For a long time I have believed that there is an art in knowing when to stop talking. Who among us hasn’t had the experience of thinking: If I had just stopped talking about 2 or 3 sentences ago?? As a leader, this is especially true when we are asked for a direction, an explanation or a question (especially if it is a yes or no question). There really is no need to begin our response with The Book of Genesis, right?
Whether we are leading a staff, an army of volunteers, communicating with funding sources or a Board of Directors, the following are some of my essential observations about good leadership communication:
Be Clear and DirectHence, The Art of Knowing When To Stop Talking. Be clear about the message and convey it as succinctly as possible. Say it in as simple language as possible and avoid grandiose language. Avoid “triangular” communication, which can lead to problems. For example, triangular communication is involved when the director needs to deliver a message to Mary but instead delivers it to Sam, who may or may not convey it to Mary the way it was intended. Like “whisper down the alley”, communication can become inaccurate or get off topic. Be sure that the intended recipient of a message receives it directly.
ListenA well-documented fact, successful and effective leaders listen. We cannot obtain information from people, departments or entire organizations if we do all of the talking all of the time. Skilled leaders know how to engage and facilitate others to do the talking in order that they may obtain the information they need. As Mike Myatt of Forbes says, Shut-up and listen!
Have an Agenda Think ahead a bit about the beginning, middle and end of the communication. It is best to say or write up front in the beginning what the message is about. People tend to remember the beginning and, of course, how something ended but the middle part is more easily forgotten. For these reasons, introduce the intended message right at the beginning, use a wrap-up or summarizing technique at the end and place less critical or salient points in the middle of a message.
Always Be Respectful A key part of being a leader, be as upbeat and positive as possible in all communications, especially when having to deliver an unfavorable message. This may not always be easy to do especially in the face of conflict or adversary but at the end of the day “burning bridges” and destructive relationships will not benefit anyone or further the mission.
Non-Verbal Body Language Be mindful of non-verbal body language. Our lips may be saying one thing but our bodies are saying another! When communicating a message, keep in mind things like sitting behind a desk (power and control), standing over someone (intimidation) and – worst of all – crossing the arms (non-receptive, closed). Sometimes non-verbal body language speaks louder than the words we use.
The 5:1 Rule Simply put, the 5:1 rule is that for every “constructive” message, there needs to be 5 positives. It is easier for leaders to praise rather than criticize: Although you need to gain speed in completing your daily reports, you are on time, dressed appropriately for the job, you are respectful to consumers, they look forward to seeing you and you have a great attitude!
Technology Gone are the days when we dictated letters and someone else typed them for us. Today, if we need a letter, we type it ourselves – and more likely, we email or text it. In the age of electronics, it behooves leaders to use their smart phones and iPads wisely. Add Facebook and Twitter into the mix and we have a virtual jungle of communication with staff, Board members, funding sources and volunteers. In addition, know the preferred method of communication of the audience. This may translate into the same message being broadcasted by several different methods (e.g., website, email, Facebook) if the demographics of the audience are diverse. While many of our older donors prefer to receive their newsletters and annual reports in printed copy, the Gen X crowd wants to be texted or tweeted. Know how to best communicate with the intended audience.
The proliferation of non-profit organizations across the United States has been well documented for years. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, in the ten-year period from 1999 to 2009, the U.S. saw a 31.5 percent increase in the number of registered 501(c)3 public charities, totaling more than 1.5 million nationwide (2010). That percentage increase excludes foreign and government organizations. In my state of Pennsylvania alone, Non-Profit Stats reports a whopping 72,725 registered charitable organizations (2013).
The numbers are even more significant today because many non-profit organizations in communities throughout the country are often trying to carve out their existence in fierce competition with one another for stagnant pools of local monies as well as they are facing reduced if not eliminated private and public funding in a poor economy.
My recent introduction to a very worthwhile start-up non-profit in the Lehigh Valley, PA community reminded me of the rigors of starting a new non-profit organization. The following are just a few highlights of the many, many “hoops” through which a fledgling non-profit is required to jump:
Determine the need and sustainability. Before hanging a sign on the door and printing business cards, determine the need for a non-profit serving the proposed mission or purpose in the community. Are there other organizations already established in the local community that serve the same purpose, goals, population or issues? If so, there may not be a strong commitment to a “duplicate” organization starting up. More important, determine the sustainability of the proposed non-profit among the community. Who will fund it? Is there enough interest and money in the community to support the organization on an ongoing basis? Research corporate and government funding opportunities that are good matches with the mission of the organization and visit with local, private foundations in order to introduce the idea of a start-up non-profit, gauge their interest, and get to know them.
Determine the type of tax exempt status needed. Perhaps the most widely known, the 501(c)3 non-profit is an IRS tax code that permits certain tax exemptions to charitable, educational, scientific, religious, etc. organizations. Other tax exempt codes have been established for civic leagues, child care and social welfare organizations; for example, that have varying disclosure requirements and contribution allowances. Currently, I count 34 different IRS tax exempt codes!
Establish by-laws. The by-laws of a non-profit define how the organization will function and conduct its business in the community and typically address issues like board governance, terms of service and lines of authority within the organization. Consultation with legal counsel – or at least review of the by-laws – is highly recommended at this stage of the process.
