March 1, 2005

It Begins with a Leadership Model and the Discipline of the Board

At the heart of solving the leadership deficit is first understanding the leadership model for the future, says Boys & Girls Club of America's Roxanne Spillett in this commentary on the 2005 Bridgespan Group report "The Nonprofit Sector's Leadership Deficit." But as important as this model is to the future of nonprofit leadership, it takes the board to make it come alive.

By: Roxanne Spillett

A commentary on The Nonprofit Sector's Leadership Deficit

By carefully analyzing the trends, Tom Tierney makes a clear and compelling case that—unless there is intentional and widespread intervention beginning now—the nonprofit sector will soon encounter a leadership deficit of dramatic proportion. What makes the need to act even more urgent is the simple fact that the quality of executive leadership is the single greatest factor in predicting the future success of an organization. It follows then that developing and recruiting top executive leadership is one of the greatest priorities for the nonprofit sector. This is in fact the position and the priority for the Boys & Girls Club Movement.

An analysis of the future executive talent needs among Boys & Girls Clubs supports the case made by Tom Tierney. The Boys & Girls Club Movement is made up of almost 1,000 autonomous 501(c)(3) organizations, each with its own executive leader. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the national organization, while it does not hire and place local executives, recognizes its leadership responsibility in helping to assure executive talent for the future.

So where do nonprofits begin? There are several important ways to address this challenge including merging and consolidating organizations, assuring competitive compensation, implementing a succession planning process, targeting new populations like retired military, etc. While these strategies are important and must be pursued throughout the sector, at the heart of solving the executive leadership deficit is first understanding the leadership model for the future. Only in this way can we be sure that we are identifying and recruiting the right people and developing them in the right ways.

Through a disciplined process that began with creating a strategic direction for our Movement, we developed an executive leadership model for Boys & Girls Clubs that likely applies to other nonprofits. It includes the following skills and characteristics:

  • A future focus with skills in strategic thinking, partner astuteness, and diversity.
  • Personal effectiveness as demonstrated in passionate communication, tenacity and persistence, character and integrity.
  • Relationship skills in the areas of board development, community engagement and image building.
  • A business orientation including an investor focus, fundraising savvy and execution and accountability.
  • Organizational skills including developing and retaining strong leadership teams and high performing employees.

This leadership model will become the basis of our Movement’s recruitment efforts, executive development training programs and strategies, and performance management system.

As important as an executive leadership model is to the future of nonprofit leadership, it takes the board to make it come alive. The role of the board is to recruit their executives against such a model. It is also up to the board to use their leadership model as the basis for conducting annual performance assessments; assuring the right developmental experiences; providing competitive compensation to retain their executives; and putting in place a plan that assures the right developmental and retention strategies for potential successors.

Yes, there is an urgent need and addressing it begins with a leadership model and the discipline of the board.

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