By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on June 17, 2013

Developing those who will take charge down the road requires giving them room to grow into their roles, so they will be well prepared for what tomorrow brings.

A Forbes magazine article recently screamed at me, "Leadership development is tough."

It was one of those moments when you feel frustrated and validated at the same time. Frustrated because the experts aren't offering the answer, and validated because it is happening to all of our organizations.

Studies in both the for-profit and nonprofit fields suggest that 50 percent of our CEOs will retire in the next five years. Forbes reports that the gap between those leaving and the fewer numbers prepared to take the helm are putting our fields into "crisis" mode.  While leadership development is tough, Forbes further reports that the best organizations buy into leadership development "wholeheartedly," building systematic processes to ensure their best people know where they need to develop.

Training on a budget

Leadership development takes many forms – with 70 percent "on-the-job" training.  Given heavily restrained resources in the nonprofit field, below are a few free means that local nonprofits use to provide leadership development.  Identify which of these—and your own ideas—best fit with your staff's development needs, and put a few into action.

To build and diversify leadership skills, encourage staff to:

  • Present program metrics or mission impact to leadership team or board.

  • Plan and lead a fun staff team-building activity.

  • Serve as staff support on organizational committees, i.e., marketing, programs, evaluations.

  • Launch an internal communications campaign. Last summer, one of our managers and an intern together decided to launch a Facebook campaign to get volunteers to "like us." They held fun internal competitions, with food as an incentive to get our staff involved, and also reached out to community nonprofits and provided online opportunities to engage volunteers. We surpassed our benchmark (the competition!) and everyone had fun doing it.

Setting goals

It is important to weave leadership development into regular work conversations.  Tim Strauch, OneOC's chief operating officer, explains: "Bringing out the best in people is a continuous process. We create a work culture of innovation – giving staff at all levels the opportunity to be creative and work with wide parameters."

At OneOC, the staff incorporates leadership goals as a part of our annual goal-setting and performance reviews.

The staff also:

  • Supervises interns and volunteers.

  • Takes turns facilitating staff meetings.

  • Develops budgets for projects.

  • Creates and manages volunteer projects – one day full of activities for team and family volunteers.  Holly Hagler, president at SeniorServ, suggests, "Staff who take the initiative to seek out grants for new programs get to run the programs.  They have experiences from idea conception, program design and funding to program startup and ongoing operations management."

  • Serves in leadership positions with networking and association groups, i.e., Human Resources Managers Forum, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Directors of Volunteers in Agencies.

  • Provides training or lunch 'n' learns at your offices.

  • Develops/drafts social media policies.

  • Develops an alumni group for clients, board members or volunteers.

  • Develops program impact reports for donors.

While the measures of successful leadership development programs are long term and rarely tangible, there is no argument to their value.

If we do not take the time to build our leaders today, who will take over for us tomorrow?

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