How to Build a Powerful Nonprofit Leadership Philosophy

nonprofit leadership

If you’re ready to take your skills up a notch, consider taking a few moments to craft a nonprofit leadership philosophy for the coming year.

Often we take our leadership approach for granted. After all, we know what we believe, right?

But, what about our followers – those we serve?  

Are they clear on the key values, beliefs, and principles that support and drive our decisions?

If we’re not clear ourselves, they likely aren’t translated into our works and deeds.

Four Leadership Foundations

Leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have spent decades researching why leaders perform at their personal best. Four leadership characteristics have consistently risen to the top, from respondents across countries.  

These are four characteristics of leaders people are willing to follow. Three of these four key characteristics make up what communications experts refer to as “source credibility.” To willingly follow someone else, they must believe that the leader’s word can be trusted, that she is personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work, and that she has the knowledge and skill to lead.

Four Essential Characteristics of Effective Leaders

Nonprofit Leadership

Leaders are also expected to have a point of view and to articulate exciting possibilities. Their followers want to be confident that their leaders know where they’re going.  

This is where core values come in.

Your Core Nonprofit Leadership Values

Your values relate directly to your credibility as a nonprofit leader. In order to do what you say you’ll do, you must know what you want to do and how you wish to behave.

We often don’t recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people’s belief systems. We need to replace any “should” values with our own.

Examine each of your core values to ensure it is not a means to some other end. For example, wealth is seldom a value in itself. It’s usually the means to status, power, security, recognition, freedom, accomplishment, pleasure, helping others, or some other end.

Why define your nonprofit leadership values? Your values help …

  • Describe your “bottom line” limits
  • Focus your energy amidst conflicting priorities
  • Align with your personal passions
  • Strengthen your self-confidence, self-identity, security
  • Help you discover how (and whether) your values align with those of your organization and your team
  • Serve as your “compass”

Values can also help you develop a philosophy that drives how you lead.

Creating Your Leadership Philosophy

At the foundation of your nonprofit leadership philosophy are your beliefs about human nature that align with personal values. Below are five statements that can help you build your philosophy and an example for each.

  • My thoughts will [insert desired attitudes & actions] …
    • For example … “My thoughts will focus on the strengths of each person, instead of concentrating on their limitations.”
  • My words will [insert desired attitudes & actions] …
  • I will lead by/with [key principles anchoring you] …
    • For example … “I will lead with wit, knowing that our work is serious, but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously.”
  • I expect to [insert behavior] in challenging situations] …

Use your personal philosophy statement as your compass, for you alone. It does not need to be shared with anyone else.  

It will, however, become clear through your words and deeds as you forge a new, exciting  future for your team.

Level Up Your Volunteer Management Game Plan in 2019 Mini Series

Over the past six weeks we’ve shared critical strategy planning tactics to help you kick off the new year in our Level Up Your Game Plan in 2019 Mini Series. This is the final installment. Check out the rest of the tactics: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This week, check out our Values Clarification & Leadership Philosophy Worksheet. Use this worksheet to brainstorm and hone in on the personal values that drive your work and describe what you stand for. The clearer you are about your values, the more credible you will be to those you lead.

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Tool #6 - The Values Clarification & Leadership Philosophy Worksheet

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