Shared Wisdom for Successfully Leading Organizations

Being inspirational both in good times and bad

The role of the CEO in a non-profit organization should also be inspirational in good times and bad. You should talk with the employees periodically about the values of the organization.

As with any good garden that is constantly growing, it takes constant care and attention to keep the overall look cohesive. Undesirable elements can start to creep in; for example, the language being used by staff to describe the work may become boastful and start hindering relationships with outside partners.

It is good to have a few opportunities in a year for the entire staff to be brought together and to use these times as the CEO to say something about the organization’s culture and values that matter and that are worth preserving, such as “we don’t have to work particularly long hours but we do have to care about producing high quality work.”

You want to help your staff members keep their eye on how the organization is doing (formally and informally) in its quest to meet the overall objectives. It’s important to call out failing practices without needing to embarrass people, and also to celebrate successes. Your standards should be high.

Being an inclusive and supportive leader does not mean that you have to take a back seat approach. Sometimes leaders are so democratic in their management style that they always step back and let someone else take the lead. For a first-time CEO, for example, it might feel uncomfortable to take the mantle in front of former colleagues or staff who have been around the organization longer than you. This approach can be as damaging as constantly taking the limelight and making the work about you.

When the staff is together, they want to see you articulate the values of the organization, believe in their work, and give them the reassurance that you have their backs. They need to see you make decisions and take responsibilities for them. Although the decisions you make will not always be perfect, the staff needs to see you move the work along and not wait or waffle too long.

Hear from You’re It! co-author Alan Broadbent as he talks about articulating organizational values:

At Maytree and Avana we use the summer and winter staff lunches as a time to articulate the values of the organization. I express gratitude for the work staff does, our basic dedication to serving the community, our humility in knowing that success can only come by making other people more able to succeed, and our commitment to high quality outcomes. And I always emphasize the value of persevering, of showing up to work every day and working hard, every week, every year, every decade, and taking pride in working in the interest of other people.