The Secret to Becoming a Great Leader


Of all the self help tips I’ve read, all the leadership lessons that have been passed along to me, all the nuggets of life advice I’ve been given, I can sum everything up in one word:


We’re all different people coming to situations with different perspectives. We all have something to offer a situation and a good leader understands that. A good leader can listen to everyone that comes across their path and distill order out of chaos. But before they can make sense of anything, they must do just that: listen.

Listening isn’t something to be done passively. In fact, meaningful listening takes more effort and energy than speaking. Listening doesn’t just mean hearing – it means understanding where the person is coming from, what matters to them, and how they feel about a situation. It means hearing what they are saying but also perceiving their body language, tone, and passion. It takes unique abilities to listen well, and it just may be the secret to becoming a great leader.

Today, consider the situations you find yourself in. When communicating with others, are you truly actively listening, or coming to the conversation with your own agenda? It’s great to maintain focus when it comes to getting what you want, but be open to understanding other people’s perspectives as well. You never know, what you thought you wanted just might not have been the best thing for you or your organization.


Forgiving Ourselves as Millennials in the Nonprofit Sector


I’m currently participating in a six week series on Metta, or loving-kindness meditation. Lately we’ve been focusing on self-love and last week we reviewed the very important concept of forgiving yourself.

This is such an important thing to remember in the workplace too. As Millennials in the nonprofit sector, we have a trend to be too hard on ourselves. We know the good we want to do in the world and the potential our energy, skills, and insight brings to the table. We want to change the world and we know we can.

So when we slip up, we get very frustrated and mad at ourselves. We worry about how it looks to our colleagues – looking like we don’t know what we’re doing might be the worst thing we can imagine. Our professional reputation is extremely important to us. We feel it dictates our entire future. It defines us.

The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human and teach us how to deal with issues as they come up. Getting through a slip up can cause you to learn so much and be a better person. It can teach you resilience and professionalism. It can teach you how to be a better employee and a better manager.

So, this is a call that we must forgive ourselves. Forgive ourselves for any mistakes we have made at work. Ten years from now, none of this will matter. Will it matter ten months from now? Ten days from now? Likely not. Forgive yourself and let go of the past. It will liberate you to move forward with your work in a brand new way. Don’t worry: you’re still changing the world.


Understanding Where You Want to Be and Getting There


As a nonprofit staffer, no one’s going to give you a formula to achieve your professional goals. While most bosses have the best of intentions to help you formulate goals, they often get caught up in their own work. They are focused on the important work they have to do and are trying to figure out the quickest way to get it done. Nonprofit staffers, as you might know, don’t have the luxury of time.

That’s why it’s so important for you to take the bull by the horns and do what you need to advance your career. This means tapping into some self-awareness about what you want. Here are a few steps you can take to learn what you want and understand how you can get it.

  • Figure out where you are: Before you understand what you need you must understand where you are. Think about how you feel every morning when you get up for work or every Sunday night when the work week is creeping up on you. Think about the elements of your job that make you happy or you avoid like the plague. Take stock of where you are currently to form your goals for the future.
  • Think about where you want to be: After you’ve taken stock, think about the elements of your job that you love. What type of role will allow you to do that all day, every day? From there, think about what your ideal professional life looks like. Take some liberty to dream a little bit here. Are you part of the management team? Are you a nonprofit ED? A consultant? Don’t think about where you are now, think about where you’d be if nothing else mattered.
  • Consider how to get there: Now it’s time to connect the dots. What are some steps to take to get from where you are now closer to where you want to be? Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of steps it might take or how unattainable things may seem. Create some steps that you can do tomorrow or next week or in this month. Don’t worry about when you’ll get there, worry about getting closer.

How are you going to achieve your professional goals if you don’t have them on paper? After writing them down and taking stock of your current position, you can understand how the two might connect. Maybe there are educational trainings you’d like to attend. Maybe you want to improve on your public speaking or leadership skills and want to do periodic presentations at meetings. After you identify these things, present them to your boss. Chances are she’ll support you. Anyway, what do you have to lose? But you have so much to gain.


I Won’t Support My Grandma’s Nonprofit


I’m thrilled to share my second guest blog post with Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention! Helping Nonprofits Succeed Through Effective Marketing. The post, entitled I Won’t Support My Grandma’s Nonprofit, is all about the importance of innovation in nonprofit organizations. It can be very tough to innovate in any realm, as it’s easy to slip into the “tried and true” cycle of repeating what’s done in the past. Nonprofits have even more obstacles to innovation, with their accountability to the public in different ways than the for profit sector (proving success is not as simple as a bottom line with nonprofits). However, nonprofits are the ones that should be innovating the most because they are solving the biggest problems and doing the most important work.

