At a recent “Exactly What To SayTM for Nonprofit Leaders” session at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, I asked attendees:

When you took on a new leadership position, what surprised you most?

While there were responses like “the great impact I get to make” and “how much I loved it,” the majority of the responses were phrases like:

  • The lack of communication
  • How hard it was
  • How lonely it is’
  • How much everyone expected me to do without help
  • How often the urgent crowds out the important
  • Everyone wants your time, not just your direct reports
  • How hard it was to lead everyone because they want different information to feel included
  • Lack of training on how to actually manage people
  • How much time you spend coaching

Do you orient those you promote?

Vulnerability and isolation are common for people who get promoted. Too often, we promote a very competent employee to get some work off our desk. Delegation is important. But just because someone is a great individual contributor does not make them a great manager or leader.

Do you promote people and leave them on their own. Is your “development” more akin to throwing a kid into the deep end of the pool, expecting them to figure out how to swim?

Or do you have intentional systems or resources to help new leaders make the shifts necessary to lead?

Leadership growth is a shift of confidence

As we move up in leadership, we need to shift the focus of our confidence. In the first stages of our career, we grow in our personal confidence and ability to deliver results. But as we move to managing and then leading people, we need to shift that confidence from our ability to deliver results to our team’s ability to deliver results.

That shift is so hard. My executive coaching clients often say that this shift feels like they are being irresponsible. Almost like they’re cheating.

A key to confidence is remembering your new position is expecting you to deliver results through your team. Sure, you could do it all yourself. But that would demotivate your team and overwhelm you.

The new job is figuring out how to work with people, seeking ways to align their goals with their job expectations. As you do that, the team will typically be able to do far more than you ever could on your own.

Like the comments above, good leadership involves coaching skills and people skills. The good news? These can be learned.

If your organization doesn’t provide orientation for your new leadership position, create one yourself.

  • Look for people that have been in similar positions and interview the ones you admire.
  • Look for books and podcasts on leadership, people skills, and managing. (One excellent podcast is Kim Nicol’s “The New Manager Podcast.”)
  • And if there are conferences or leadership courses that look like they’ll help, making a case to your organization for investing in them.

Taking charge of leadership growth

In many cases, our nonprofits are so used to “making do” that they won’t offer an orientation. So growing as leader is taking charge of your own professional development. The investment of time, and even expense, is worth it. These skills are those you’ll keep with you, wherever you go. And they’ll help you bring the most out of those on your team.

And while you’re learning, take notes. You just might be creating an orientation program you can use as you promote members of your team!

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