I have been working in nonprofits for almost a decade. I can’t believe I am saying that out loud! Now that you all know I am getting old (not too old), I wanted to share a few insights on lessons learned. In the nonprofit sector, it can sometimes feel like you are giving too much of yourself. Program participants are draining you emotionally, someone is out-hustling you at work, money is tight at your organization, the community needs more than you have to offer and there is never enough time in the day to get everything done. I most certainly have felt all of these things and more. What I have learned from my time in nonprofits is that Everyone Leads.
Lesson One in Leadership: Everyone Can Lead
Everyone leads at their own pace, time, sundial, whatever you want to call it. Just because you are a multitalented master of excel, IT, and making a robust cup of coffee doesn’t mean you have the best leadership style. I have learned to see people for who they are: not lazy or slow, but thoughtful and intentional; not disorganized and chaotic, but creative and free-spirited. People are people with many talents, strengths, and abilities to lead. Good leadership isn’t traditional and stoic. Leadership consists of, in the words of Queen Beyonce, “Flaws and All.” Remember that!
Lesson Two in Leadership: Influence is Key
Influence is a secret superhero power that I am trying to harness more and more every day. I am not talking about tricking people into doing stuff for you, I am talking about the real deal changing people’s hearts and minds, shifting narratives, and moving people to think about something bigger than themselves. That is the influence, and in the nonprofit sector, those who have that superpower are the ones making significant changes in and for the community. If you are one of those folks with the power to influence I hope you are using your power for good!
Lesson Three in Leadership: Nimbleness is Valuable
If you want a career that is predictable and consistent from day to day, then do not enter the nonprofit sector. The best thing about nonprofit work is that no day is the same day! There is always a new initiative, new funding idea, new program or new strategic plan. If change scares you, then I don’t advise going into nonprofit work. If you are flexible and can readily accept change, then nonprofits are for you. In nonprofit work you have to be nimble and willing to be the IT support, janitor, mentor, coach, and boss all in one day. The nature of the work requires that you think on your toes, prepare for the worst and get things done.
Lesson Four in Leadership: “The Sky Isn’t Falling”
This lesson pairs very well with being nimble. When you find yourself in a work crisis, you need to bounce back. Be resilient! I’ve learned from my experiences that when a crisis occurs you need to analyze, take things in, take a few deep breaths and tackle the problem one item at a time. Make lists!!!! When you don’t take the time to really think about what is happening, you can easily slip into an unproductive work pattern running around with your head chopped off (sorry for the gross analogy), and not accomplish anything.
Lesson Five in Leadership: It is OK to FAIL/MAKE MISTAKES/F-UP!!!
We as people are human and we are not perfect. I know you have heard someone say that before. Well, it is true, and I will repeat it. We are human, and we are not perfect. Mistakes will happen, things will get dropped, and programming will suck. It is okay. It is okay because you owned that you made a mistake. Of course, when you make the mistake of ordering black tablecloths instead of the red ones, yes people will talk about it and then guess what? You will laugh about it later. I have made many mistakes, and the one lesson that still rings true with every mistake is how you show up after it happens. Did you take responsibility and did you make it right?
As I continue to grow in my leadership, I remind myself to take it one day at a time, stay consistent and be a rainbow for others.
Thank you for reading,
LaCora Bradford Kesti