This article was originally published in Better Boards Quarterly, February 2011. Reprinted with permission.

There are a growing number of Not for Profit board/committee members, chief executive officer and senior managers who are keen to enhance their leadership skills and knowledge. One reason is governance is increasingly being recognised as a leadership process rather than just a set of governance roles and responsibilities, policies and procedures that need to be enacted.

Whilst all board/committee members come to a board with a unique range of experiences, talents and knowledge, many have not held formal leadership positions in their career or formal leadership positions on a board/committee. Subsequently they are keen to understand the principles and practices of leadership and/or interact with board members from other NFPs about their leadership experiences.

Three considerations for board/committee members are:

The Skills of Leadership

Exactly what constitutes a “leader” makes good fireside discussion. However, it is widely recognised that “leadership” is qualitatively different from “management” consequently the lack of leadership often prevents needed changes occurring in organisations.

The type of leadership required in the twenty-first century is very different from the concept cemented eighty years ago by Henry Ford. There is a need to take on new concepts of leadership and to understand how to sustain the skills and qualities needed to create dynamic organisational performance and results.

What enables some leaders to inspire and get the best out of people? How do they engage others to share their vision and take ownership of what they do? How do they develop and maintain effective relationships?

One definition of leadership is that it “bridges events and vision”. This requires a leader to persuade others to pursue a vision by implementing strategies that will see it realised. This requires the necessary leadership skills to effectively link people, processes and performance within the complex interactions of organisational life. The major tasks of leadership can be described within the three areas of people, processes and performance.

The Tasks of Leadership

Leaders and board/committee members must design and implement strategies that support and resource the chief executive officer and senior managers to build the standards by which the organisational vision will be realised. This will depend on their strengths in articulating and sharing the vision, broadening understanding, and facilitating continuous learning, trust and commitment.

Leadership Development

Many leaders of Not for Profits welcome assistance to develop their leadership style, skills and practices. For example, training in systems thinking may be of assistance in aligning the organisation with external opportunities. Interpersonal skills, such as face-to-face communication and emotional management, are taking on new importance. The pressures to transform existing practices make it crucial for leaders to keep abreast of knowledge and technology and to be first-in-line to identify and take up opportunities.

Well-defined processes that assist leaders to analyse and report their needs are helpful, along with broad and flexible options to meet these needs. A good starting point is to create opportunities for leaders to get together and identify the skills and resources they need to stay ahead. That done, the next step would be to determine strategies and processes that offer the choices and flexibility required for leadership development.

Leadership development model by australian strategic services

The above model illustrates a process by which a board/committee member’s leadership development could be addressed at both organisational and industry levels.

In summary, leadership is a crucial issue for leaders of Not for Profit organisations. Whatever the strength of a particular organisation, its ultimate contribution to a community and/or group of clients will be determined largely by its leadership.