I’m fascinated by what makes someone an effective nonprofit leader.
Yes, leaders should be inspiring and visionary, setting and articulating a vision for the organization. And, of course, it’s important for leaders to manage finances well, to be compelling fundraisers, and to be good at delegating responsibilities. But, more than anything, being an effective leader comes down to character, work ethic, and personality.
One way to think of it: an effective nonprofit leader is a person with thick skin, dirty fingernails, and a good heart.
Let me tell you about a woman I’ll call Anna, who has been running a historical museum, and running it extremely well, for many years. She’s an exemplary nonprofit leader. Anna is calm and cool. She resists the temptation to respond to provocations. I was speaking with one of her board members, a historian of the early American Navy, and he said, “Anna’s made of live oak!” His reference was to the remarkably dense framing timber, live oak, that was used to construct Old Ironsides and the other 18th-century frigates of the first U.S. Navy. Live oak gave those ships an unequalled resilience. Anna, he told me, was made of the same stuff. “Cannonballs just bounce off her.” Continue reading