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hands earthYou may ask, "Why non-for-profit leadership?" After all, leadership is leadership, right? The answer is Yes—and No.

Unique Challenges
The context and challenges of leadership in the non-for-profit sector are unique. The primary difference, traditionally, between for-profit and non-for-profit businesses is the bottom line. The for-profit leader keeps an eye on return on investment (ROI); she must answer to stockholders about her—and organisational—performance. The non-for-profit leader, though, has a double-bottom line to contend with—the return on mission (ROM) and the ROI on investments made by donors, foundations, and other resources. And in recent years, the nonprofit sector has been encouraged to be more "business-like" and efficient.

Today's leaders must be visionaries, strategic thinkers, champions of change, entrepreneurial, and great communicators to accomplish either ROI or ROM. However, in addition to these abilities, the nonprofit leader must also be able to:

  • build relationships inside and outside the organisation
  • lead by influence
  • act as a collective decision maker
  • stay knowledgeable about their field and management tools.

Distinctive Framework
The framework within which the non-for-profit leader functions is probably the greatest determinate of the skills and characteristics of the leader. Actually, the very structure of the non-for-profit organisation can somewhat limit the authority of the leader, the executive director (ED), or chief executive officer (CEO).

While the ED/CEO has full rein over the daily operations of the organisation, the final authority or approval lies with a Board of Directors, which is comprised of volunteers from the community who typically have other full-time jobs—and who also receive no financial compensation for their work on the Board. Nonetheless, the Board holds fiduciary responsibility for the organisation's finance, overall program direction, and the mission. It also hires, reviews, and if necessary fires the ED/CEO.

It is within this framework that the non-for-profit leader builds relationships with staff, constituents, funders, and community stakeholders. Developing trust and credibility is critical to leading and motivating staff who deliver services to the organisation's constituents. Relationships with members, donors, and funders also are built on trust and credibility.
In fact, the leader's ability to lead through influence helps to determine the organisation's position in the community. For instance, do community stakeholders look to the non-for-profit organisation as the expert and source of their specific need?

Exceptional Awareness
In addition to being the visionary, the holder of the big picture, the leader of change, and the voice of the organisation, the non-for-profit leader must always have the pulse of day-to-day operations. Most non-for-profit organisation leaders do not have the luxury of a full contingent of senior staff to delegate the operational responsibilities.

In the article, "Profiling the Nonprofit Leader of Tomorrow," non-for-profit consultant Jean Crawford uses the term "manager-leader" to describe the competencies, traits, and expertise needed by an effective non-for-profit leader. Some of the competencies she cites include strategic thinker, entrepreneurial achiever, and inspiring motivator, as well as adaptability, perseverance, and passion for the mission.

Excellent Business Sense
Although people generally choose to work in the non-for-profit sector because they want make a difference, perhaps even change the world, a non-for-profit organisation is still a business. Therefore, the non-for-profit leader, as with most business leaders, must also exhibit financial acumen and be able to successfully raise money. In addition, to these management proficiencies, the non-for-profit leaders must also have a depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise in their field.

In other words, the non-for-profit leader must remain focused on the mission, but also appreciate the importance of the bottom line. They must consider: How does the organisation accomplish the mission? Provide services to their constituency at low or no fee rates? Lead the organisation? Lead in the non-for-profit community and stay financially stable?

Final word: the nonprofit leader must have passion, vision, direction, and business acumen to succeed.

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innovationInnovation is the creation and implementation of something new and different. Innovation is a fresh approach to solving a problem and application of the solution. Innovation is both thinking and doing. Innovation is follow-through, the commercialization of a good idea.

Innovation is vital because it's the only way you can reliably achieve profitable growth. And profitable growth is the chief objective of every CEO. You've got to have profit—that goes without saying. But profit is not enough. You also need growth. In a dynamic competitive landscape, the company that's not growing is on its way to irrelevance.

There are really only two ways to grow.

  1. You can grab a bigger slice of the pie by stealing business from the competition. It's fun, if you can do it. But it's not easy.
  2. You can grow the pie. Innovation in products and services may do both. Innovative products and services can grow the market. They can grow the pie. And innovative products and services can also snare your competitor's customers and enlarge your piece of the pie.

In addition, process innovation can grow your profitability, because it means you're running your business more effectively.

Less time. Less scrap. Less friction. Less cash consumed. More cash remaining. More to the bottom line. That's wealth.

It's the job of the CEO to create wealth. It's the job of the CEO to drive innovation. Your CEO cares deeply about innovation, and so should you.

What Really Drives Innovation?
There are lots of books and articles written about innovation, and I've read many of them. Few seem to capture the primary lesson that that's revealed by innovation research: expertise, more than any other factor, determines your ability to innovate.

This doesn't seem like much of an insight, but it must not be that obvious because so many books on innovation gloss over or completely ignore the role of expertise. Instead, they focus on getting the right culture, recruiting diverse teams, implementing gate reviews and process metrics, taking risk, and celebrating failure. A lot of what's written about innovation, in my estimation, misses the mark.