Whoever heard of a movement, revolution, or even new invention that was a product of the status quo? If you’re solving social problems that haven’t been figured out before, what makes you think you can get to the solution without doing something new?

Check out the blog post here and think about the ways your organization is (or isn’t) innovating.


Encouraging Teamwork Through Inclusion


I recently came across this great blog post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled Preventing Rejection at Work. The piece discusses the importance of inclusion when working with others to ensure productivity and happiness. The author offers some great tips on encouraging common ground at the outset and communicating in non-judgmental and respectful ways.

It’s natural to form friendships in the workplace, which have also been proven to increase productivity. But it’s important that when the time comes to work with others, you must welcome your colleagues into the conversation with open arms and encourage dialogue. No matter how confident or secure one is about their job, it’s all for naught if the person doesn’t feel as though they can speak openly. This is especially essential for introverts. Introverts often won’t speak up until they feel they are contributing value to the conversation. If you open a meeting by stating that all points of view are needed for success, you set your team up for productivity.

This is great advice that can also be translated into all of our personal lives. Let’s continue to be compassionate and open to everyone we meet. Everyone has a unique perspective and everyone has something to teach us. Let’s encourage that dialogue, ensuring a well-informed, diverse society.


Power, Authenticity, and Happiness


Like most Millennial nonprofit employees, I have always been a dedicated, hard worker, even working in the trenches. I’ve put my head down and charged through the work. I’ve voiced my opinion in forums where I was allowed, mostly in department meetings, but unless I got my manager on my side, my point of view never really seemed to have much pull on an organizational level.

I always craved that seat at the decision-making table, the chance to speak my mind, and to make change in my organization. In short, I wanted power. I assumed that with power came great responsibility, which came with stress, discomfort, and difficulty.

Yesterday I came across this post entitled Powerful People Are Happy. The concept is that along with power comes the ability to be authentic. You are in control of things and you can be your true self. And that, in turn, makes you happy.

I get that. But I wonder if we might be able to translate that lesson to the rest of us who aren’t directors. We should consider the way that us lower level staffers can maintain control and power in our own programs. Even something as “small” as the donor database – something that you manage, that is yours, and that you have power over. I hope that will allow you to be authentic and allow you some happiness, too.

Working in a nonprofit is hard work. As much as we can pay attention to how to be happy at work, we should. Read through the article, but be creative about how you think about power, and think about how you can apply it to your role, no matter whether you’re working in strategy or in data entry.


Stressed Out? Here’s What To Do About It

As our world becomes more and more fast paced, the role of stress in our lives is increasing. We are expected to get better results, faster, and more easily. This expectation carries over into the nonprofit sector. Funders, donors, and clients are expecting quality services to be readily available, effective, and easy to use. Nonprofit employees would want nothing less, and have similar lofty expectations and goals for their own work and themselves. They are passionate about their work and the people they serve, so naturally they want to deliver their services in the most efficient way possible and help as many people as they can. They work hard to achieve success and they take a lot of pride in their work. Unfortunately, when expectations get out of control, there’s a very bad consequence: stress.

I recently took a course in Nonprofit Human Resource Management for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration program at University of San Francisco and did my final paper on the ways that Human Resources departments can address the problem of the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. I first administered an informal survey (to my delight, I received 158 responses!), and the paper reviews some of my very interesting findings from this.

At the end of the paper there’s an addendum that is a short takeaway for Human Resources departments to take.

I wanted to share this paper and addendum on this blog because I see you all, my readers, as my community, supporters, and champions of the sector. You have seen that this is a topic I care deeply about, not just for my personal sanity but also for the health and sustainability of the nonprofit sector. We need to address this problem!

Click here to see my paper, and please let me know if anything great comes of it!




“Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” – Abraham Heschel

The other day, my grandmother told me something that made me feel really good: she told me I have dignity. It’s made me think about the ways I define dignity and how I carry it out in my life.

