I have adored some career choices more than others. To date, (and no, I don’t enjoy dating, but that’s a different article), I am wholly in love with and immersed in learning from the good, the bad and the ugly of pretty much everything.
For whatever reason, and I will mention some of what I believe are the reasons, I have often evolved into a leader, even though this is something I have fought against for much of my life.
While I have sometimes felt pressured to accept a leadership position or be fired, I think I am starting to understand what I believe are extremely valuable (essential) qualities of very strong leadership. Here goes: (Also, don’t forget my disclaimers, okay?)
A great leader does not need to take credit or receive much in the way of applause
A great leader never considers a brilliant idea stolen, and nor does she/he become offended, when a colleague claims idea as her/his own, but rather views it as a positive that collaborative systems are working well
A great leader meets people exactly where they are and implements actions based on realistic factors (I struggle with the second part of this one!)
A great leader, while always seeing a holistic view, creates and develops accessible systems in order to raise up all individuals and the organization as a whole
A great leader takes calculated risks and accepts the heat when they don’t fly
A great leader is appropriately transparent and accountable, internally and externally
A great leader elevates others and recognizes that this estimable action improves the leader as a leader!
A great leader knows that the very best ideas and systems are successful only through collaboration
A great leader has a healthy sense of boundaries, but NEVER buys into hierarchy
A great leader celebrates victories but does not claim victory as her/his own
A great leader takes it on the chin for the greater good of the team and proceeds to shift the group, into a positive direction
A great leader is either organized, or wise enough to locate all aspects of organization in order to run things well
A great leader has vision, compassion and clarity
A great leader needs help and asks for it
A great leader plays to strengths and helps stretch weaker muscles, in her/himself and others
A great leader values and fosters professional development for all
A great leader almost always finds the calm within a storm
A great leader is realistic and accepting about her/his own weaknesses and is selectively and strategically transparent about them, in order to elevate the collective group and organization
A great leader celebrates being a part of something far bigger than her/himself. (A great leader is right-sized)
A great leader is strategic and tactical or, is surrounded by others who are strategic and tactical (which is an excellent strategy.)
A great leader implements and follows an accessible, realistic organizational strategic plan
A great leader is hungry to learn from others and invariably, does
A great leader is responsible and enthusiastic about mentoring other great leaders
A great leader is many times, not located at the top of an organizational chart, and doesn’t really care
Whoa. There’s more, but I’m exhausted.
I have observed outstanding leadership on a few occasions, but not as often as I’d like to. Egos and/or arduous work to hide a leader’s weaknesses, lack of systems creation and/or implementation gets in the way. Many times, leaders who are labeled as leaders, can feel burdened by or anxious about their title, so they define and focus on what they think a leader is supposed to look like, rather than keeping her/his eyes on what’s really essential.
I am interested in learning from great leaders and also from the not so great leaders. In fact, I really love and embrace both facets of professional growth as they are invaluable lessons on what to do and what not to do.
Maybe that’s why I might be a leader at my core, as much as I prefer standing behind other leaders.
For the love of driving a mission. PLAN. LISTEN. BREATHE. SING.
With an abundance of vim and vigor, I work in the nonprofit sector. As with much of my life, I tend to think in choreography, musical theatre and improv comedy sketches. No matter how long I’ve been out of the performing arts professionally, I still have an artist’s brain with an obsession for the implementation of logical and accessible systems. I am grateful for both sides of my brain.
I have known for more than a decade that the nonprofit sector is exactly where I belong. Whenever my Dad mentions, “Hey Honey, you can always go the corporate route again,” I smile, and sometimes, I even nod.
I thrived in the for profit sector for a few decades. I was so lucky to travel the world, earn a terrific living, engage with lovely people (mostly), and learn a great deal about a host of industries that have since changed dramatically. Growing up (hungry) in the performing arts for much of my life was helpful to my flourishing in the for profit sector. With a starving artist mentality, (because I wanted to be skinny, not because I didn’t have food), I showed up to each gig, grateful for the job, interested in learning, and excited to be around so much innovation. What sorely lacked for me while working in the corporate world, was the feeling that I wasn’t really doing enough to help humankind. The mere thought of collaborating with other like-minded people to move a nonprofit mission and organization forward, to make this world better, often led and STILL leads to thoughts of West Side Story and other musicals I’ve performed in and/or loved:
When I’m in a meeting with executive leadership, or with a colleague who needs to feel more valued, or with a disappointed donor, or when I choose to eat humble pie, because I KNOW it’s what’s best for the collective good, it always helps to recall and celebrate my musical theatre roots.
