It’s an Inside Job

Job interview

I recently came across two statistics, from separate studies/publications, that gave me pause. For years I have been hearing concerns raised about an impending leadership crisis in the nonprofit industry, so I took great interest in an article that appeared in the Sanford Social Innovation Review titled “The Nonprofit Leadership Development Deficit.”  The article highlighted findings from research conducted by The Bridgespan Group which indicated, “Only 30%of C–suite roles in the nonprofit sector were filled by internal promotion in the past two years — about half the rate of for-profits.” Shortly after reading that article, I read a Harvard Business Review article on The Best Performing CEOs in the world.  It indicated that 86% of the 100 best CEOs were promoted to the position from within their companies.

Okay, so let me get this straight . . . 30% of senior leaders in nonprofits are hired from within, approximately 60% of for-profits selected their key leaders from within, and 86% of the best CEOs in the world were promoted from within. I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems like maybe non-profit leaders should be focusing more of their energies on growing their own leaders.

According to the Nonprofit Leadership Deficit article, corporate CEOs dedicate 30 – 50% of their time and focus on cultivating talent within their organizations. Yes, I can already hear the litany of reasons as to why that just isn’t feasible for a non-profit executive . . . to which I humbly reply . . . really?!?

I know you have far too many things on your plate already. If you take the long view, however, the only way to get some of those things off your plate is to have someone with the skills to take them on . . . someone who already knows your culture, the quirks of your industry, the strategic direction of your organization . . . yep, that’s right . . . it’s an inside job. I’m guessing you have more than enough potential, right under your nose, to accomplish your strategic goals. Yes it will take time, coaching, and a willingness to allow people to stub their toes now and then. Internal leadership development does require an investment, but in reality, that investment is far less than what it will take to bring an “experienced” leader on board and up to speed.

I realize many non-profits have a relatively flat organizational structure. Luckily the way to develop leadership capacity is through projects, not positions. I’m guessing you have a few projects on the drawing board that you know would benefit your organization, but you just haven’t had the chance to pursue. Why not ask one of your promising young leaders to take it on? I’m not suggesting you throw them to the wolves, but with just a bit of guidance and support, you might be amazed at what they can accomplish, and how energizing such opportunities can be . . . for the emerging leader, and for you!

One of the key responsibilities of a non-profit leader is planning for the future of the organization. And when it comes to talent, maybe more of us need to realize . . . it’s an inside job!