Leaders Who Make A Difference: Essential Strategies for Meeting the Nonprofit Challenge, by Burt Nanus and Stephen M. Dobbs. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 1999. 279 pp. $26.
As the complexities of a global marketplace and information and technology advances have made effective leadership an increasingly critical factor, the last decade has seen a significant increase in literature devoted to leadership, especially in the for-profit sector.
Less attention has been paid to the importance of effective nonprofit leadership. Two experienced nonprofit leaders and researchers, Burt Nanus and Stephen Dobbs, have taken a step toward filling that gap. Leaders Who Make A Difference: Essential Strategies for Meeting the Non Profit Challenge incorporates many of the new insights and practices in for-profit leadership, especially the evolution from hierarchical to team-centered leadership.
This book will be of particular value to community-based development practitioners and researchers steeped in the entrepreneurial approach to leadership. As the authors and others contend, entrepreneurship is critical in developing an initial vision for an organization and achieving early results. The challenge is then transitioning from an entrepreneurial to an enduring organization. The authors have identified ten key shifts for nonprofit leaders in that transition.
The single most important distinction between an entrepreneurial organization and a more mature one is the dispersion of leadership. The dispersion of leadership carefully managed leads to increased commitment, effectiveness, and sustainability.
Roles for Leaders
Nanus and Dobbs define a successful nonprofit leader as a person “who marshals the people, capital, and intellectual resources of the organization to move it in the right direction.” The goal of nonprofit leadership is to maximize the amount of social goods that improve the quality of life of individuals, communities, and society.
A major section of Leaders Who Make A Difference is devoted to how leaders strengthen relationships. The authors focus on the roles of coach, politician and campaigner. The leader as coach builds a staff team to foster teamwork, designs the right kind of organization, develops a successful board and staff relationship and encourages top performance. The leader as politician mobilizes a diverse cross section of individuals and groups and converts them to stakeholders. Stakeholders are vital to the success and growth of an organization. Finally, the leader as campaigner helps generate financial and technical resources to fulfill the organization’s mission.
Need More Accessible Models
While Nanus and Dobbs convincingly demonstrate that nonprofits should develop leaders at all levels of the organization and community, they focus too heavily on the results of becoming an effective leader and not enough on the process of how emerging leaders develop. It is like discussing a cake without explaining the ingredients and recipe. Many nonprofit leaders are operating struggling organizations and could benefit from more concrete training and information on leadership that they can relate to.
For example, each chapter starts with a vignette of an effective nonprofit leader. Some are nationally known, such as Marian Wright Edelman; several are luminaries from the community development world including the late Don Terner from BRIDGE and Bill Strickland, the CEO of Manchester Craftsman Guild in Pittsburgh. A leader of a small and/or struggling nonprofit may have a difficult time identifying with these high-profile examples. Not every nonprofit leader can become a Marian Wright Edelman or a Bill Strickland.
Given the importance of effective leadership, we need more literature that is relevant to the current leadership needs and aspirations of regular nonprofit leaders trying to make a difference within their organizations and their communities.
1. A few leaders at the top
2. Seeks efficiency
3. Leads by allocating scarce resources
4. Reacts and adapts to change
6. Directs and supervises staff and volunteers
7. Information held by a few decision makers
8. Leader as boss
9. Leader balances conflicting demands and maintains the culture
10. Leader develops good administrators
Enduring Organization Leadership
1. Leaders at every level
2. Seeks effectiveness
3. Leads by creating strategic alliances
4. Anticipates and creates the future
5. Flatter and more collegial
6. Empowers and inspires people and teams
7. Information shared widely
8. Leader as coach
9. Leader is a change agent, balancing risk and evolving the culture
10. Leader develops future leaders