Before Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., became CEO, he underestimated the importance of executive leadership. He believed that weak leadership could be overcome by strong staff members.
It was only when he reached the position, and served on multiple boards, that he realized that leadership may be the single most important reason that nonprofits, businesses, and governments succeed or fail in their goals.
Carson, who is currently CEO of the Silicon Valley Foundation, wrote in “Nonprofit Management 101” that strong leaders must have specific skills and competencies to succeed. He listed seven of them, which he learned from his own experiences:
- Leadership style must match the circumstances. An effective leader has to examine the situation, context, and audience and select the most appropriate style.
- Values guide your leadership. A leader must be committed to the moral values of the organization. A leader without these is like the captain of a ship without a rudder.
- Understanding racism, sexism, and ageism. Leaders must remember that this could well be the first time an employee has heard the word “no” in the workplace from a person of color, a woman, or someone younger.
- Passion motivates people. When the leader is genuinely excited, believes in the work, and shows excitement, it is infectious. The same is true when he or she is disinterested.
- Leaders delegate; manager manage. Good leaders delegate responsibility and then hold people accountable for the results.
- The CEO-board relationship makes or breaks your success. Because the principle responsibility of the board is to hire and fire the CEO, the leader has a vested interest in preserving and maintaining this relationship.
Good leaders are good listeners. Encouraging debate and discussion only works when people believe the CEO will hear them out and honestly consider their ideas.