Advice on reading

February 16, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — jonathanpoisner @ 11:03 am

An acquaintance recently revealed to me their voracious reading habit and, in particular, their desire to read extensively on the subjects of “leadership” and “nonprofits.”

At the time, I gave them a couple specific books I recommended.

Upon reflection, here’s what else I wish I’d shared. (Then I’ll pivot to a list of books and book reviews worth your time).

Reading without practice gets you nowhere quickly. Indeed, I often find that those who spend most of their time reading about leadership get stuck as they search for the Holy Grail that will somehow transform their leadership skills.

My advice: read half as much and spend the time saved thinking about what you’ve read. The most important thing to think about: to identify and begin to implement practical changes to your behavior or activities based on what you have read.

To make this work: block out 15-30 minutes on your calendar to do this thinking. Or put “think about book X” in your to-do list. Write down the results of this thinking, with a focus on coming up with 1-5 specific new or changed behaviors or activities.

Of course, it also helps to read books that have practical value. I’ve read a lot of books on nonprofits and leadership over the years and there are some stinkers out there. In contrast, here are some books I’ve read that are particularly useful in that they are written in a way to jump-start practical thinking.

Brandraising, by Sarah Durham

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications (2010) is a must read for Executive Directors, development staff, communications, staff, or board leaders who want to understand the connections between strategy, fundraising, and communications.  It is equally adept at providing a unifying theory by which an organization can “brandraise” and practical tips for how to put the theory into practice.      

View my full Braindraising review

The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

The Leadership Challenge (4th Ed. 2007) outlines 5 “practices” and ten “commitments” that anyone can use to develop their leadership skills.   The book uses a combination of case studies, anecdotes, and more than 25 years of empirical research to lay out both theory and practice on how individuals can demonstrate leadership.  

View my Leadership Challenge review

Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins

Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins, is a 40 page document designed to read in concert with his well-known book Good to Great. Good to Great is a staple of business school syllabi for helping students identify what separates great businesses from good businesses. But having not read the related book, I can vouch for the fact that the monograph stands on its own.

View my Good to Great and the Social Sectors review

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

First released in 1984, and updated multiple times since then, Influence is a easy-to-read, chock-full-of-ideas guide to how people get other people to do things they wouldn’t automatically want to do.

Cialdini refers throughout to a “click-whirr” mental shortcuts that humans take when faced with certain stimuli.

View my Persuasion Review Part 1
View my Persuasion Review Part 2

The Secrets of Facilitation, by Michael Wilkinson)

Sometimes you know things, but don’t realize you know it. Or, more accurately, sometimes you recognize and engage in behaviors, without being able to articulate why. But then somebody comes along and articulates why and a light goes off.

View my Secrets of Facilitation Review

Are there books you recommend I read and review? Please share them in the comments!

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Nonprofit leadership traits

June 29, 2012

Filed under: Human Resources,Leadership — Tags: , , — jonathanpoisner @ 1:55 pm

In doing their hiring processes, most boards focus on what skills they want their Executive Director to have.

In my experience, it’s equally if not more important to identify the traits or personality characteristics you want.  Skills can be learned.  Personalities evolve infrequently.

So what traits/characteristics would I look for first?  Admittedly, this may vary based on the size and needs of the organization.  But this list is a pretty good starting place that any board could adapt to fit their own situation.

1. Self-Starter.  Good Executive Directors do not need somebody else to motivate them.  They are driven to be successful.

2. Passion for the mission.  Some people are highly professional, but it’s exceedingly rare that an Executive Director will excel if they do not feel a strong passion for the organization’s mission.  This will impact everything from their own motivation, to understanding the motivation of their board, donors, and volunteers.

3. Ability to motivate others.  No thriving organization relies upon the Executive Director to carry the load him or herself.  Rather, thriving organizations involve a team of staff, board, and other volunteers working together.  The key to all that is an Executive Director who values teamwork, is excited by watching their co-workers develop professionally, and who puts the team first.

4. See the forest and the trees.  An Executive Director must be able to view the world at two levels.  They must see the big picture (e.g. the forest) and think strategically about how to get the organization from here to there.  But they must also see the trees, being able to wade into the details of budgets, task lists, databases, and other nuts and bolts.   Very large organizations may be able to get by with a visionary Executive Director who has an assistant and is also paired with a Chief Operating Officer who handles the “trees.”  But for smaller or medium sized groups, having this dual personality is critical.

5. They have a service mentality.   They’ve probably volunteered for other nonprofits.  The questions they ask should suggest they are mostly concerned about how they can make a difference through the organization.  If a prospective Executive Director mostly asks about compensation or demands more than the organization can afford, this should be  a red flag.

6.  They are very comfortable and competent fundraisers, particularly with regard to individual major gifts.   Some may think this belongs in the list of “skills” instead of “traits.”  Perhaps it’s so important it belongs in both lists.  Regardless, the knack for being fearless in both forming relationships with prospective donors and a willingness to ask may be as much a personality trait as it is a skill.

7. Deal well with conflict.  All organizations have setbacks.  Thriving organizations handle them well, learn from them, and move on.  Since setbacks often involve conflict, Executive Directors need to be calm under fire, yet not be averse to conflict when it’s sometimes the right choice.

8. Doggedness.  They don’t let the little things get them down, but keep plugging away.  It is rare that a nonprofit thrives overnight.  Rather, it’s the accumulation of smaller victories over time that gets the boulder rolling downhill.  That means an Executive Director who works hard day in and out and not just at the obviously critical times.

What do you see as missing from this list?

Look for a future blog entry on how boards can use the hiring process to identify which candidates have these traits?

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