Nonprofit Leadership: It’s Lonely At The Top

You’ve probably heard that serving in a leadership role is lonely. If you are or have ever been a leader, chances are you can relate. Whether you are a new business leader, nonprofit leader, or church leader, until you figure things out, leading can be a lonely and intimidating role to fill.

This is especially unnerving for leaders in nonprofit agencies, because your performance most likely makes a huge difference in your client’s lives. No pressure at all, right?

With the important role nonprofits play in our society, you will probably agree that after the excitement of your new assignment wears off, the weightiness of your responsibilities begin to sink in. All you have to do is look out your office window to see people coming into your agency for food, clothing, job assistance etc. – all essential to their well-being. Even the most confident leaders will ask themselves: 

Am I really ready to effectively lead and fulfill the needs of my clients and agency?

I felt this way in my first leadership role. I went at it alone because I thought I was equipped and prepared. I was just cocky enough to believe I understood everything my new job would entail. Boy, was I wrong.

First time leaders learn quickly that they can no longer idly chit chat with their buddies about the organization. Everything said is “on the record” – you have to be very careful of what you say, and to whom. Some try to share agency-related goings-on with their spouse, but quickly learn that doesn’t work. Some might feel they can confidently share problems, concerns, or frustrations with leaders of other agencies. Unless they are very close, personal friends, this is a mistake that can come back to haunt a new leader.

Once I got into the corner office, so many of the agency’s issues looked differently to me than before. I quickly realized my simple “water cooler” solutions were not going to work. I stumbled along for a while, but as important issues continued to surface, I became overwhelmed and felt myself falling behind. I would rush from meeting to meeting, from issue to issue, feeling like I did not have a handle on things. I doubted my ability to provide the guidance and leadership my team needed.

Do you remember that outer space star screensaver Microsoft once had? That’s how I felt. All those stars coming towards me faster and faster representing the important issues on my plate that I needed to address but was too overwhelmed to take on.

I eventually learned the best way to battle the loneliness and isolation of my position, and to better equip myself for my role, was to hire a nonprofit leadership coach. My coach served as a confidential resource with whom I could share thoughts, reflect, brainstorm, and speak frankly. I did not have to worry that others might misinterpret or misunderstand my intentions when bringing up issues. He helped me prioritize my concerns and held me accountable for my to-do list. I also received a lot of good advice about possible next steps I could take on any issue.

A personal leadership coach was my secret weapon. One who helped equip me for the job I always wanted but was not quite ready to take on. Maybe it’s time you tried a different approach, a better approach than going at it alone. Maybe it’s time you hired a nonprofit coach.

  

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