I looked up the definition of dignity, and it states:

  • self-respect: a proper sense of pride and self-respect
  • seriousness in behavior: seriousness, respectfulness, or formality in somebody’s behavior and bearing
  • worthiness: the condition of being worthy of respect, esteem, or honor
  • due respect: the respect or honor that a high rank or position should be shown
  • high office: a high rank, position, or honor

There’s a theme here… and it comes down to respect.

There are so many different forms of respect.

  • There is self-respect, which I’m happy is listed first in the definition, because I would prioritize it first as well. It’s about listening to yourself, not judging your feelings or emotions, and loving yourself for who you are. Which is truly the foundation upon all your future relationships.
  • There is respect for friends and family, making sure that instead of taking anyone in your life for granted, you appreciate and accept everyone for who they are and help them celebrate themselves… because that’s not something we do enough.
  • There is respect for others in the sense that leaders, and all of us, must respect everyone around them. This brings me back to a specific sentence when I developed my personal mission statement: “I incorporate leadership into my life by showing initiative, going for opportunities at full force, and always acting with respect for others.”
  • There is respect for the earth and where we have come from. We must take care of the world we are in, its plants and animals, as they cannot take care of themselves in the same ways we can.

Dignity plays a huge role in the nonprofit sector as well. We must always treat our clients with the utmost respect, to bring them up from challenging situations and instill in them the tools they need to thrive. In the office, we must treat our colleagues with respect. It can be difficult to always act with tact and grace when there are challenging personalities or differing opinions, but it’s critical for the success of your nonprofit.

My grandmother paid me a huge compliment by telling me that, and it’s something I will always remember. Dignity is not something to be taken lightly, and I appreciate that those I love believe I deserve it.


Treading Water in a Sea of Smarties

This past Saturday I participated in NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now, the pre-conference session to the Independent Sector conference. The NGen program’s goal is to “enhance the visibility, leadership capacity and professional networks of emerging leaders under age 40.”

If you don’t know what Independent Sector is, I strongly encourage you to visit their website and learn more. It’s an amazing organization that’s working to bridge the conversations that nonprofit organizations and philanthropic entities are having. We must have a larger, more inclusive conversation about what’s going on in the charitable sector.

I signed up to go because the conference was in San Francisco this year and I’m interested in what Independent Sector is doing. What I didn’t expect was how many amazing, intelligent, insightful people I would meet there. There were nonprofit rockstars from around the country sitting at each table discussing sector wide issues, potential solutions, and having incredibly provocative conversations around these issues.

I have to admit I was caught off guard. I’ve always admired this high level thinking, and have thought about it once in a while, but to be able to work for an organization that is advancing these ideals has never been something that’s within my reach. And while I consider myself to be a relatively well versed nonprofit staffer, being surrounded by all these smarty pants was intimidating!

As I listened to what all of them had to say, I soaked up their knowledge and passion, and didn’t pressure myself to have the perfect response or even the need to keep the conversation going. I have much to learn in my time in this sector, and there’s no rush. I just feel fortunate I was able to be in the company of such inspiring people – and one day, I hope to become one of them.


Autonomy’s Potential Pitfalls

As an intelligent, skilled, professional woman (if I do say so myself!), autonomy is something I highly value in the workplace. I’ve spent my time researching best practices surrounding my job, and I feel the experience I do have allows me to be able to be a perfectly capable worker. I love autonomy – I love being able to do tasks I want to do with the freedom to explore the elements that interest me or that I feel are best for the organization. I love supervisors who allow me that flexibility in my job.

As great as autonomy can be, too much autonomy can actually have negative side effects. Watch out for these additional factors the next time you find yourself working with a great amount of freedom.

  • As tough as it is to admit, managers usually know more than you. Bosses are higher on the food chain for a reason. Maybe they have more experience, more skills, or better insight. Make sure you check in with your boss on a regular basis to ensure you aren’t dropping the ball on anything. It will be better for your project in the long run!
  • Beautiful things happen when you get a team working together. There’s nothing quite like exchange of ideas. No matter who you’re working with, that person has a different perspective on things than you do. Although you don’t simply want to be in meetings all day, it is exciting and valuable to get others’ opinions on your projects.
  • Where’s the praise? Working autonomously can mean working in a vacuum, which can make it hard for your boss to truly understand the effort and work you are putting in to something. Make sure when you’re in this situation you can show the work you’ve done, so that you are properly recognized and appreciated. Because we all need a little praise sometimes!

In the long run, when you feel confident in your abilities, autonomy is one of the best elements of a perfect job. Just be sure to remember these elements too when you finally get there.