Spreading My Leadership Wings


Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.

One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.

I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.

Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?

Happy working, my nonprofit friends!


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.


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.


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.


Success By Way of Empowerment

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” ~Bill Gates

Each of us are very different – we have different personalities, skills, and values. We all bring something different to the table. That’s why it is so important for us to acknowledge our differences, celebrate them, and bring them together. Empowering others is the key to success.

Here’s a few key things to remember in empowering others.

  • Practice humility. Before going to battle in a competition with a colleague, take a moment to think subjectively about your opponent. What qualities do they have? What skills have they acquired? What do they bring to the table that you don’t? Take your pride out of the equation. The simple fact is that the best way to work together is to enhance everyone’s strengths, no matter what. Once you do that, true success will be easy.
  • Strike a balance. When thinking about why I’ve been successful in my career, I automatically think about other people. Whether supervisors or colleagues, my peers have truly been a huge part of my journey. I have developed a system to know when to rely on myself and when to turn to others. And that delicate balance is the key to success in the workplace.
  • Expand your definition. Don’t take empowerment to only pertain to subordinates. You can empower your boss just as easily. No matter how confident we come across, we all have insecurities from time to time. It’s important to assure your boss that she is a valued member of the team on a regular basis. It can be lonely at the top.

So often we are taught that it’s a dog eat dog world – everyone’s out for themselves, hoping for more money, influence, or power. Throw that thought away. Especially in the nonprofit sector, collaboration is key. Collaborate strategically by empowering all members of the team to bring their strengths to the table. That is when you will be truly successful.


A Millennial Approach to People Skills in the Workplace

USA Today did a great piece on the types of people skills leaders need in order to be successful (read the piece here). The article has some good, easy to implement tips on some small improvements to make on your people skills. The tips include making the employee feel more at ease, devoting all attention to them, and being empathetic. Yes, yes, and yes – couldn’t agree more.

All the tips listed are things that should be done with millennials. But the difference is that there is an additional goal. Millennials need to feel empowered to take what you’re teaching them and run. They need to feel like their voice is heard and you respect their perspective. Once you’ve demonstrated this, you’re golden, and a millennial will follow you anywhere you want to go.

Of all the tips, be fully present was probably my personal favorite. When I’m having a conversation with someone, I turn to them, look them in the eye, and show through my body language that I’m paying attention. I don’t understand people who can have conversations through cubicles without looking at each other! Even if I’m right next to someone, I always need eye contact.

The article specifically calls out young people as being underdeveloped in their face-to-face communications. Unfortunately, with the prevalence of texting and online communication, we’re pushing ourselves to always be multi-tasking. I think our generation needs a hybrid approach to communications, but one that is founded on eye contact. That’s the best way to instill confidence and demonstrate respect, and that’s the way we’ll really take direction and run.


Leadership at all Levels

According to Wikipedia (the premier source for information these days), leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” I happen to love this definition. So often when we think of leadership we think of the president, the CEO, the one in charge. But it’s so important to remember that leadership has so many more dimensions than that.

Here are a few reasons I love the Wikipedia definition.

  • No mention of being in a position of power. Leadership can happen anywhere you are – whether you’re the receptionist or the director. The key is the way you use your relationships and influence. Even as an entry level staff member you can be a leader. If you respect yourself and those around you, everyone will gravitate toward you. And with grace and poise, if you value everyone’s input as you make your own decisions, and demonstrate that you have sound judgment, you are a leader. Leadership happens outside of the workplace as well – it happens in friendships and with family members. When you take the initiative to do the right thing, you are demonstrating your leadership.
  • The end goal is a common task. We often think of leadership on a grand scale – changing policy, mobilizing communities, and affecting change. But leadership doesn’t have to only look like that. It can also be shown in everyday life. It’s simply showing others that it’s easy to do the right thing – that will be enough to affect change. You see leadership when someone gives a stranger their seat on the bus. When someone holds the door open for someone else. It’s these small moments that make up the big picture.
  • No mention of money. Again, leadership does not only happen when you have the ear of many (whether that’s because you have money or otherwise). It happens when you are sensitive to others and serve as a role model of how to live. That can happen on Wall Street or at the corner store. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have – you can be a leader.

This concept really helps me as I move through my career. I have not been in management positions in the workforce but I feel I have vast leadership experience, which has come from working with others and listening to what they have to say. Because a good leader does that first – listen.


31 Day Reset: Day 4 – My Top Ten Values

I’m participating in the 31 Days to Reset Your Life program at Happy Black Woman. The program is designed to help you evaluate your goals and priorities and think of them in the context of your life today and how you might be able to refocus on what’s important. Read on to learn about my experience with the challenge!

I had a leg up on Day 4’s exercise, because I’ve actually done something similar before. We were asked to take some time to write down everything we value, anything that we care about – at least more than 12. Then, we needed to designate from that list the ten we felt were at the top.

