Tuesday, April 02, 2013

What The Next Generation Leader Will Look Like

We're walking into uncertain times
What type of talent should The Next Generation Executive Director cultivate in current staff?  What should they look for in new hires? The answer is critical to understanding the changes taking place in our current expectation of the Executive Director’s role and what tomorrow's leader should posses.  If you are running a nonprofit, this will impact your  effectiveness, the effectiveness of your organization and ultimately your career. The qualities that an ED values most in their team sets a standard that affects everything from program development, fundraising, collaboration and the long-term success of nonprofit.
Employer surveys over the past four decades document the growing emphasis upon those “soft” skills: communication, dependability, tenacity.  In fact, the transformation is now so complete that basic technical skills requirement no longer rank in the top five of what employers seek.  As one Director explains, “I can teach them what they need to do a good job, but they need those soft skills like persistence in order to do a great job and add real value to this organization.”

There is also data suggesting that priorities in rudimentary job skill requirements are changing in important ways.  In the public, private and nonprofit sectors it is creativity and teachability which dominate over the basic technical competencies in determining success on the job.
Note it doesn’t say administrative skill, passion or even commitment to mission. In the Age of Austerity, this is an interesting shift.  Thus as the economic environment changes, the threat to traditional nonprofit leaders is titanic.  Retrenchment of government budgets, private household debt burdens, the expansion of venture philanthropy, an emerging legal framework for public benefit corporations all represent fundamental core challenges to traditional nonprofits.  Uncertainty is confronting today’s ED, many of who sense a wave of change coming at them and thus generating a concern about the ability of their staff to deal with it.

This is why The Next Generation Executive Director views creativity and teachability as the essential leadership asset that must saturate a nonprofit.

Might As Well Break Your Business Model Before The World Does It For You
The Great Recession has shaken many of the assumptions held by those in charge. Since half of the EDs in America are 55 and older, this means the majority of our leaders cut their management teeth back in the 70s and early 80s, an age which valued basic administrative skill and virtually ignored creative leadership.  When you consider that 40% of human service nonprofits still conduct client intake via pen and paper, you get a sense that even before the recession we were a few decades behind the curve.

It’s not the technical hardware we’re talking about, but the interconnected mindset.  Most nonprofits just use technology to digitize existing systems, sometimes described by management author Tom Peters as ‘paving the cowpaths’. Today the world is massively interconnected — economically, socially, and politically — and operating as a system of systems. For too many Executive Directors, the answer is that their stakeholders are plugged into their individual social networks, but not to the nonprofit. So what does this look like for The New Nonprofit?  
In a networked age of connection and complexity, emerging nonprofit leaders are stressing fresh thinking and continuous innovation at all levels of the organization. The Next Generation Executive Directors are seizing upon innovation as the necessary element for nonprofits get nimble, reinvent themselves and thus remain significant players in the funding and service community.

Kill Your Sacred Cows
So you’re looking for creative talent and innovative thinking.  What does this do for the nonprofit?
  • Question your status quo. Most nonprofits have legacy programs that are sacred cows. Often the need to perpetuate the ‘success’ of these efforts stifles creativity within the organization and thus leaving exciting new options open for other nonprofits to advance competing innovations.  The Next Generation Executive Director understands that new revenues will have to come from new sources, and thus be open to disrupt current programs to create mental space for new thinking.

  • Rethink your business model. Directors who prioritize creativity as a need in their staff are more likely to pursue innovation by changing their business model. In an age of change, they surround themselves with talent that can think on their feet and move tactically rather than await direction from the laborious traditional strategy/planning sessions so beloved these past few decades.  Strategic Thinking matters more than Strategic Planning.  The Next Generation Executive Director builds staff capacity to favor continuous, rapid-fire shifts and adjustments to their business models.

  • Destroy your institutional lethargy. The Next Generation Executive Director will not await certainty…nor near certainty. Nor will they tolerate it in their staff.  Creative leaders will develop a team that fights the bult-in status quo which urges going slow in the name of ‘considering all options’ or ‘waiting for more information’ before making decisions.  Staff must have strong analytical skills to sift through mountains of data and decide what is relevant. These talents drive decision making that is faster, more precise, and even more predictable.  Creating this type of staff environment takes a combination of vision, strategic awareness and intuitive confidence.  It also requires a certain tolerance of failure as innovation brings risk.  However, in an era of rapid change innovation brings far less risk than maintaining the status quo.  
Any questions?

The Next Generation Executive Director must create a culture which is far more transparent and entrepreneurial. The people in the organization must believe that the changing economy is an opportunity, not a threat. The New Nonprofit understands that risk is to be managed, not avoided. The Next Generation Executive Director is one who can build a fluid business model which gives staff the space to innovate and create.

Something significant is happening to the American economy and to the nonprofit sector. In response to powerful external pressures and the opportunities that accompany them, The Next Generation Executive Directors are redefining the job. They are leading the sector in showing to the rest of us that in an age of uncertainty that there is a creative path forward.  There is a new generation emerging. Is that you?

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