As human beings we are often held back by a sense of needing permission from someone (sometimes anyone) to do something we already know deep down is the right path. And certainly in the nonprofit sector with many and varied stakeholders to constantly engage and include, it can often seem that moving forward on anything — without getting someone, often many people, to weigh in — is nearly impossible.
But part of being a confident, successful leader is knowing when you need buy-in and when you can instead lead the way. Because sometimes in waiting around for permission you can end up missing some pretty incredible opportunities.
So the next time you feel in your gut that a certain decision is the right one, give yourself permission to pursue it, rather than waiting for someone else to say “Go!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that nonprofit leaders suddenly go it alone. Rather, instead of erring on the side of caution and inclusion, nonprofit leaders could stand to lead more often.
So consider these ways in which you as a nonprofit leader can give yourself permission to:
Nonprofit leaders tend to be a risk-averse bunch. And with good reason. But if you think your nonprofit should take a bigger, bolder approach, listen to that. Then give yourself permission to start exploring what that bigger, bolder approach might be. I believe that these times demand more confidence and fearlessness from our social change leaders. So if there is a voice in your head telling you that your nonprofit could be doing more, pay attention. And give yourself permission to see where it leads.
Try a New Approach
As part of that exploration of something bigger, you may discover a better or complimentary approach to achieving your nonprofit’s desired outcomes. Perhaps you suspect a modified program delivery model, or a different target population, or an advocacy approach might help you better achieve your mission. You won’t know unless you try. So experiment with something that you think might really be a way forward. If you keep it small, in terms of staff and financial resources (think: pilot stage), you don’t need to have a big discussion about it. Research & Development should be part of any effective organization, so if you think something new might have merit, give it a try.
Grow Your Reach
Nonprofit leaders often bemoan the fact that their board is ineffective and disengaged and/or their network is small. But the answer is not to wait around for your board to reinvent itself or your network to magically grow. So as the leader of your nonprofit take the plunge and reach out to some new people, organizations, and networks. Approach some exciting potential new board members, make a connection with other leaders in and near your space who are doing exciting things. Anyone who creates a spark in you is worth pursuing. But don’t wait for someone to tell you its ok, just get out there!
Take a Break
No one is going to force you to take care of yourself and take time off. In fact, the only person who can actually give you permission to take a real and restorative break is you. So do it. When you feel yourself becoming weary, worn out, or ineffective, take a break. Whether that is a night off, a day off, or several weeks off. Ask yourself, “What do I really need to restore my energy and excitement about our work?” and give yourself permission to truly listen to (and act on!) the answer.
If you as a leader are in touch with what you truly think the right path forward is, then give yourself permission to start moving in that direction. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, done some due diligence, and experimented you can better engage and involve others. But stop waiting for permission to do something you know should be done. Being a true leader means that sometimes you have to blaze a path that no one else told you to blaze.
If you want to learn more about how I coach nonprofit leaders to be more confident, financially savvy and strategic, check out my Leadership Coaching consulting.