Address leadership development challenges head-on
Creating and implementing a successful leadership development plan takes hard work, vision and sharp analysis of your organization's leadership needs and current capabilities. Still, it's worth the effort. An investment in leadership development sets your nonprofit up for long-term success.
As your leadership development plan takes shape, be prepared to face — and overcome — common obstacles.
Lack of time, energy and attention
Successful leadership development requires an investment from current leaders, especially the executive director and board. It's all too easy to focus on the issue only when forced, such as when an executive director retires. By investing in leadership development, however, your nonprofit can develop a pipeline of leaders who are ready to step up when a vacancy occurs.
Lack of understanding
Many nonprofits already require staff to take on challenging assignments that have a knock-on effect of professional development. But these opportunities aren't always designed with the intent to build a skill that would help an employee become a leader — or the type of leader your organization needs. Senior leaders must find ways to coach up-and-coming leaders, as well as develop assignments that will help them grow their skills.
Lack of confidence
An executive director must be confident enough to work with people who might soon be capable of replacing him or her. Similarly, it takes vision to move an employee from a position in which he or she is successful to a new role or area in which he or she is untested. It also isn't easy to single out certain employees for development, knowing that others might feel left behind — and hurt or resentful.
Lack of follow-up
To grow leaders, you need a follow-up plan to evaluate staff after they've taken on challenges aimed at stretching their skills. Plan to frequently check on your employees and give them constructive feedback on progress toward their goals.
Stanford Social Innovation Review: Leadership development: Five things all nonprofits should know by James W. Shepard, Jr. (2014)
The Bridgespan Group: Nonprofit leadership development: What's your "plan A" for growing future leaders? by Kirk Kramer and Preeta Nayak (2013)