Friday, November 21, 2008

Nonprofit Leadership revisited

I am getting cynical, it must be the jet lag.

I'm feeling like a broken record at this conference. I am raising my hand in each session to presenters saying helllo are you aware of this piece of research or that regarding nonprofit leadership and nonprofit workforce? I'm not trying to be a snooty but don't people use the internet -- google reader? There is research in the nonprofit sector not just in the academic research databases. Many argue this practitioner based research must be critically reviewed, that is true, however practitioner research cannot be ignored either.

I attended the plenary session this evening where Michael Useem author of several leadership books spoke about nonprofit leadership. At least I think he was trying to talk about nonprofit leadership--I couldn't really tell becuase he is talking about corporations and CEOs and large corporate meetings. Will someone please tell him the majority of the nonprofit sector has organizations with budgets under $500k and we don't have the same issues with leadership as corporations?

He, like many people associate leadership as something that is trait based and stems from the CEO or ED. Well in large corporations that might work, however nonprofits are crying out for something different--collective leadership or participatory leadership or leadership that involves more than a one leader solution. Not to be corney, but enough with power to the leaders, power to the people!

I am really looking forward to writing my dissertation because my research shows that nonprofit staffers want more than just technical training they want interpersonal training to lead at all levels within the organization.

While I'm ranting, my colleague (to remain nameless) said that in one session she attended people will still saying there is going to be a leadership gap in the sector--to reiterate, there is no leadership gap, it is all in our heads.

Please read the research report Next Shift: Beyond the Leadership Crisis. Boomers are not 65 yet and they don't have real retirement plans in the nonprofit sector, they are not going to leave, nor will there be so many open positions that people are predicting. People are coming into the sector in the same amount they are leaving. The younger generations are coming into the sector with excellence education and training and we are starting to address the interpersonal training needs they need to have in order to stay in the workplace.

I believe the bigger issue at stake with nonprofit leadership is for the sector to revitalize itselves like the 60's and acknowledge that in order to run an affective nonprofits one must provide support and training to nonprofit employees and support nonprofit capacity building efforts.


Suzy said...

Heather, Thanks for the comments on the leadership "gap." As an Xer lodged firmly between the Boomers, who it appears are not going anywhere, anytime soon, and Generation Y, which is nipping at my heals and appears pearched to climb right over me, I'm also having a hard time seeing this dreaded gap everyone is hangwringing over. Add in the new fasination with bringing for profit leaders into the field...and its enough to send one back to get their MBA!

Elisa said...

You are singing my tune! I participated in a panel discussion last week and right off the bat, one of the other members of the panel (probably in his mid-50s) noted that the 'leadership gap' was one of the biggest challenges the nonprofit sector faces (this in front of an audience of 20-somethings, tho in the corporate sector).
When my turn came up, I respectfully but forcefully disagreed with him - the talent is here and ready, it just needs to be recognized and cultivated.
When I hear that kind of thing, it makes me furious which is probably not the best reaction, but I can't help it anymore. As long as we keep up our good work, I hope that we can continue to convince people that there isn't some giant sucking sound coming from the nonprofit sector as all the talent gets taken away by retirement.