Leadership – The Risk And The Reward

Nonprofit leadership arrow imageEvery day, there are opportunities to “lead.”  It could be in the work place, at home, or while volunteering in the community.  The chance to make a difference, chart new territory and galvanize a team beckons us to the front of the line.  However, for all the excitement and promise, passion and reward, leading is a risky business that keeps most of us on the sidelines.

Why take the risk?
Real leadership – the type that challenges the status quo, questions long standing policy, views circumstances through a different lens and ultimately expects people and organizations to operate differently, makes many people feel uncomfortable.  We inherently don’t like change; we consciously avoid it and can overtly resent the change agent.  As a result, “real leaders” can at times be personally and professionally disheartened.

The most effective leader is able to create and follow a dual track during their leadership journey.

  • Track 1, the less risky track, focuses on managing the day to day operations of the organization.
  • Track 2, is the more challenging track.  This is where the leader develops a vision that needs to be communicated to the constituency. To be effective, the leader needs to share the vision, be open-minded to amendments and always – “talk the talk and walk the walk”.  There is no compromising on this last point.  All eyes are on you – the leader.  You must be the first to adopt the vision.

There are many good leaders that simply follow Track 1 and when they have completed their duties, they are lauded with praise and compliments.  However, it is the great leaders that are able to follow both Track 1 and Track 2 and begin to move an entire organization forward. They establish and work toward concrete goals.  They create long-term and short-term strategies and possibly affect an entire culture change.  These are all daunting, difficult yet incredibly rewarding opportunities for the individual as well as the organization.  Sounds larger than life – it can be, but well worth it.   Knowing you have made a difference is worth the sleepless nights, the difficult phone calls and the marathon meetings.

True change takes time
It doesn’t happen in a month or even in a year. It may take a decade.  Many times, a leader is only able to plant the seeds of change and hope that with the right fertilization, the ideas will continue to grow long after the individual’s leadership tenure has passed.  This is the legacy that every great leader should strive for.

Can you avoid the risks?
Not really.  However gentle your style, however careful your strategy, however confident you may be in your message, leading with the intention of making change – is a risk.  When you initiate significant change; expect to be challenged.  But, stay focused, forge ahead and remain calm.   In the long run, being satisfied with status quo is riskier than introducing change.  We all know – “the only thing that remains constant is change” and as leaders, it is our responsibility, our calling, to make positive change happen.

So – the next time the opportunity for leadership taps you on the shoulder, coat yourself in Teflon and let the “vision” begin.