In the nonprofit sector the words “leader” and “manager” are sometimes tossed around interchangeably. But the fact is that they are two very different, and equally necessary, elements to an effective and sustainable nonprofit organization.
A leader provides an inspiring, motivating big strategy for staff and board to get behind. She asks hard questions and constantly pushes the organization and its people to do more, try harder, expand their reach, think bigger. A leader makes sure that people are engaged and invested in the work and creates a team environment where each person feels part of something much larger than herself. And in this way, a leader inspires board and staff to do more and be more than they ever thought possible.
Whereas, a manager creates systems that allow the organization to get things done and holds board and staff accountable. He makes sure that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to be, has the tools they need to get the job done, and is held responsible for their part. The manager executes the path that the leader has articulated.
So in an ideal scenario, the two — leader and manager — work as a perfect team. One strategizes, propels, and inspires. The other creates systems and accountability to bring the strategy to fruition.
It doesn’t matter if you are a large nonprofit or a tiny one. And it doesn’t matter if the roles of “leader” and “manager” are contained in one person or multiple people, as long as everyone is clear about who is which, and when. Sometimes, in larger nonprofits, the leader and the manager will be contained in two different people, or in several people (senior management team, board chair and CEO). And other times the executive director of a small nonprofit may need to play the role of leader and manager in equal measure.
However you do it, in order to be effective and sustainable as a nonprofit, both your board and your staff need to be led and managed well.
Ask yourself these questions to see if your nonprofit lacks leadership, management, or both:
- Does someone push us to ask hard questions, particularly about what the organization exists to do and whether we are actually doing it?
- Does someone encourage board and staff to articulate a long-term strategy and get excited by it?
- When times are tough, is there someone who effectively rallies board and staff and reminds them of the importance of your work?
- Is someone pushing the organization to expand its networks, relevance and reach far beyond our own walls?
- Does someone hold each of our board members accountable to show up, actively engage, and contribute to an effective and sustainable organization?
- Does someone ask those board members who are not performing to reform or resign?
- Does our staff have clear goals for their work and does someone regularly hold them accountable to meeting those goals?
- Are staff incentives (time off, salary increases, flexible time, promotions) directly and clearly tied to performance?
- Do board and staff have all of the tools they need to do their jobs well?
- Do we have effective systems (program delivery, data management, fundraising, board recruitment, staffing) in place?
If you answered “No” to some or all of these questions, your nonprofit may lack some key leadership or management capabilities. If that is the case, step up as a leader and encourage a hard conversation about where your nonprofit is lacking and how to fill those gaps.
And if you need some help figuring out what your nonprofit lacks or how to fill those gaps, check out the coaching I provide nonprofit boards and staffs, or download the Reinventing the Nonprofit Leader book.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia