Leadership Skills for Enacting Effective Coping Strategies

by Jane Arsenault on January 29, 2013

After thirty years of working in the sector, I would have said that I know what a good organization looks like and by good I would have meant an organization that is highly likely to survive, grow, and enact its mission in a dynamic and vibrant way.  I would also have said that I know a good Executive Director when I see one and that the two generally come together.  The environment now, however,  appears to contain variables that we haven’t actually seen before, variables that may undermine the sector in significant ways and that certainly make it far more difficult to sort the “good organizations” from the weaker entities, the effective Executive Directors from the less so.  As we support and guide leaders of nonprofit organizations from small to large, we have had cause to question what we previously would have said are the most important organizational skills for management and leadership to attain. 

So, this is a first attempt to raise some questions and open a dialogue with sector leaders who know us about this very interesting place in which we find ourselves.  Can we at this point identify knowledge and skill that nonprofit leaders should pursue that will enhance survival, growth, and mission enactment?  Are those characteristics the same as they have been for the last twenty years as the field of nonprofit management has come into its own?  Or are they different?  As the environment has turned from positive to negative in much of the sector, how does that change the management and leadership task? 

We are going to come at this from two vantage points…first, when we say the environment has turned from largely positive to largely negative, what are we seeing?  We will focus on those environmental aspects that appear to us to demand a new way of managing a nonprofit.  Second, we will talk about the management and leadership skill sets that we see executives adopting in response.  And then we will ask you, our clients, colleagues, and friends, to respond with your own comments and suggestions.  As we receive responses, we will continue to refine this effort at model building and report back what we have learned. 

In 2008, when the recession began in earnest, we all thought we were in for a couple of tough years and, as the economy recovered, so the sector would recover and continue to grow as it has for the last two hundred years in both the US and Canada.  That isn’t what has happened, of course, and we all know that most state economies have gone from bad to worse and large chunks of federal funding are threatened. Essentially, the sector is facing the worst market scenario in its history with falling prices, rising costs, and rising consumer and funder expectations. [Read more here.]

From this analysis, and based on our observation, comes a set of knowledge and skills that appear to help executives craft a coping strategy to adjust to these changes.  These are:

  • Understanding Collaborative Models
  • Know When to Fight: The Role of Advocacy
  • Retrenchment Skill:  Know When To Fold
  • Retrenchment Skill:  Know How To Shrink
  • Evidence Based Practice
  • Maintaining Staff Cohesion: Managing Morale Through Negative Change
  • Passion For Ends, Not Means
  • Making Tough Decisions

Download the full free article here to read more about these critical skills.

So that is our starter list.  What have you observed?  Are you developing new skills or do you need to behave in different ways because of this context?  We are hoping you will become part of a larger conversation…please share your observations and examples by commenting here or emailing us at info@fiopartners.com.  We will gather together the feedback we receive and continue to fill out this model.

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