I recently read the 2007 national study, Ready to Lead, Next Generation Leaders Speak Out. I think it came out in 2008. I'm sorry I didn't read it earlier but it's time to give a big 'read this' to those leaders who follow my posts.
The study examined survey results from 5,754 respondents (next generation leaders) across United States who had never served as an Executive Director of a nonprofit before.
I couldn't help but think back to my years in leadership. It struck me in tone that this report uncovers a lot of Executive Directors busy doing administrative work and really caught in a hierarchical leadership style ... effectively disconnected from the needs of those they serve and from the leaders who actually deliver that service. Thankfully it's not all.
Don't get me wrong. Somebody has to prepare for board meetings and raise funds. There is nothing wrong with doing those tasks. But if your days are spent behind a desk it's probably not good. In my opinion the disconnected leader is deadly for the organization.
They need to get out there and help clean some toilets.
The next generation leaders offered a few insights for current Executive Directors to digest.
Replace dated power structures. If it isn't working well, find something new. Don't perpetuate a poor thing. Next generation leaders want a collaborative approach.
Help staff build strong external networks. To raise up a new generation of leadership, have them meet, learn from and work with other seasoned leaders. Help them build connections and expand their horizons.
Be a mentor. Work with as many emerging leaders as you can. Be generous in teaching them what you know. Don't condescend but work shoulder-to-shoulder. Many will rise up to the challenge. (Please, if you're really not much of a leader, don't pass your poor practices on. The work will only go downhill.)
Be a good role model. These are the men and women who will take over decision-making. It is from you they will learn about life-work balance, handling conflict, loving your spouse and a thousand and one other things. Don't just talk it, live it.
Pay reasonable salaries and provide benefits. The assumption that financial sacrifice is just part of the nonprofit job is generally not acceptable to the next generation of leadership. Struggling and serving don't work so well.
Engage in succession planning. Ask yourself if you are still the right person for the job. Start making provision for a smooth transition of leadership, even if that is a few years down the road.
Recognize generational differences. Don't assume people are like you or that they should be like you. A younger generation have the same passions to see the mission accomplished but they may not be you in style, approach or priorities.
There is much more in this report. It's another must-read for Executive Directors of non-profits. As part of your executive coaching engagement with us, you might wish to address the next generation's list. You will find I have a LOT to say about it.