Human resource professionals and hiring managers often ask me if there are certain qualities to look for when hiring prospective new successful nonprofit leaders that are likely to make them extraordinarily successful in their leadership roles. While there are no absolutes, Janice Cunning and I identified nine essential qualities through our personal experience in the nonprofit world as well as our work training and coaching nonprofit professionals that make nonprofit executives extraordinary. We found that there are a few characteristics that if carefully screened for can yield excellent new-hire results.
Of course, it helps to have a rigorous recruitment process (including resume reviews and initial phone screenings) that develops many strong, talented, and competent candidates. After that process, multiple face-to-face interviews of a small pool of candidates by a diverse hiring committee who are prepared to ask penetrating questions about the character of candidates (not competence) will get at the heart of the matter.
Below are nine character and behavioral qualities which Janice and I identified as “essential” when considering new hires:
- Positive Mental Attitude. This attitude can often be described by such words as optimistic, courageous, generous, tolerant, tactful, kind, and having good common sense.
- Personal Initiative. The ability to plan one’s work and work one’s plan. An orientation of “I do it now.”
- Going the Extra Mile. Live by the golden rule, and render more and betters service than was expected.
- Learning from Failure. The ability to learn from substantial personal and professional setbacks.
- Purpose and Vision. A dominating idea, plan, or purpose emotionalized by a burning desire for its realization. The ability to enroll others in that vision.
- Teamwork. Works well with others. Can seek advice, help, and resources from other people to accomplish goals.
- Outward Mindset. The ability to shift focus from self to other.
- Getting Things Done. The ability to set new and exciting goals, make plans to achieve them and get into action without everything being perfect.
- Planning and Organization. The ability to manage multiple priorities and projects. Has a system to stay organized.
While Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich) and W. Clement Stone (Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude) provided initial inspiration for several attributes on the list, in most cases, we put our own spin on these.
Many of our behavioral patterns and character qualities are established early in life through the influence of peers, education, parents, authority figures, and our environment. Then, throughout our lives, a variety of patterns get reinforced and become habits. While our habits make us fairly predictable, everyone has different habits. It’s important to point out that nearly all of these qualities can be learned, acquired, or strengthened over time with practice. They are not innate, and at any given time in your career, you may be stronger in some areas than others.
To explore how you measure up on these nine qualities at this time, you can complete our Free Leadership Assessment. It’s completely confidential, and you will receive your results instantly along with suggestions on how to improve in areas where you may be falling short.
One area in particular that Janice and I identified in extraordinary leaders is their ability to create high-performing teams. This is an aspect of leadership that can definitely be improved over time. My own experience of leading teams in both the corporate and non-profit worlds was strongly influenced by Pat Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In that book, Pat identifies the Five Dysfunctions as follows:
- The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.
- This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
- A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.
- Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.
- Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive.
Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development or recognition), or even the needs of their divisions, above the collective goals of the team
And so, like a chain with just one link broken, teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish.
Another way to understand the five dysfunctions model is to take the opposite approach—a positive one—and imagine how members of truly cohesive teams behave:
- They trust one another.
- They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
- They commit to decisions and plans of action.
- They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
- They focus on achieving collective results.
Janice and I will facilitate an online course called Leading High-Performance Teams in the Nonprofit World.
David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer who helps nonprofit leaders and their teams flourish, thrive, and get results.