Because of their unique characteristics, nonprofits can require some added leadership development focus before new strategic plans are developed. Often, these organizations are founded by passionate individuals who, over time, may not make the best strategic leaders of their organizations. Or, organizations may bring in “rock star” leaders who can command attention and raise money but who pay little attention to organizational issues. In both cases, the organization needs to develop a cohesive leadership team for the new strategy to be successful.
To be sure, these passionate evangelist leaders are not a bad thing. Absent their efforts and visibility, there often would be no organization. But, as with commercial start-ups, long-term success and the ability to engage in fruitful strategic planning require a different kind of management surrounding the leader. Getting there can be a bit of a journey — beginning with the slippery question: who’s going to ask for change? In most cases, the Board will play this role as organizational weaknesses become apparent.
We strongly recommend that an outside strategy and leadership expert help the Board present the case for change to the top leader. Then, a combination of leadership coaching of the top leader and team coaching of the leadership team can move all of them to behave differently. One of the toughest challenges is picking the right COO to oversee the organization’s business operations, and most important, to get the top leader’s real commitment not to second-guess the COO’s actions. Be prepared to give this process a good six months before moving ahead with broader strategic planning.