When I entered (head/heart first), into the nonprofit world, I was immediately inspired:
Truth be told, the music fromLes Miserables often plays in my head. Much to my dismay, I never performed in that show, but I was called back a bunch of times for Broadway and the National Tour. My singing wasn’t good enough, and I always knew that. I think I might have had nine callbacks, so I guess I didn’t completely suck. P.S. I guarantee that my Mom, Lois Klier, absolutely knows the exact amount of callbacks and what I wore at each one.
So, while I was undeniably inspired by nonprofit work, I made a shocking discovery:
nonprofits sometimes forget that they’re a business.
In the nonprofits I’ve had the honor of working for, as staff, as a consultant, and as a member of the board of directors, I have noticed a trend:
So many meetings, and meetings that are usually not well-organized and that last way too long
Poor planning or no planning with reactive rather than proactive actions. Passion for a mission is not enough. Planning is key
Too much reliance on gadgets and gizmos to help learn more about the organization’s donors and donor prospects. The best prospect research tool I’ve ever located, is having a conversation with the prospect, and doing more listening than talking. The relationship evolves from there
Too much work on staff members’ plates, but in actuality, prioritization is usually out of whack because systems have never been put into place
Enormous dependence on fundraising events with no plan for donor retention, post event.
Weak marketing – lack of clarity or connective tissue between the organizational mission and its marketing and communications materials
Not spending enough time on strengthening the case for support
Not celebrating victories. Even small milestones are worthy of a two-minute party. The mission and workload will still be there when you’re done. Praise the collaborative effort, praise your colleagues and leadership.
Inserting too much pressure on the Board of Directors and lay leadership for fundraising – THIS is not great cultivation and stewardship if your donor is uncomfortable doing something. It’s the staff’s job to craft a fundraising strategy that works well for the organization. Where do gracious volunteers want to go? What excites them? Have them do that. Support them and develop leaders
More than all I have listed above, nearly all of the nonprofits I have been involved with attract the very best, kindest and most talented human beings on the face of the Earth. It serves a nonprofit very well to raise already extraordinary people up, so that the organization has the strength to do what it’s there to do. Elevating people is at the heart of every mission I have ever seen, pondered or worked to move forward
Today, I don’t have to tell you that there is a great deal of fear, worry, anger and shock that is practically suffocating us. While I am not immune to the current climate, I have forced myself to implement a system of boundaries that help keep me free to do what I must do in order to make this world better.
I do fear really well, I just choose not to.
While wallets may tighten and nonprofit tax benefits might change, it doesn’t alter the fact that important nonprofit missions have to be carried out. I would argue, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.
And while I’m a pragmatist, I might also be a secret optimist. I do believe:
While the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story, hated and sought to harm each other, they never really knew each other in the first place. Heartbreaking tragedy struck and that’s what it took for communities to come together. Tony and Maria were more evolved than their peers because they led with love. I choose to lead with love, especially within a storm of chaos.
And from the very first show that bit me in the tush, I urge anyone, even in such challenging times, to think:
And l’chaim to a nonprofit’s life, and its organizational sustainability. Breathe, listen, pay attention, and please plan the exact moves (ahead of time), on how you’re going to safely get down from the roof without breaking your fiddle, and when you get down, you must already know how you will implement a system of collaboration for the entire community of Anatevka. You are a matchmaker. Make matches for your donors and the organization you work for or serve.
I have faith in you, and in human beings all over the globe. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Originally written in August, 2016, and updated six months later,to reflect a positive shift in my professional trajectory. My professional path will shift again, with intention and by design.
My Mom has shared with me many times, that while I was growing up, she felt really sorry for me. She noticed I was living with a curse. I had so much passion, focus and commitment for such an expansive variety of things, she didn’t know how I would ever decide to choose just one of them to take me through my life professionally. She worried a lot about it. Continue reading “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right: Career Polyamory”