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Seven Steps to Being Leader for a Year


Columnist Phil Hardwick says business leaders are often called upon to lead community boards and organizations. If that person is you and it’s the first time you have been in such a position, he offers steps to making your time at the helm a successful one.

Because of their business skills and acumen, business managers are often in demand to serve on nonprofit boards. Once on the board, it may not be too long for the business leader to be selected to serve as chairperson of the organization. If that person is you and it’s the first time you have been in such a position, consider this chronological seven-part guide to making it one of the best years ever for the organization.

Whether your organization is local, statewide, or national, these steps, when taken in order, can be the framework for leading your group.

1. Understand Leadership

If you take a trip to the nearest bookstore and scan the books on leadership, you might want to allow plenty of time. There is no shortage of books on the subject. One wonders how many variations of leadership there can be.

John Maxwell, the prolific leadership author, says that influence is the essence of leadership.

Peter Drucker, business management expert, and author wrote The Effective Executive over 40 years ago and it has stood the test of time. It has been updated and revised slightly, but the main points are still the same. In it, he said that effective executives do the following:

  • Manage time 
  • Focus on contributions and results 
  • Build on strengths 
  • Set the right priorities 
  • Make effective decisions

2. Understand Community

A community is a collection of people with a common interest. In your case, the community is your organization and its stakeholders, i.e. those who have an interest in the organization. The common interest is whatever the organization aspires to be or do. That should be found in the organization’s mission statement.

The noted Psychiatrist Abraham Maslow pointed out in his “Hierarchy of Needs” that the most basic human emotional need is to belong. Make sure that your organization’s members feel that they belong. Engage them. Communicate with them.

3. Set Personal Goals

Now it’s time to start thinking specifics about your year of leadership.

If you could choose any goal for the organization, what would it be? Think ahead to the end of the year. It’s the annual banquet and you are in front of the group giving the summation of what has been accomplished during the year. What would you be saying? What are YOUR goals for the organization? What are the barriers to achieving those goals? Are they consistent with the organization’s goals?

4. Survey the Environment

The first thing a new leader should do is determine what needs to be done.  The leader should review the past five years’ minutes and budget. They should also meet with past leaders and other influential members to determine the real issues.

This is a good time to pause and review the differences between goals, objectives, and tasks. Although we don’t need to classify everything we will do during the year under these categories, it is useful to understand the distinctions among each.

A goal is what you want to achieve. It is the end of the road. It is where you are going. An example of a goal is to raise $20,000 in the coming year. That is what you want to achieve.

An objective is a milestone on the road to achieving that goal. So, an objective might be to raise $10,000 from the top 10 large funders.

A task is very specific. It is what you need to do. In our example, a task would be to identify the potential largest funders. In other words, tasks are what will be done to achieve objectives.

5. Plan the Year

One of the best ways to do that is to have a strategic planning retreat. The steps in strategic planning are (a) situational analysis, i.e. where are now, (b) visioning, i.e. where we want to go, (c) goal setting, i.e. how we will get there, and (d) implementation.

The first three steps are what should be accomplished at the retreat. It may also be a good idea to look ahead three years to set the stage for the future on some matters.

One of the best things about having a retreat is that it engages the leadership and others if desired in the process of setting goals. Therefore, there is a sense of ownership of the goals.

6. Implement the Plan

To fully implement the plan, the following skills are needed:

  • How to communicate
  • How to run a meeting
  • How to follow-up
  • How to hold others accountable

Many organizations operate on the committee system. At board meetings, committee chairpersons report on the activities of their committees and a discussion is held. This is an effective method of follow-up when it works properly.

But what about those times when committee chairpersons neglect their duties? The leader must be able to identify what is going on and select the most appropriate method to deal with the situation. 

7. Celebrate Success

Celebrating success does two very important things – it gives the organization a chance to look back and to look forward. It therefore sets a standard for the future. Most nonprofit organizations have some form of annual banquet or meeting as a way of celebrating success. 

Things to accomplish at a celebration:

  • Be true to the mission
  • Appropriate to the accomplishments
  • Recognize the real heroes of the year – think about some ways that an award or awards could be given to those extraordinary people, for example, the President’s Award for Volunteer of the Year. Also, recognize people outside the organization who helped the organization (and not just the money people, but recognize them as well)
  • The celebration should set the stage for the coming year
  • Have a symbolic passing of the gavel – the significance of “passing the gavel” 

Also, look back on the year – what goals were set at the retreat; what goals were accomplished; what external events affected the organization; and whose lives are better.

Here’s wishing you and your organization the best year ever.

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