In 2014, Pat Wyzbinski undertook her final major assignment for the Nonprofit Management Fund. Her job was to chronicle the first 20 years of the Fund, beginning with its 1994 launch. This blog, comprising insights from how to best spend $100,000 on capacity building to reasons for declining a proposal, was a vehicle for her to document her thoughts while she led the compilation of the Fund’s history. Some entries were met with praise, and others sparked some controversy. This blog is a resource that can provide anyone in the nonprofit sphere with an insight into Pat's way of thinking.


From veteran leaders to emerging executives...mentoring and coaching are fundamental.

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to conduct two focus groups—one for veteran nonprofit leaders (at least 10 years in their position) and another for emerging leaders (at least one year in top management). On one hand, there was quite a contrast between their perspectives in that the veterans were waiting for staff to demonstrate the potential for leadership, and the emerging group discussed frustration with the perceived glass ceilings in their organizations.

On the other hand, both groups agreed that leaders do not necessarily take credit for their achievements, but often highlight the contributions of their teams instead. Sharing a leader’s vision with others, and being inspirational in attracting followers, was understood by both groups.

Interestingly, the veterans’ examples were usually from within their organizations and the executives were taken aback when I pushed them to use examples about their leadership in the community instead. While leading externally was an interesting concept to them, it was not necessarily planned nor in the forefront of their thinking . Several in this group were opening the retirement door and noted that “legacy is important”, “succession planning is critical”, and mentoring by someone outside the organization was very helpful to their careers.

However, while mentoring has its advantages, some of the emerging leaders gave it mixed reviews. “Everyone tells you to find a mentor, and it is very awkward to find a good match. I’ve had four mentors, two were worthless, and two were helpful.” They also cautioned to use only one mentor at a time, as “more mentors can mean conflicting advice”.

Overall, all focus group participants found it difficult to identify and connect with a good mentor. While the veterans acted as mentors and coaches, they encouraged their teams to find others as their role model, which has not been an easy process. There are few generally-accepted guidelines for mentoring and coaching, and only a few of the trade associations offer a matching process as one of their membership benefits.

According to our local leaders, charisma may certainly be useful to a leader, but not required. Leadership is not necessarily innate and is often learned by modeling behavior. Emerging leaders advocated for senior managers to make assignments that would stretch their abilities, allowing them to showcase talents and receive feedback in a safe environment.

With regard to leaving an organization, the veterans expressed frustration in reading resumes of candidates that revealed a pattern of job hopping. However, the younger leaders described a similar degree of frustration when there is no room or opportunity for advancement in their organizations. Therefore, they feel forced to find positions elsewhere.

While designing a leadership initiative, it became clear that although all executives and managers are expected to develop their skills, most nonprofits lack the resources to invest in their talent. Even if a line item in the annual budget was designated for professional development of the staff, it is almost always the first to be deleted when shortfalls occur.

Interviews with several community and civic leaders reinforced these observations. The Director of an academic program believes that “leaders need to make time for self-reflection and that there should be increased dialogue between veteran and emerging leaders”. Another cautioned “There is only so much that you can learn inside your organization, to be a good leader, you must have a community presence.”

The civic leaders were very forthright with their advice. “Leaders should be authentic, open to change, resourceful, and advocate for the bigger picture.” Or as one leader admonished, “a strong leader need to be able to say no, and must engage in intentional planning”.

Several of the interviewees noted that over the years they had participated in successful leadership circles, and strongly encouraged their staff members to join a circle, roundtable, or group coaching effort.

Do we have enough opportunities to hone our leadership skills?

Are there strong role models willing to mentor emerging leaders?

What’s missing from our leadership development opportunities?


Stay tuned for our next episode!

1 comment | Add a New Comment
1. Linda Nieft | June 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM EDT

Excellent points. Thanks for making me think. I have had to change thoughts about leadership as I deal with young emerging leaders.

We haven't spent a penny on leadership development the past 4 years. Small non profits have not had the funds. Perhaps a Foundation should look at this and invest in emerging leaders in small organizations.

Add a New Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required