Learning about Leadership: 21st Century, Decade Two

By: Christine Hammes, director of strategic development services at MAP

The systems, institutions, and processes inherited from the 20th century—government and foundations as reliable resource streams for nonprofits, for instance—are not working today. We know this. We just don’t yet know precisely what will replace them.

Example: Many workplaces have downsized, consolidated or employed other means of economizing. Workers must learn new skills, experiment with different processes for getting work done, and often make these leaps for less pay, less security, and with less help than when their jobs were more predictable.

How are we to lead in such an environment?

The kind of leadership (and the kind of learning about leadership) required by the sweeping and uncertain change of today must be both broad and deep.

Broader in that leadership today is about mobilizing oneself and others to tackle tough issues and exciting challenges. Such leadership can and should take place anywhere in the system—whether by persons in positions of authority or those possessing initiative for the greater good regardless of their position.

Learning to do this leadership takes practice. Working with groups, across boundaries, cultivating the leadership of others, inviting difference, becoming adept as a group at spotting “bright spots”) and finally learning from the doing by reflecting on what you did. Ask yourselves “How well did our meeting today serve our common purpose?” Practice. Experiment. Reflect. Build on what works.

Deeper in that such leadership requires a kind of learning beyond that required to master technical skills such as budgeting or project management. We must do the difficult and often unfamiliar job of learning about ourselves.  What are our strengths? Really. If we admire and envy the public speaking prowess of Bill Clinton, but find we are drawn more to listening, facilitating, and synthesizing, then how can we best leverage those strengths in our leadership?

Leadership in the midst of accelerating change and uncertainty must be rooted in rock solid confidence. It depends on us being able to count on ourselves so deeply that the “self” virtually disappears. We have gotten out of our own way. We are fully present to others and able to think clearly, feel genuinely, and make decisions informed by both facts and values.

This takes practice and reflection—time by ourselves and time with others—whether in the moment of your work, off by yourself with a journal, or in the company of trusted peers. This is the kind of investment that builds truly transformative leaders.


Filed under Leadership Development, Nonprofit Leadership, Nonprofit Management

3 responses to “Learning about Leadership: 21st Century, Decade Two

  1. Pingback: The Improve Group | Research, Evaluation, Planning, Coaching

  2. Love your writing! You used the title of my book “Rock Solid Confidence” and what you said it right on the money for today’s professional! Thanks for sharing in such an articulate manner.


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