Last week in a post titled “You need to dance with the person who brought you,” I wrote about the difference between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences and specifically what combination of these go into making effective non-profit board leaders. Today, I’m looking at the same thing, but I want to turn this lens on the non-profit executive director position.
To recap . . .
The differences between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences (in my opinion) are:
- A trait is something someone inherits or is born with
- A characteristic (e.g. quality) is something that describes someone
- A skill is something that someone has learned
- An experience is something someone has experienced
With regards to traits and innate abilities, I started writing about this topic a few year ago in a post titled “Non-profit executive directors take the heat every day.” I shared with readers the following talents that Joe Lehr once shared in with non-profit professionals in an article he wrote. The following is a list of those talents:
- Belief — passion, fire, and strength of conviction all stemming from organizational mission, vision and purpose.
- Vision — an ability to see the organization’s future and getting others to see and believe in it, too.
- Focus & clarity — sorting through a lot of information, knowing what is most important, and getting others to see clearly see it.
- Maximizer — a burning desire for greatness and an ability to act as a catalyst for all other stakeholders to reach for greatness (via accountability, transparency, urgency, etc).
- Empathy — self-awareness, emotional intelligence, along with the intuition and ability to sense what others are feeling and thinking and use that to effectively communicate with others.
I generally agree with Joe and won’t spend more time and space discussing traits, and . . .
If you are a believer in the science of personality testing, there is much written on what inherent personality traits a great non-profit executive director should possess.
From a Myers-Briggs perspective, Paul Sohn speculated in his post titled “The Best Jobs For All 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types In One Infographic” that ENFJ’s and ENTJ’s might be well-positioned for success.
In a study published by Dewey & Kaye titled “Nonprofit Leadership Development: A model for identifying and growing leaders within the nonprofit sector,” they found many non-profit leaders are rated highly as “High D’s.” This personality aspect is described as:
“Direct and Decisive. D’s are strong-willed, strong-minded people who like accepting challenges, taking action, and getting immediate results. People with a high D component like to take charge and are typically found in positions or power and authority.”
While the jury is out and the science isn’t precise (in my humble opinion), the fact is that boards can really stumble when hiring an executive director if they don’t try to wrap their collective heads around what a successful candidate innately needs to bring to the table.
As it relates to characteristics, I’ve seen successful executive directors features/qualities:
- well-networked with a large circle of influence
- organized and focused
- an understanding of the complexities associated with organizational development
- hard working and strong work ethic
- unfazed by long work hours
- servant leader at heart and joyful warrior
- high integrity
- role model who is a mentor to others
- self-starter who works well in fuzzy supervisory environments
- connection and personal story that connects them to the organization’s mission
Skills are learned as a result of life experiences, and the good execs seem to have honed the following skill sets:
- resource development/fundraising
- board development and supportive of board governance
- great communicator
- collaboration and partnership development
- financial management
- human resources
- volunteer management and engagement
From an experience perspective, non-profit executive directors who thrive seem to have:
- worked at various levels of a non-profit (e.g. front line operations, fundraising and management)
- had success at all levels of resource development and not just one aspect (e.g. individual giving, corporate philanthropy, grant writing, government funding, etc)
- successfully provided guidance and leadership to teams of people
- excelled in environments where they had limited real authority and succeeded because of their ability to influence outcomes
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with these categories and lists, the reality is that non-profit boards have a handful of roles/responsibilities they cannot shirk. One of those responsibilities is hiring and managing the organization’s executive director. Failure to take this seriously is a recipe for disaster.
How does your organization integrate the aforementioned traits, characteristics, skills and experiences into its executive director search process? What specific tools have you used that you found helpful? Are their any specific traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that I missed that you would add to the list?
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC