Leadership is Not a Solo Sport

Undraye P. Howard, who is the Vice President of the Center on Leadership with the Alliance for Children and Families, asked me to comment on leadership in these times of challenge and change in the world of social services.

As background, I have been with Episcopal Community Services (ECS) for a little over a year, but have been in the for-profit world since 1976 and continue to have some board relationships with several firms. I have also for the last 15 years lectured on leadership at Wharton, Temple and Rutgers, as well as a speaker at various trade associations and companies throughout the United States and Canada.

I am by no means an expert, but I have a fair amount of scar tissue and I have a strong opinion that scar tissue is the best teacher.

First, and I get asked this a lot, I do not think leadership is different between for-profit and nonprofit organizations. I think the skillsets needed are identical. To point:

1. It is all about talent and the development of talent.

2. The individuals closest to the work, know the most about the work.

3. The individuals closest to the work are customers in for profit and clients in ours.

4. Activity that does not add value brings no value, so why do it?

5. Strategy is an organic process, best cooked with many cooks and constantly tasted. Look five years out and what does it look like when it’s right. Assume budget and current rules are not an issue. Dreams start here. Most great ideas start as dreams. Budget time to dream.

6. Results matter, keeping score matters, fact based change matters. It is about accountability and first you coach, then you counsel, and if needed, then you cut. Hire slow, fire quickly. Withholding feedback is an unkind act.

7. Muddy boots is a management style I strongly advocate. You don’t manage from behind a desk.

8. Open Door/Open Book management is essential. Open door is your door is always open without risk to any employee, open book is we share all the numbers.

9. Benchmark with the best. Look outside your industry for ideas, trends, and technology.

10. Lead by example, less talk, more deeds.

Finally, to quote from a recent talk: “Leadership is hard, and it is rewarding. It is about doing the right thing, not the popular thing. It is about being confident in yourself and wise enough to take the advice of those you trust. It is about understanding the facts, not the emotion. It is about being fair to all, not just a few. It is about courage and vision. It is about humor and humility. It is about putting yourself in the hands of a higher power and having the faith to let that power guide your actions. It is never about the talk, it is all about the deeds.”