On Leadership – Too Much Poking

“Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.”

Tao Te Ching 60, Lao Tzu.

When assuming a high position of governance in a nonprofit organization there is a great temptation to be involved in everything and try to control the outcome as much as possible. This often proves to be demoralizing to lower-level leaders like committee and task group chairs and removes intrinsic motivating factors that would be present if they were allowed to seek solutions to defined outcomes in their own way. Here are a few tips to keep from “poking too much”.

1. Make sure lower level volunteer leaders are given training. There needs to be enough detail about the “why” that you have some confirmation and assurance that the trainee understands the goals of the organization and what the mission is. There needs to be enough instruction in the “how” of operations, that they can successfully utilize tools and self-organize around principles that are consistent throughout the organization. There needs to be instruction in the “where” of things so that they can find resources they may be seeking or know persons who can provide guidance and answer questions. When you are budgeting time for orientation, make sure there is plenty of time for this – it is critical to the success of new leaders and will help build their confidence while strengthening the organization.

2. Make sure new leaders have enough freedom to carry out their duties without interference from you or other current or past high-level leaders. In order improve the effectiveness of this, there needs to be a progressive track record of accomplishment that could start with simple items like participation on a webinar or attending a leadership meeting and move into more complex issues like recruiting a committee, securing a key sponsor, or creating a budget or annual plan of action. Do not make the mistake of dumping where delegation is possible. Key functions are likely to be dropped, or new leaders may feel overwhelmed if teaching and absorption of the material comes too quickly. Assign a mentor if one is available and parse out the elements that need to be learned so that there is not a struggle to absorb them all at once. The creation of “leadership academies” or “future leader” classes or groups are a great way to grow leadership in a sustainable way.

3. Celebrate the success of new leaders. Make sure they are recognized for their efforts in order to motivate others who may be at the same level of development and also increase name recognition with members who may one day be voting on these future leaders and members of the board or officers. Preparation now, means that you can improve the likelihood of election of leaders who have gone through an orientation process. This is especially critical in competitive elections where there could be nominations from the floor. It is in the best interests of the organization to have leaders who are well trained and understand the operations of the organization.

When you have prepared new leaders in this way, you will be much more comfortable delegating down to the committee level and watching the magic happen from a higher perspective. Poking can be minimized and you can enjoy the journey along with those you are mentoring to lead the organization in the future.