A guest blog post by Justin Grooms
Leading people is one of the most difficult tasks that an individual can undertake. It requires a level of self-awareness and intuition that takes many people years to master and very seldom do we ever fully master the craft of leadership. When we do happen to find those special people who embody the qualities of a leader, we hope that we have the good fortune of enlisting them to lead our organizations.
Although leadership is important in a wide variety of spaces, in my opinion, there is no leadership role more pivotal than in the non-profit sector. Non-profit leaders are often faced with challenges ranging from lack of resources and donor scarcity to staff burn-out and tight hiring budgets. They must navigate board & donor demands, employee needs, the needs of clients, as well as public perception.
Minority leaders face additional challenges. For framing and context, minorities are defined as “Any group of people whose race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics are fewer in numbers than the main groups of those classifications. These groups experience relative disadvantages as compared to members of the dominant group in those classifications.” These challenges for minority leaders often go unnoticed, undiscussed, and ultimately unchecked, leading to frustration and possible resignation from a position where they are most needed.
My passion for coaching diverse non-profit leaders was uncovered through countless encounters with frustrated executives. People who, although highly qualified and capable, found themselves experiencing a certain level of hopelessness in their roles. I was often a listening ear when they could not talk to their co-workers (because they were at the top of the org chart and no co-worker could relate) or felt that they had no allies on their board of directors. After listening to some of the frustration I started to formulate tactics and strategies that could be deployed to stave off corporate burnout.
Whether you are a board member who works closely with a minority leader, are yourself a minority leader, or are simply a supporter of a non-profit, these 5 action steps could be game-changing for you and your organization:
1) Believe that your clients truly need you!
The act of genuinely believing that there is no person better qualified to lead your organization than you may seem like an easy first step. I am here to tell you that it is not. “Imposter syndrome” is defined as: an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be, as if you are a fraud. Despite being a "syndrome," it is not a diagnosable mental illness. Instead, the term is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, although it also has links to perfectionism and the social context.
One way to overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace is to measure successes by objective Key Performance Indicators. Because the non-profit sector is often looked at as something other than a business, a great deal of the for-profit business principles are lost. As a result, we often measure success in more ambiguous terms. This leads to subjective standards of success vs. failure. Continuous evaluation of organizational objectives and measurable KPIs can help to ensure that there is objectivity in performance measurement. This does not mean that there will not be moments of doubt. What this does mean is that in those moments of doubt, leaders can return to the measurables to objectively determine whether they are performing up to the standards of the role.
2) Speak to someone about your frustrations
Executive Coaching is not a new thing. It is, however, grossly underutilized in non-profit spaces. Because of the many factors outlined above, it becomes increasingly more important that non-profit leaders, specifically diverse non-profit leaders, have an objective outlet to go to in order to vent, exchange ideas, ask questions, or to simply sit and discuss work-life. It is even better if the coach themselves can relate to being diverse in an executive role.
Here are just a few of the many benefits of getting a coach:
i. Coaching helps to set KPIs and keep leaders on track with measurable objectives
ii. Coaching can improve self-awareness by offering a sounding board to the leader
iii. Coaching increases social skills by being able to say thoughts aloud without fear of judgment
iv. Coaching can help uncover blind spots that hinder organizational development
v. Coaching can increase EQ (Emotional quotient) by helping the leader understand their own feelings
I can go on and on about the benefits of coaching, but the bottom line is, if you are a part of an organization that has a minority leader, chances are that leader can benefit from a good coach.
3) Celebrate successes
Most diverse leaders are no strangers to arduous work. Many of them got to where they are through tireless effort and a passion for what they do. As a result, it can be hard to take a moment to celebrate themselves. Leaders should take time to acknowledge their efforts. When successes are celebrated it triggers a release of chemicals which result in feelings of pleasure. The body begins to crave that feeling and this idea of celebrating success actually translates into higher quality work, as leaders begin to desire the duplication of that success. Self-celebration benefits the organization more than we may have originally thought. Studies show that those leaders who admit to celebrating their successes, no matter how small, perform at a higher level than those who do not.
4) Lean on other leaders in the space
One of the best things a leader can do is to join a professional group with other leaders who share some of the same or similar struggles. Not only does the leader get the opportunity to share frustrations but they also get the chance to share what is working well. One of the most amazing things that I see happening in these groups is the sprouting up of partnership opportunities and the sharing of resources, all made possible because of a like-minded “think tank”. I often say when I am speaking to large groups, if you are dealing with something you can be assured by a measure of around 90% that someone in the room is dealing with something similar. Be open, share, learn, and grow.
5) Remember why you do what you do
Sometimes leaders can get so bogged down in the fiscal responsibility of running a non-profit that they lose the core of why it is that they got into the space in the first place. I often ask leaders when the last time was that they went out and served with their staff. When was the last time they were face to face with the community for whom they are putting forth all this effort? Often, leaders just need to be reignited and recharged. They need to know that all the challenging work, all the frustration, all the sleepless nights, are having an impact. Even if it's not the impact that is ultimately envisioned, the work is worth doing because the need still exists.
The communities we serve need our organizations now more than ever. As a result, our organizations need good leaders. We should do everything in our power to ensure that those leaders are successful.
Justin J. Grooms, PHR
Chariot Consulting LLC
Morin, Amy. July 27, 2022. What Is Imposter Syndrome?. https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469
KPI.Org. What is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)?https://kpi.org/KPI-Basics