We’ve witnessed tremendous change in the world of organizations due to the broad availability of information on the internet and the way specific organizational information is frequently shared via social media. The words “Like us on Facebook” seem to be omnipresent on the homepage of every organization today. One of the areas especially impacted by these phenomena is that of leadership. Today’s environment demands a different type of leader and leadership style. Non-profits risk being left behind if they fail to acknowledge and address these changes. They need to incorporate them carefully into their organizations. Existing leaders should be coached on their impact and how to lead successfully as a result of them. These factors must also be carefully considered in the selection of new leaders as current ones retire and new ones are selected to replace them.
Leading effectively today means that the style of behavior of the executive director must be collaborative, transparent, authentic, adaptable and flexible in approach. These attributes of leadership are necessary in order to be accepted by staff and stakeholders as a legitimate head of the organization that is fully aware of key issues and responsive to them in a way that resonates with all involved.
I’ve observed working with clients that gone are the days of the entrenched, excessively control oriented executive director who held relevant information close to the vest, shared it sparingly and led through a small network of wealthy donors who shared the leader’s vision and conviction for how the NPO should be run. A client cited to me an example of an executive director who, many years ago, fought hard against implementing even a rudimentary annual budgeting process even though staff and other stakeholders clearly recognized the need for it. The broad sharing of critical organizational information that such a process would have entailed was in conflict with the leader’s operating style. That non-profit limped along and continued despite itself. My guess is that in today’s world that view would not be received well and either the NPO would fail, or the leader would be ousted.
An example of how an effective leader in today’s world dealt with a challenging situation is one another client pointed out to me during the recent recession. Experienced NPO leaders expected the decline in contributions to NPOs (as a result of the recession) to take place about a year after the onset of serious economic problems. An executive director the client worked with on a board shared this view openly with staff and stakeholders. By forecasting the downturn in this way and informing those involved the NPO worked its way through a challenging time with minimal
disruption to normal operations. This collaborative effort on the part of the leader enabled the NPO to continue focusing on its mission and working through the downturn successfully. Failure to have shared this information on a timely basis (and prepared staff and stakeholders for the impact of the recession) would have left leadership vulnerable to critical questioning from board members about why leadership had not informed them of the likely impact of the recession and put contingency plans in place to deal with the situation. This would likely have distracted the organization from its mission and perhaps mired the organization in unproductive recriminations by the board toward leadership and staff.
Clearly the skill set required to successfully lead an NPO in today’s world is different than what we saw just a few years ago. As an NPO leader you need to recognize that the broad availability of information on the internet and the sharing of it via social media is as much a cultural change as it is a technological change, and that to survive, and better yet, thrive in the future, NPOs need to understand and adapt their leadership to today’s world. Collaborative behaviors are complimentary to it. Recognize that transparency and authenticity are not “nice to haves” but are “must haves” in today’s world.