What kind of leader do you want to be?

by Kristin Holland
Kristin wrote this post initially for the national YNPN blog; it first appeared here.
I’m sitting in a breakout session on leadership at a nonprofit conference.  The speaker asks, “Can someone tell me about their experience as a leader?”
Immediately, my hands get clammy, beads of sweat bubble around my hairline, and I am genuinely considering whether anyone will notice if I crawl under the table. As I glance at the raised hand of my neighbor, I am certain she is getting ready to share her experience founding a nonprofit that single-handedly raised adult literacy rates, ended childhood obesity, fed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless all at the advanced age of nine. I have only two thoughts: I am not a leader, and I hate this question.
pschmitzokc-225x300 Paul Schmitz in Oklahoma City. Photo from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.
This describes my experience at nearly every leadership workshop until last week when the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits brought in Paul Schmitz to lead a workshop based on his book, Everyone Leads. Paul suggested a definition of leadership that I had never considered before. In fact, his definition defies the very laws of grammar. According to Paul, the word “leader” is a verb, not a noun. Leadership is an action someone takes, not a position someone holds.
When asked to consider my personal experiences as a leader in the past, my internal response has been, “I’m only 25. I’m not a CEO. I definitely don’t have a list of awards on my resume. Maybe I’ll be a leader in 15 or 20 years after I’ve accomplished more.” But if a leader is defined by his or her individual strengths, talents, and values rather than titles or lists of accomplishments, how does that change the way I view my leadership abilities?
First, Paul’s definition of leadership helped me identify the ways I have stepped up as a leader in my organization.  My Director has a visionary leadership style. She is innovative and likes taking risks. I fall somewhere between the analyst and mobilizer leadership styles. I am excellent at developing program timelines, summarizing complex group discussions, communicating persuasively, and creating accountability for my department.
I may not be the Director, but I also recognize that “Director” and “Leader” are not synonyms. I may not be generating innovative program ideas, but I also recognize that visionary leadership is not the only kind. If it were, our programs would rarely develop beyond the initial spark and enthusiasm.  Every action I take is an opportunity to step up as a leader, apply my unique skills and strengths, and contribute to the progress and success of my organization’s programs.
Second, if leadership is defined by individual strengths, talents, and values, then it is a fluid definition. I expect my strengths, talents, and values to grow as I do.  If I have a hard time defining who I am as a leader at 25, that’s perfectly okay. I’m still developing that definition. Paul encouraged this when he discussed the leadership value of continuous learning.
During the workshop, he asked everyone to write down three things they suck at. Here are mine: being on time, taking big risks, and letting go of control. There is power in identifying our challenges, mistakes, and shortfalls; it keeps us from growing stagnant. Part of my position with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits involves training nonprofit boards on good governance practices. The first time I trained, I was paralyzed with fear that someone would ask a question, and I wouldn’t have the answer. Everyone would realize I’m a fraud. Now, I see that the best answer is often, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” Every time I don’t have an answer, it forces me to grow and improve.
Finally, Paul’s definition says that leaders are defined by a certain set of values. Leaders hold themselves accountable to these values and expect others to hold them accountable as well. Paul outlines five values that his organization, Public Allies, identifies as necessary for positive and lasting community change. But at the end of his workshop, he invited us to name our own values. I thought back to a prompt Paul used at the beginning of the day: think about a time when someone believed in you, opened a door, or created opportunity for you.
This past January, I was invited to help facilitate a retreat for ten Executive Directors in a rural community in Oklahoma. A few days before the retreat, the primary facilitator asked if I would lead a thirty minute educational component on a topic of my choice. I was shocked she thought I had anything of value to share with a group of far more experience leaders and that she trusted me to develop the topic on my own. She valued my voice. She forced me outside my comfort zone. She was confident in my abilities even when I still needed some convincing. This is how I want to lead others.
What kind of leader do I want to be? A leader that understands that the most effective organizations utilize the leadership of many. A leader that seeks constant growth and improvement. And a leader that recognizes and develops leadership potential in others.

Thinking About Serving on a Nonprofit Board? Why You Should Consider It

by Kristin Holland
When I started my nonprofit career almost two years ago, one of the questions I often asked my mentor was, “How do I get an entry-level job when even those positions require experience that I don’t have yet?” It seemed impossible to develop skills unique to nonprofits (ahem, fundraising) without being given the opportunity to actually work for a nonprofit.
Her answer to my dilemma? Serve on a board.
Serving on a board is a great way to gain experience. At YNPN’s “Get Hired” event, nonprofit hiring managers told participants that experience doesn’t always have to come from a paid position; it can come from volunteering or board service. Since most volunteer opportunities are with a nonprofit’s programs, sitting on a Board of Directors is an especially great option if you want a position in a more operational area like resource development or communications.
But board service isn’t something you do just to boost your resume. Board members have legal and financial responsibilities to the organization, and it’s important you have a good understanding of what this means before you accept a board position. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re considering board service.
Be realistic with yourself.  Overcommitting or stretching yourself too thin isn’t fair to you or the organizations you’re serving. Remember that quality of service is more important than quantity. Starting out, I would recommend no more than two boards and only one leadership position at a time.
Do your homework. Before you join a board, learn about the organization. Talk to another board member or some of the staff. Ask if they have a board member job description or commitment form so you understand the expectations set for you.
Find an organization whose mission you believe in. There are over 18,000 nonprofits in Oklahoma and plenty of opportunities to share your time and talent. Find one you really care about—it will be so much more rewarding.
You actually have to show up to board meetings. The Board of Directors needs you there in order to vote. If you know the board meets on Thursday evenings and you have a regular conflict, don’t join that board!
Remember that you are the “face” of the organization. Inside and outside of the board room. Be prepared to talk about the amazing work your organization is doing to friends, family, and colleagues.
Consider your ability to give financially. Board members should give of their time, talent, and treasure. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, but you should be prepared to donate to the organization. If you’re wondering why this part is so important, ask yourself this, “If an organization’s board members do not believe in the mission and programs enough to donate money, why would anyone else?” And be sure to ask if the organization has a minimum gift requirement so you don’t wind up in an awkward situation later on!
Interested in finding a board? Learn about some options here. Want more training in board service? Check out the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Training Calendar.