Look, there's no such thing as the perfect culture to drive innovation. Even if there was a perfect innovation culture, it wouldn't guarantee innovation. The power of team diversity is over-rated. In fact, diversity may work against you. And go ahead, use gate reviews, take risks, celebrate failure, and do a great job measuring everything. Good luck. It doesn't mean you'll innovate.

But if you do nothing other than assemble a handful of engaged experts—I'm talking about true experts—you've at least got a shot at innovation.

Above All, Innovation Requires Expertise
We can all cite accidental discoveries that have launched groundbreaking innovations. But if we're serious about innovation, we can't wait for accidents. We have to be intentional about it, and that means we need experts.

Experts have the ability to see anomalies that others don't. They see similarities others miss. They see connections that are invisible to non-experts. They see patterns. Those patterns and connections are the basis of innovation. Innovation comes from the connections experts see between patterns.

The first step to becoming intentional about innovation is to understand experts and the nature of expertise.

  • Experts are passionate about their discipline. They are more than highly interested. They are more than hobbyists. Experts are focused, obsessive, and single-minded in a way that's nearly incomprehensible to the non-expert. They are driven to study, think, experiment, and to develop their own unique point of view that is the result of their own work. Ownership is important to them. They cultivate their passion and fiercely guard their expertise because they've invested so much in it. They own it. In fact, that largely explains why they are so passionate. Their passion builds as their expertise builds.
  • Experts have a vast amount of experience. The passion of experts leads them to spend more quality time working in their discipline. The 10,000-hour rule was identified in research years ago and popularized more recently by Malcolm Gladwell. The point is that, although there are ways to accelerate and enhance the value of experience, there is really no way to get around the sizable investment in time required to develop expertise. A true expert in any recognized discipline—chess player, diesel mechanic, or physician—has paid their dues.
  • The nature of an expert's experience is different. It's not just that experts have more experience, there's a qualitative difference in their experience. They practice differently. It's more focused, more intentional, more mindful. It leads the expert musician player to play the same four bars of difficult music over and over and over again until it's more than perfect, until it's natural. As martial artist Bruce Lee said, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."
  • An expert's motives are different. They are achievement-oriented, but the way they define achievement is different from others. More than anything else, they are motivated by being an expert. They love to have answers that others don't. They love to be in demand for what they know. That's not to say that experts don't have other motivators. They may value autonomy, money, power, security, or affiliation, for instance. But above all, they long to breathe the rare air that only true experts breathe when they reach the pinnacle of their profession.

Of course, expertise is not the only driver of innovation. Innovation requires teamwork, and creating the right team environment for experts is essential. Innovators need resources, and are best served by an organizational culture that is informal, promotes a high degree of approachability between all players, and fosters constructive dissent.

Reference: Lessons from a CEO's journal, Kim E Ruyle, 2014

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mentorIf you want to succeed as a mentor, first seek to understand yourself and others. —John C. Maxwell

There are many types and styles of mentoring, from the traditional "mentor" and "mentee" approach to mentoring partnerships across the generations. However, the underlying purpose of all models is to provide a venue for sharing, learning, and support. The difference is in how this purpose is accomplished—the modus operandi used.

How can the odds for a successful mentoring working relationship be increased? As we know, all relationships eventually end—some naturally fade away, some cease due to conflict, and some terminate because of a formal commitment. A mentoring relationship falls within this last category, although it can continue beyond the set closure date. Review the following tips for enhancing and strengthening the potential success level of the mentoring experience.

Qualities of successful mentors:

  • Be able to distinctly state what you expect from the relationship.
  • Have an open discussion about goals and roles.
  • Set aside time for check-in reviews.
  • Encourage and support the growth and development of skills, abilities, and knowledge.
  • Know the differences between mentoring and coaching.

Characteristics of effective working relationships:

  • Build confidence for meeting established learning objectives.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes and errors made regarding actions or words, and make the necessary adjustments to allow the relationship to move forward.
  • Express appreciation to each other for upholding the agreement.
  • Use time efficiently during a meeting by coming prepared, keeping to the agenda, being focused, and refraining from mobile device use.
  • Come together with positive, constructive, and flexible mindsets.

Importance of active listening and reflection:

  • Be aware of both open and hidden intents when communicating with each other.
  • Listen intently and then ask the right questions to encourage learning and stimulate creative thinking.
  • Maintain focus and remain non-judgmental throughout the conversation.
  • Rephrase what has been discussed to ensure there is agreement about the progress made toward established goals.
  • Take time for reflection before responding or reacting to concerns and questions.

Give and receive feedback:

  • Welcome comments and perspective by requesting specific and descriptive information.
  • Accept feedback by considering how constructive it was and if any surprises arose, challenges were addressed, or changes must be made. Share reactions and insights.
  • Apply feedback by focusing on your goals and priorities. Revise the learning agreement if needed.
  • Give feedback by relating observations and opinions. Start by highlighting the positives and strengths before discussing possible misunderstandings and miscommunications.
  • Engage in two-way feedback to strengthen trust, authenticity, and respect.

If you are presently participating in a mentoring program, how can you improve your level of success using the above tips? If you plan to participate in mentoring in the future, which tips will you put into play?

Reference: ATD

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