In the previous exercise I did, I had narrowed it down to five. I did the original exercise with Deirdre Maloney; you can read about her company Momentum San Diego here. And not surprisingly, those five were on my list again (I didn’t do the exercise that long ago). But I found my additional five to be very interesting. I had to very, very selective to do the first five – but now I had the opportunity to list other parts of my life that were important.

My original five: Being generous, leadership, leaving a legacy, love, making a difference

The five I added tonight: Being a role model, connecting with others, having a family, integrity, succeeding in my career

I think being a role model and connecting with others are the two that jump out to me most. Being a role model perhaps is my elaboration of leadership, leaving a legacy, and making a difference all at the same time. It’s important to me to always conduct myself in a way that others respect and love. I also value making connections – this is why my friendships and relationships with my family are so important to me – because connecting with others is an important part of my life.

I encourage you to do this exercise, too! Doing the original five was so eye opening to me, and allowed me to understand the underlying motivation for everything I do.


Updating My About Me Page

Describe yourself in four paragraphs. Not so easy, is it? Putting together my About Nonprofit Chapin page on this blog turned out to be just as challenging. And updating it was even worse.

I had been waiting to update the page until I had started both my new job and new graduate school program. They both are directly related to what I write about in this blog so I knew they’d be applicable. So, I waited, and waited… and waited. Then, the time came. I needed to update the page.

Putting together the history of my employment and involvement in the nonprofit sector wasn’t so bad. That’s really all facts. It’s what comes after that which was so difficult. Not difficult, per say, but… weird. And interesting to see how much had changed in the last six months.

Do you remember what your goals were six months ago? I do, mostly because I’ve been in the process of applying to graduate school, jobs, and the like, so I’ve needed to write everything down. What has been most striking to me is how much my goals have changed in the past six months.

I’ve always been on the path of becoming a nonprofit CEO. I’ve admired the way CEOs get the opportunity to connect with all types of people, collaborate, and make decisions that have huge impacts on their organization and ultimately the cause they are working for. Three out of my five most important values relate to things a nonprofit CEO would do: leadership, leaving a legacy, and making a difference.

But in the past six months I’ve really been thinking about what these values mean. What does making a difference mean? What does leadership mean? And that’s got me thinking – why do I want to be a nonprofit CEO?

In fact, one could argue there are bigger ways to affect the nonprofit sector. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about becoming a consultant. One consultant could affect multiple CEOs in one week, which in turn could affect multiple organizations and multiple causes. And although a consultant isn’t necessarily the leader of an organization, she is a leader in her own right, forging ahead with best practices in the sector. And she’s definitely leaving a legacy and making a difference.

Of course, I don’t know where my path will lead, and the most important thing is that I’m keeping an open mind. Especially with this Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I know I’ll end up somewhere I can definitely exercise my most important values.


How NOT To Get a Promotion

I’m aware that I’ve been citing other blogs frequently lately. I’m also aware that this next one I’m referring to was written over a week ago. But I’m writing about it anyway, because it’s that good. This was one of those think-about-it-days-later blog posts. I’m talking about 7 Lies That Undercut Your Chances of Promotion at Everyday Bright. I absolutely encourage you to take a moment to read it – it will definitely give you a new perspective on some tried and true job skills.

I’d like to outline a few of my thoughts on some of the lies.

Lie #1: Work hard

I love this. We all know that one person in the office who comes in at 7:45 and leaves at 6:15. She likes to talk about how much work she has to do and how there isn’t enough time in the day. In fact, everyone in a nonprofit has more work than time to do it in. That doesn’t mean you should overwork yourself and sacrifice your personal life. After the workday is over, put your work down and go home to your family. You’ll be able to recharge your batteries and will be that much more efficient tomorrow.

Lie #2: Do your job well

This one might be the one that resonates with me the most, that I personally need to work on. This relates to what I mentioned earlier as my biggest weakness – I need to step up and do projects that are outside of the box that showcase my creativity and understanding of fundraising and the nonprofit sector. I need to do more than my job – I need to prove that I can do my future job.

Lie #5: Network with influencers

Jennifer is emphasizing the point that you shouldn’t just network with the high ups, you should network with everyone. You never know who will become what and who has pull where. I love this point. It’s critical to be friendly and open to everyone you meet, whether it’s the receptionist or the CEO. Everything has something to offer – you just need to give them the chance to show it.

Lie #7: Have a career plan

I disagree with her just slightly on this one. I would modify this point to say you should have a plan (or goal), but it should be loose and ever-changing. I think there is value to having an idea of where you’d like to be in the future, but mostly to notice the aspects of the goal that are attracting you and keep them at the heart of your actions.

Notice I didn’t address Lie #6: Go back to school, because clearly that’s exactly what I’m doing in two months! However, I don’t see going back to school as my ticket to promotion, instead simply something to pair with my work experience and knowledge of the sector as I navigate my way to my goal.

Thank you, Jennifer, for such a wonderful post. We all can learn a little something from these points!!