The Baby Boss - Working with Employees From Multiple Generations

by Bevan Graybill, YNPN of OKC Professional Development Committee Chair
Multi-generational workplaces are here. If you don’t already, soon you will be expected to lead people 3 to 30 years older than you.
Thirty-four percent of U.S. workers say they are older than their bosses, and fifteen percent say they work for someone who is at least ten years younger, noting a shift in the correlation between seniority and leadership (CareerBuilder). Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce longer, and members of Generation X and Generation Y are moving into more and more management positions. This article explores some of the challenges of the “young boss, older employee dilemma” and strategies for effectively leading an older staff.
First, consider how you view each generation. Baby Boomers were born 1946-1964 and are currently between 49 and 68 years old. Generation Xers were born 1965-1980 and are currently between 33 and 49 years old. Generation Yers were born 1981-2000 and are currently between 13 and 33 years old.
My view of each generation has been developed mostly by my personal and professional relationships with members of each generation. My parents, aunts, uncles, and most of the judges with whom I work are all Baby Boomers. I look up to them. These Baby Boomers are hard-working and seem to love their jobs. They have strict routines and enjoy some office camaraderie.
My older sister and a co-worker with whom I often collaborate are members of Generation X. They require structure and direction, but also enjoy working independently and at their own paces. My friends and cousins are part of Generation Y. We are all seeking a more than satisfactory career. We want to do something important. Because most of us were raised by Baby Boomers, we work under the belief that the perfect job awaits. For Generation Y, working is fluid. Instead of smoke breaks, we take Facebook breaks. Unfortunately, the dings and rings notifying Generation Y about a new e-mail or breaking news can distract us from the task at hand.
Have you ever been elated about a job offer or promotion, but then you asked yourself, “Did I trick them into hiring me?” Insecurity about whether you are qualified for the position may stem in part from your age. Attempting something new and the risk of failure are difficult—at any age. You might think a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer who has worked at the organization for ten years will snicker when they discover you were fifteen years old when Y2K hysteria took over the world.
We only get one chance to make a first impression.  Our youthfulness might make an instant impression. But let’s look at some strategies for making a lasting impression that transcends our apparent immaturity:
  • First, be professional. By maintaining professionalism, the staff will see your skills and knowledge and forget about your youthfulness. Professionalism is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well. Maintaining relaxed body language and remaining calm and confident will assure employees their leader has good judgment.
  • Second, be confident when you introduce yourself and state your job title. As a first and second year attorney, I found discomfort in telling people what I did for a living. I would shy away or laugh when the words came out of my mouth. I felt like I was too young to be a lawyer. After all, every attorney I knew prior to law school was a Baby Boomer. Some people (myself included) have a tendency to downplay their work experience and professional accomplishments. You want to exude confidence, not arrogance. However, if you are not confident you can do your job, your staff will not be confident in you or the organization. It is important to remind yourself that you were hired because the executive director and board of directors believed you could be successful.
  • Third, express gratitude for the staff you manage. The staff is the organization’s number one resource and definitely a new leader’s number one resource. The collective knowledge of the staff is extremely valuable. Learn everything you can by seeking out information and suggestions. When asking for input from the staff, being sincere and a good listener is critical. For someone in your position, older employees with years of experience at the organization should be viewed as assets. Their knowledge and understanding of the organizational processes should be comforting, not intimidating.
  • Fourth, take time to meet with each employee one-on-one and get to know them as individuals. It will not take long to recognize which generations are represented in the organization. However, the generalizations you have made about generations based on your personal and professional encounters with members of those generations should not control how you treat them. It is unfair to limit someone’s ability to be innovative, collaborative, or hard working just because he or she is from a certain generation. Release these unfair assumptions about people and proceed with an open mind. Each staff member is an individual. A general understanding of what motivates the generations can be extremely helpful, but not every person will fit perfectly inside their generational sketch.
  • Fifth, communication is key. Many people suggest it is best to “over communicate” in a multi-generational workplace. This is because different generations prefer different methods of communication. Generally, Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face communication and Generations X and Y are more comfortable with text message and e-mail communications. Get comfortable using various methods of communication. Determine who participates in inter-office discussions through instant messenger, who keeps their e-mail open all day, who prefers a memo in the inbox sitting on the corner of their desk, and who prefers to speak face-to-face. Frequency of communication is another thing to think about. Some people do not mind sending or receiving ten, single sentence e-mails in one day. Others prefer one detailed update at the end of the week.
Many people may have concerns about working under a Generation Yer because they think he or she will be unrealistic, extremely laid-back, unprofessional and make unnecessary changes. The best way to get people to forget your age and view you as their peer or leader is to earn their respect. You earn respect by giving respect. Show respect by doing your job with integrity and consistency and by treating people fairly and with equality.
CareerBuilder (2012, September 14). Younger Bosses Managing Older Workers: Increasingly Common, And Rife With Conflict [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://jobs.aol.com/ articles/2012/09/14/younger-boss-older-worker-study-careerbuilder/