Making a Case for a Leadership Mentor
Why would a board of trustees fail to include funding for leadership mentoring for their newly hired Executive Director or Head of School? Is it about diverting money from programming? Perhaps. But, since the organization has spent thousands of dollars to launch a national search for their new leader, a mere percentage of those fees will not, or should not measurably affect the organization’s bottom line. What will change the bottom line, however, is hiring a leader and not taking the critical step to ensure that the leader has the full complement of skills to do the job he or she was hired to do.
Let’s consider this familiar scenario: A small to mid-sized non-profit organization (indicated by an operating budget of less than $10M) has spent the better part of a year hiring a new leader. It was a difficult decision for the board because the former director had been in place for 15 years and the organization saw great success under her leadership. It was the first leadership search for almost all of the trustees. A finalist was selected and an offer made. The trustees were impressed with their candidate's confident manner and reputation for outstanding relationship building with clients and donors, a characteristic lacking in the former director. Additionally, he led a successful division for the last three years at a larger, more prestigious organization.
What the board didn’t count on, was that the incoming leader did not have full responsibility for the budget in his former position, nor did he have a complete grasp of business practices, though he was able to use business jargon convincingly in the interviews. Unbeknownst to the search committee, their new leader did not understand how to connect with or lead a board or think strategically to ensure the health and vitality of the organization. It’s likely that the incoming leader was not even aware that he lacked those skills until his third or fourth board meeting when a trustee stepped in to contradict him and point out his lack of understanding of the "way things have always been done." With doubt spreading among the board members about their new leader, they begin to take over parts of the operation of the organization, thereby undermining, rather than supporting the fledgling director. Sadly, the average tenure for a new Executive Director is three years.
Now imagine that the new leader joined the organization with a mentor in place. The mentor would facilitate the following to increase the likelihood of a smooth transition and the organization's continued success:
· Assess skill sets to be bolstered for the director’s professional growth
· Determine how the director's skill set will be strengthened and supported
· Help the director establish that he is a person worth following through his actions and words within the organization’s constituencies
· Guide the director in the art of connecting with and leading a volunteer board
· Advise the director in bringing together a new strategic leadership team to determine how culture and mission can overlap with a sustainable business model
A small to mid-sized organization is most likely to hire an Executive Director who is embarking on his first directorship. I know it's difficult to divert funds from programming to mentoring a new leader, but the detrimental impact of turnstile leadership on the organization is greater than the line item for mentoring. The positive effect of a well-mentored leader on your organization, your constituency, and your good name in the community is priceless.