How many items are on your to-do list? If asked to narrow it down to four things, what would strike you as the most important things to do? Choosing a smaller number of important ideas to focus on helps develop your strategic leadership, which is key to creating vision, empowering employees, and moving your organization in a new or more refined direction.
In Tobie S. Stein’s Leadership in the Performing Arts, Stein provides insights tailored to leadership in the performing arts industry, but ideas that can be utilized by managers at any nonprofit.
Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, describes strategic leadership as “being able to articulate a vision and a direction, while maintaining flexibility and being able to move it forward step-by-step.” One of the key factors in being a strategic leader is setting priorities for the organization.
Tim McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation, stressed that “Strategic leadership is not coming up with 15 things that you have to do as an organization. Strategic leadership is narrowing those fifteen things down to three or four things that are the highest priorities at this time.”
One of the ways a new leader can establish priorities is not only listening to board members, but also to the organization’s stakeholders. “If you don’t meet your stakeholders in the first six months, it’s too late,” says Laura Penn, executive director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, “Meet everyone you think you’re going to need to know in those first six months, because people want to help and give you their opinions.”
These priorities cannot be achieved, however, without the right team. Recruiting a stellar senior staff allows a leader to have a balanced mix of strengths from a diverse group of people. Most of the leaders interviewed asserted that it was less important that someone match the exact job description, but that they exhibit curiosity, motivation, and passion, without a sense of arrogance or entitlement. “In hiring the right people, you have to have a sense that someone wants to grow, learn, and continue to be challenged,” says Harold Wolpert, managing director at the Roundabout Theatre Company.”