Effective leadership guides Valley’s nonprofits
Do leaders in the nonprofit sector exhibit more effective leadership skills than their for-profit counterparts? That’s what a major study has concluded.
In a national study of 2,800 leaders conducted by the Community Resource Exchange, researchers discovered that nonprofit leaders scored higher in 14 of the 17 leadership dimensions. The most dramatic differences appeared in skills related to the sensitivity to people and situations, and the use of personal versus hierarchical power.
“Contrary to intuition, the smaller the nonprofit, the more intense the executive’s role,” said CRE’s Managing Director, Jean Lobell. “Despite the stresses, amazing individuals with incredible skills rise to the task each year to lead organizations with important missions, driven by not much more than a passion to help others.”
Sonoma Valley is home to an array of small nonprofit organizations, led by talented, passionate executive directors with strong leadership skills. When asked what it takes to successfully run a Sonoma Valley nonprofit, Annie Bacon, executive director of Seeds of Learning, said, “Creativity, flexibility, the ability to listen and discern, and also to know when to move forward down your own path. We have to be especially business savvy, in order to always maintain a healthy bottom line.” Kathy Swett, executive director of Sonoma Community Center, added, “Having passion for the mission, playing well with others, relentless pursuit of the vision, and patience,” as the top skills needed by local nonprofit leaders.
Cynthia Scarborough, executive director of Vintage House, said, “Successful leaders share the ability to see the big picture within our organizations, and to hold that vision clear over time. We think strategically, incorporating demographic changes and trends into our planning. We grow strategically, seeking to keep revenues and expenses in balance when adding new programs or staff, and building reserves to carry us through lean times and the inevitable unforeseen circumstances. We stay alert to new program and funding opportunities, and avoid pursuing either when they’re not in keeping with our mission or our current capacity.”
There are several possibilities as to why nonprofit leaders received higher ratings on their leadership skills in the CRE study. One may be that since compensation is not the incentive that it is in the for-profit world, nonprofit leaders must use other means, such as sound leadership practices, to motivate people. Another reason may be that with limited resources, nonprofit leaders must rely on the multidimensional aspects of their leadership role to accomplish their work through a wide variety of constituents.
One of Sonoma Valley’s newest executive directors, Anna Pier of CommonBond, discussed the multidimensional aspects of leadership by stating, “With only a couple of months at the helm of CommonBond, I know that this is the job for a strategist. I believe that a good leader listens, and listens again, to clients, to staff and volunteers, and to colleagues. A collaborative spirit, a great sense of humor, a genuine interest in people, and willingness to roll up sleeves for hard work – these are hallmarks of leadership in an executive director.”
The opportunity for nonprofit leaders to continually develop new skills and strengthen existing skills is essential. Richard Hacker, executive director of Friends in Sonoma Helping (F.I.S.H.), commented, “It requires a commitment to life-long learning. The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County has wonderful workshops and trainings for executive directors and nonprofits in general. Participating in the Sonoma Valley Executive Roundtable gives one an opportunity to share with peers. Having a personal coach is very helpful. You have to be willing to take feedback anywhere and at any time.”
Jeni Nichols, president of Sonoma Leadership Systems, has devoted her life to providing leadership development opportunities for nonprofit and for-profit leaders. Regardless of the type of organization the leader serves, she believes, “The best leaders are credible, have a vision and are vulnerable. It all comes down to leading from the heart and being honest with those you lead.”
Dr. B.J. Bischoff is the owner of Bischoff Performance Improvement Consulting, a Sonoma firm specializing in building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and government agencies to better serve their stakeholders. Contact her at email@example.com.