Monday, May 2, 2016

Comparing Presidential Leadership to Nonprofit Leadership

Is it Image, Issues or Ideology that Makes a Great Leader?

We are past the half way mark in the primaries/caucuses for both parties.  Perhaps we can compare our nonprofit leaders with how voters think about political candidates, our political leaders. Mid-century political scientists developed a formula to predict the vote based upon three factors: how voters evaluated a candidate's image, issue positions, and the voter’s political party or party identification. 
Warren Bennis, Leadership author

The formula doesn't work as well in the 21st century since more of us identify as Independents, but it's a good exercise in looking at leadership from different perspectives.  Leadership and management theorists have had an equally tough time figuring out how to assess a great leader.  Right now management literature emphasizes leadership style. 

Let's take a look at the formula and apply it to our nonprofit managers.  When we think of candidate image we often think about whether he or she is charismatic, inspiring, likable, trustworthy. Those are characteristics we might ascribe to the president or director of our nonprofit, too. Nowadays, we seem to focus on the negative characteristics but for the exercise think about the positives.

The second part of the formula is issues. We vote for the candidate who takes issue positions we favor.  In politics we often split issues down to the economy and foreign policy. It's not that you and I have to know the details of a candidate's immigration policy, position on more or fewer troops in Syria, or position on job creation.  It's whether we agree or disagree in general with the most prominent policies being discussed by the candidates. Applying it to the nonprofit executive, the focus he takes on the budget and fund raising or the kids, the members, the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit meshes with what you value. Ignore some of those minor disappointments or disagreements for the purpose of this exercise.

The third part of the formula is party identification, your ideology.  You might know whether your president or director is a Republican, Democrat, or Independent and you might agree or disagree.  This third part, translates better as her vision, a belief in the mission and vision of the nonprofit.  The director walks the talk. She seeks input. Or she emphasizes the need to run the organization like a business with standardized policies and places less emphasis on the actual mission.  The organization is well managed and not chaotic and that is what is important in her vision.  If you share a similar ideology, you’re more likely to think of the exec as a leader.  

Put the three parts of the formula together.  Think of your boss. What characteristics do you like/dislike, her image? What goals or policies are in the strategic plan that you like or don't like, the issues?  What is her belief in the mission and vision, her ideology?  In this formula, you’ll consider her a great leader if the image she portrays, the issues she prioritizes, and her ideology match what’s important to you. Now would you vote for her if you had a chance?  Is there something missing from the formula? 

For a great author on leadership, see the works of Warren Bennis. Two of my favorites are On Leadership and Why Leaders can't Lead