Support ongoing leadership development for your chief executive

The most successful corporations in the world have long known the value of investing in leadership development. They appreciate that there really is no such thing as a “born leader” and that becoming a successful manager doesn’t happen overnight. Rather than cross their fingers and hope the people they hire will evolve into successful leaders and managers, they provide them with training, offer them coaches, pair them with mentors, and provide them with the kind of support that can flatten the learning curve and accelerate the pace of their development as leaders.

In the nonprofit community we are more likely to hire or promote the most promising candidates, tell them to “let us know how we can be of help,” and then hope for the best. It is not surprising that there can sometimes feel like there is a “leadership vacuum” in the nonprofit community—we are not doing our part as board leaders to develop the organizational leaders we need.

At this point, you may be pushing back a bit, thinking, “He’s not talking about us. We’ve got a training budget for our chief executive, and I know that she went to some kind of conference last year.” What I see more often than not, however, is that nonprofit chief executives reduce or redirect funds that the board hoped would be used for the chief executive’s professional development. As the budget gets tight, the chief executive uses those funds to send others to training, reduces or eliminates this line item to help balance the budget, or decides, “I can’t go to a conference or training if we aren’t going to be able to send others to training too.”

Another common occurrence is that while the board may be anticipating that professional development dollars will be used by the chief executive for leadership development, the chief executive attends workshops and conferences that he or she sees as being of a more “practical” nature: a grant-writing workshop, a session on developing new measurement or tracking models, or a gathering of nonprofit organizations with similar missions (where the focus is on staying current and not on leadership development).

As the board chair, you can provide a tremendous service to your organization and to your chief executive by playing an active role here. During the chief executive’s annual evaluation, talk together about where he or she feels some additional training could be helpful. Don’t stop there, however. Make sure you are considering leadership development more broadly, including topics like building effective teams, mastering communication skills, employee motivation, evaluation and reward strategies, visionary and strategic thinking, and more.

It may take a bit of work to find appropriate offerings that align with your leadership development goals and with the needs of your chief executive, but keep at it. Once you have an understanding of the options, and the cost, you’ll need the rest of the board to voice their support and ensure that the necessary budget dollars are available. The investment is sure to be worth it, however.

The pace of change, and an increasingly challenging environment, means that our organizations require leaders to be transformational, visionary, entrepreneurial, team-builders, skilled collaborators, and master communicators. Maybe you’ve got a leader who already has all of those leadership abilities, but if you don’t, be prepared to invest in helping your chief executive build those abilities, and understand that it will take your leadership as board chair to make sure that this investment happens.

For additional information, please contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or send him an e-mail message at [email protected]