Leadership traits every great executive director should have.

It’s been said before and it will be said again: A nonprofit executive director, much like nonprofit staff in general, wears many hats. Except, in the case of the executive director, these hats are especially public and often come with the weight of funding, visibility, and programmatic success heavily attached. The responsibility to lead an organization to success is not one of brevity.

Leadership is defined as the ability of one to influence and guide others. Yet, the question of what makes a great leader is somewhat subjective, in part because leadership is just as much a process as it is a set of personality traits. With that said, there are certain hallmarks that are undeniable indicators of leadership that every nonprofit would benefit from finding in an executive director (and staff member).

Nonprofit leaders are:

  • Focused on the mission

An effective leader keeps the organization focused on its goals and strategic plan, making sure that the board and staff is on target. Leaders set the example for others, demonstrating how to live the brand and work to accomplish a mission, communicating both internally and externally.

  • Visionary

Leaders not only consider the organization’s present role, they look down the road to anticipate its future role. They understand the “big picture difference” they can make within the organization and the community it serves. Additionally, they have a desire to innovate and consider out-of-the-box solutions to get things done, especially when budgets are tight.

  • Motivating

One word: Cheerleaders. Nonprofit leaders motivate others to not only produce work that contributes to the mission, but to raise funds, recruit volunteers and to feel an overall sense of pride in the organization at the end of the day.

  • Analytical

For some, a nonprofit organization and a for-profit business are two very different beasts. A true nonprofit leader can recognize the value in approaching obstacles with an analytical business mind, knowing that although profit is not the goal, viability is. Decisions are made not on emotion or because they appear to benefit everyone, but because the decision has been critically analyzed and determined to be beneficial to the mission, the people and the bottom line.

  • Objective

A good nonprofit leader has the ability to step back from a situation and make a decision based on fact and free of bias. Mission creep is often an indicator of a nonprofit leader that is simply not capable of remaining objective or focused.

  • Honest

Nonprofit leaders need to be honest. Honest with staff and board members about expectations, honest in financial reporting, honest with donors, honest with those whom they serve, and honest with themselves about the health and future of the organization.

  • Humble

There’s nothing wrong with graciously accepting acknowledgement of a job well done, but a good nonprofit leader recognizes that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each team member contributes to an organization, and no one person can take responsibility for a success or a failure.

  • Articulate

Nonprofit leaders are good communicators and speak publicly about what the organization does, the difference it is making, and the success of its programs. Strong leaders also help team members learn how to give an elevator speech about the organization, recite its mission, and share at least two to three statistics on service numbers.

  • Charismatic

Nonprofit leaders are often required to open doors of opportunity; respond to criticism or praise, and to seek funding. Life is not a popularity contest, but nonprofit leaders know that when they are outgoing and likeable, they are presenting a positive and relatable image to the public and constituents.

Great executive directors lead the organization’s mission and staff by setting an example and encouraging leadership skills in everyone. In today’s competitive talent market, those who lead, succeed.

Thanks to 4Imprint for this article and authorizing publication. Content has been edited for length. To find out more about 4Imprint Promotional Products, please visit their website.

Executive Directors, Leadership, Nonprofit Staff, Professional Development

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