Executives: Take some time to take stock

NON-PROFITS INC.

January 04, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

Executive directors of nonprofit corporations most often arrive at the pinnacle having worked their way up the ranks. In other words, they know a lot about the issues that define their fields. They also tend to be very passionate about the causes they represent.

As caring people, executive directors have cultivated the art of helping their clients, dealing with staff and catering to board members. What they do not do as well is take care of their own job-related needs.

In the spirit of starting 1993 right, I suggest that every executive director vow to take at least two hours away from the office this week. Take a pad and pen, go to a library or other quiet spot, and think hard about how you will purposefully go about meeting your work-related needs this year.

What are your prime administrative strengths? Write them down. If you get a lot of satisfaction from teaching others, why not commit to developing those skills into a presentation for colleagues? That kind of professional sharing can be very rewarding and often increases job satisfaction. Baltimore is blessed with many organizations that offer development opportunities for nonprofit organizations, all of whom welcome new talent.

Administrative weaknesses? List them, too. Pick any one or two skills you would like to develop further and write down how you ideally see yourself mastering them by year's end. Develop a list of tasks to do that will move you forward toward those goals. Perhaps this week you will simply send letters to five information sources to determine what is available.

Also, don't miss the opportunity that individual self-development offers for team building among staff, especially at the executive level. Only very insecure administrators would try to hide their development needs from staff. Even if they did, staff tend to sniff out administrative deficiencies in a matter of weeks.

An alternate approach is for executive staff to develop a list of their needs and goals for the year, and seek ways to work as a team to meet them.

I am a strong advocate for executive teams meeting away from the office for a three- or four-hour block of time every month, free of work interruptions and able to focus on their own needs. The agenda for these meetings often ends up focusing on executive skill building.

Another technique I've found very useful over the years is for a group of executives of similar-size organizations with different missions, to meet informally every month over breakfast or dinner. One executive is charged with developing the agenda for that meeting, usually addressing an issue which is of immediate concern to him or her. I find that, if properly moderated, executives tend to quickly shed the protective layer of super-competency and reveal themselves honestly, foibles and all. There is a great deal of comfort knowing that colleagues have faced similar issues and come away with enhanced skills.

The obvious offshoot of this type of meeting is the development of a professional support network to which one can turn outside the formal meeting.

In fact, the newly established Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations puts together just such confidential support groups as one of its several functions. (They can be reached at 727-6367.)

Finally, don't minimize the inexpensive, tried-and-true method of creating a reading list for yourself, or for the executive team. There are some stimulating works now on the market, any one of which would serve to raise critical issues facing every nonprofit organization. Next week, we'll look at some of these new releases.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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