Select a board of directors. What does this particular non-profit need in terms of the community representation on the board of directors? In general, organizations usually need financial, legal and human resource experience. Additionally, people tend to gravitate to what they know best so it is typical; for example, to see organizations with an educational purpose with teachers and school district administrators on the board. Make it a goal to diversify the board of directors as much as possible. While there is obvious value in keeping similar people together, diversification in the board increases the richness of experience and expertise that a board of directors can provide to a non-profit.
Develop strategic and fundraising goals. The management and board of start-up non-profit organizations are strongly encouraged to engage in some level of strategic and fundraising planning. How will the organization be funded? Where do management and board members expect the organization to be financially and programmatically in a year? In three years? In five years? A strategic plan is even more important to start-up non-profits especially because in the absence of a proven, successful track record of results it is one of the key items to be shared with potential funders to demonstrate that the organization has been formed with forethought, expertise and a business plan.
Request tax exempt status from the IRS. This is really the “big kahuna” in forming a non-profit organization. An organization is not considered not-for-profit until the IRS deems it so with a “Letter of Determination” (see bullet above about types of tax exemption). Without it, an organization may not legitimately solicit funds as a non-profit and donors can not make tax deductible contributions.
File state articles of incorporation. Typically granted from a Department of State, incorporation refers to the absorption of state law under the specific protections of the U.S. Constitution. That is, the U.S. Constitution shall override all state constitutions and state laws. For organizations that plan to incorporate, this is a key step that may occur in conjunction with filing for tax exempt status with the IRS.
Establish record keeping and financial accounting systems. Establishing board approved, financial and internal management procedures and protocols early in the game; for example, financial statements and reports as well as board meeting minutes, is advisable. Who will be responsible for maintaining records and financial accounting?
Obtain liability insurance. Like any other business, non-profit organizations are susceptible to legal risks and start-up organizations are advised to obtain liability insurances. Again, consultation with an attorney familiar with non-profit organizations can be very valuable in selecting Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance as well as general professional liability coverage.
The bulleted items above are only some of the issues that need to be addressed by a start-up non-profit organization. Depending on the organization, additional items that may need to be addressed at start-up include: personnel policies, unemployment compensation, withholding taxes for the IRS, filing for state sales tax exemption status, and registering with state Bureaus of Charitable Organizations.
The National Center for Charitable Statistics at The Urban Institute; Quick Facts About Nonprofits, Custom Report Builder (2013). Retrieved from:
I have always said there is more to being the boss than being bossy. A lot more. I think there is a tendency for us to confuse – and it is easy to do – the ideology of leadership with the act of supervision. Clearly, many situations and tasks need supervision; however, leadership is a bigger, broader picture than telling someone when and how to do something. Consequently, there are great supervisors who would not necessarily make great leaders and vice versa. Leadership comes in different sizes, shapes, colors, styles and gender – and at times from the most unlikely of places. Leadership styles aside – and there is an abundance of self-surveys available on-line and in any bookstore to help us figure out which particular brand each of us subscribes to – the following are several ideas for consideration about leadership:
Leaders have passion and vision.A leader not only has passion and dedication to the mission of the organization but also a vision for the organization beyond what is happening today or this week. He or she has a vision of how the organization’s mission will be played out in the next year as well as five years from now and uses many resources to guide the organization toward that vision.
Leaders focus on relationships. Leaders appear to know everyone because they understand the inherent value of relationships – both within the organization and in the community at-large. Good leaders do not readily “burn bridges” and they are skilled at networking and maintaining relationships even in the face of adversary.
Leaders listen. Leaders also understand the art of listening to the other people around them (community stakeholders, staff, board members, partner organizations). Rather than frequently arguing their own agenda, leaders are more intent on listening to others in order to determine from whom their strongest support is coming in order to guide the organization toward the vision.
Leaders maintain poise and grace under pressure. A leader maintains positive energy even during trying circumstances. Contrary to the boss who seems to think that yelling, tantrums and blame are the only ways in which to get something done, a leader maintains personal dignity as well as that of the organization and rarely displays a disorderly response. While ‘Fear Factor’ may make good television drama, it certainly has no place or benefit in non-profit management. Perpetual negative responses (or interactions) tend to diminish others’ confidence in one’s ability to lead.
Leadership develops leadership. Conversely, a leader bears the self-confidence in his or her own leadership such that other staff in the organization are encouraged to develop professionally. Leaders are comfortable in their roles. He or she not only supports and welcomes professional development but is also wise to consider his or her own succession at some point.
Leaders accept change. All of us have most likely experienced difficulty with change at some point in our lives. On the other hand, change is necessary and good. Leaders not only accept change, they often flourish with it, making change work for them and their organizations. Moreover, leaders effect change in order to guide the organization toward the vision for it.
Leaders lead.Plain and simple: Supervisors supervise and leaders lead. Finally, a leader who transgresses into others’ roles within the organization is not likely to be as effective and efficient in facilitating the bigger picture development of the organization as one who clearly communicates vision and goals for the organization. Leaders understand the hierarchy of the organization and how best to navigate it.