned, they will never feel comfortable bringing concerns to him or her.

Secure in his/her position. If a leader is worried about keeping his or her job and acts accordingly, he or she will lose sight of directing the entire organization.

Wanting employees to grow, even if that means losing them. A real leader wants to train his or her staff so thoroughly that they can take on increasing responsibilities. This may mean that the rising staff members may need to look elsewhere for employment, but the leader shouldn’t feel threatened by that.

Remembering to compliment, even after an employee screws up. A good leader finds ways to teach staff members through mistakes and errors in judgment, so that learning takes place and everyone maintains their dignity.

What other leadership qualities do you value in others that you’ve observed? Please share with us in our comment section!

Photo by: Celso Flores’ photostream

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Posted on 07 August 2011

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandra says:

    I admire a willingness to say NO to the wrong projects, when something proposed does not match the organization’s mission and vision or on a personal level when an organization is not a good match for a consulting gig or employment.

  2. Kirsten Bullock, Fundraising Coach says:

    I’d just add a high level of ethics. Doing what’s right when no one is looking. The AFP Code of ethics is a great resource for anyone in the nonprofit sector (available at http://www.afpnet.org/ethics).

  3. Sandy Rees says:

    I want a leader who holds a vision for where the organization is going. Without a visionary leader, the nonprofit will have a tough time focusing in one direction and can flounder.

    Sandy Rees
    Fundraising Coach

  4. Sandra says:

    High five Sandy! That is so true, having a strong vision is probably the most important trait of a great leader. Then a great leader must be a consensus builder, bringing the rest of the organization into the vision, allow it to be shaped by the team, and then take consistent action toward that vision.


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