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What Makes a Great Nonprofit Leader?

Today (5/7/2014) Harvard Business Review broadcast a webinar featuring Claudio Fernandez-Arboz, author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who. Mr. Fernandez-Arboz is an experienced, highly-regarded executive search professional who backs up his practice with well-researched principles in leadership effectiveness.

In his webinar, the speaker focused on major influences on challenges to finding and retaining capable leadership: Globalization, Demographics, and Pipelines. The competition for effective leaders gets tougher every year because there’s just not enough to go around.

Mr Fernandez-Aboz advocates that organizations identify up-and-comers in the organization with potential. Of course, competency is essential, but the leadership quality that trumps all others is potential. And the indicators for potential: Motivation, Curiosity, Insight, Engagement, and Determination.

Large nonprofits (Budget: $10 million plus) have the ability to identify people with qualities that indicate high potential.

Small (under $1 million) to mid-size (those up to $10 million) are challenged to cultivate and identify potential because the pool just isn’t that great. So where does the nonprofit Board look to find folks with potential?

Board leaders should be networked in their communities, attend nonprofit seminars where they meet professionals in the field, and read blogs and other sources that feature the thinking and doings of a variety of nonprofit leaders. Otherwise, it’s a turkey shoot to, out of the blue, conduct a search and try to identify candidates who can fill the bill based on a resume and an interview. You need more than that to skin that cat.

Keeping up-to-date with the literature on what makes fine leaders, and then networking to get to know the folks with high potential is both an art and a science.

First, you need to know what you’re looking for when your nonprofit is out looking for a new, capable CEO. And then, you need to find some great candidates who have the qualities you seek. And it takes some work to get there.

Note: I look forward to teaching classes in Leadership for Northeastern University’s program at the campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this summer, 2014.

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