The word “leader” conjures up a variety of images: your old Little League coach, a military general, your boss…even the president of the United States. Regardless of who (or what) comes to mind, there is the common thread of someone who leads. But what does leadership really mean? Certainly it means more than just being in charge. And in the setting of a nonprofit organization, is the meaning different?
I would submit that while the meaning is not so different, the goal of leadership often is. For example, in a for-profit setting, the goal is the financial success of the company. Sure, there are other intermediate goals and purposes. But when you get down to brass tacks, it’s about the money. The leaders expend their energy leading employees and influencing prospective customers in an effort to make a profit. In politics, the goal may be the establishment of a political agenda. Leaders attempt to influence voters to support their particular brand of government. Just look at most election cycles. Not that pandering is the same as actual leadership, but I digress…
So what is the goal of nonprofit leadership? Similar to a for-profit company, the success of the enterprise is important. But what is more important is the accomplishment of the mission for the benefit of those for whom the organization was established. That’s a very different equation…one that requires a very different approach to leadership. Quite frankly, it’s often a more difficult challenge. You see, in a for-profit setting, everything revolves around the bottom line. Not that customers are disregarded, mind you. It’s just that the ultimate purpose is to make money…and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Without profit-minded companies, it would be a dreary existence for most of us. Changes to products and services are tailored around what will sell better. The challenge for the nonprofit leader, however, is that the mission must be accomplished and the bottom line met. And as most nonprofit leaders learn early on, it is indeed a challenge.
We will continue this discussion by exploring the particular facets of nonprofit leadership in future installments, so stay tuned. As always, our goal is helping you accomplish your mission. Keep on leading!