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Developing Nonprofit Leaders Who Lead Differently

Silhouettes of two different people facing each simulating different leaders with different styles.

Does this means diversity in leadership or leading differently along with the times? or Both? 


Just like an optical illusion, the statement, developing leaders who lead differently, can be viewed in two ways.

One is through a diversity and inclusion lens, seeing leaders as individuals that bring different skills and experience to a role. Marcus Buckingham has shared this thought: “If you look at leaders, each one will be leading in a slightly, but importantly different way.” Therefore, talent development strategies for nonprofits and other organizations should account for these individual strengths and areas of opportunity, giving way to personalized development. Leadership development through this lens might include evaluating an individual’s capabilities through an assessment aligned to a competency model or leader success profile and using it to create an individual development plan and other employee development opportunities that support your nonprofit's mission.

The other way to view that statement is through the lens of innovation, recognizing that leaders today cannot operate in the same way they did 10—or even two—years ago. Leadership development cannot be what it was and should shift, just as our teams, communications and operations have evolved. Developing leaders with this focus could include identifying and communicating the critical upcoming capabilities for leaders within your nonprofit and offering resources and opportunities to develop these capabilities.

Regardless of how you look at this statement, leadership development needs to be customizable to the individual. For the most part, the cookie-cutter approach to development or leaders or talent is gone. Now, avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach to talent development does not mean scrapping your competency models or canceling all your upcoming training. It means shifting the view and attitude of what development can be to help leaders drive results.

This can be done by understanding how leaders demonstrate behaviors within these capabilities, maybe through a 360 or other evaluation. It can also be by building programs to connect leaders across functions, developing capabilities while building relationships—or creating paths offering development as a continuing experience by sharing formal (training, courses, programs) and informal (assignments, projects) development opportunities that scaffold learning.

As you reflect on your view of this statement, how does it relate to your development and how you or your organization help develop those around you?

 Be Talented  TalentED Mark 


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