Leadership – Check Your Ego at the Door

I've had the opportunity to collaborate with, work for, and advise many nonprofits.  There's a big cultural difference in the dynamics of a nonprofit vs. a for profit business.  It's part of what I really like and it's part of what I really dislike.

There's just something dynamic about a group of diverse minds turning an idea or issue over and over again until it lands right side up.  Real diversity is more than color; it's about background, orientation, and thought process.  When you have real diversity you find more complete solutions and salient outcomes.  But therein lays the rub.  You also find individual egos superimposing themselves upon the decision process.

There's an old fundraising axiom that goes a little like the following: people give because of self-interest.  This extends to all sorts of gifts, including the in-kind gifts of expertise, connections, or other personal resources.  Board members all have an internal set of priorities they bring to the table.

It's important to illuminate that all boards of directors have certain duties to the organizations they serve.  These duties include Care, Loyalty, and Obedience.  Personal ego and the Duty of Loyalty often conflict, because board members and the board as a whole must put the best interests of the organization first.  When personal ego gets involved, people become vested in their own ideas, agendas, and futures and the organization suffers.

If you ask most nonprofit professionals about their board frustrations, you’ll find the prevailing wind blows in the direction of ego.  Many board members come from the corporate world.  It is important for those participants to remember that you can call your own shots when you own the company, but at a nonprofit, only the board acting as a unit can set strategy, direction, and policy.

More nonprofits have fallen apart at the hands of ego, check it at the door.

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