#MANOAC19 SPOTLIGHT: Leaders at All Levels

August 19, 2019


Photo of Wendy Wolff

This blog is by Wendy Wolff, the Director of  Strategic Engagement for Maryland Nonprofits. She will be presenting The Leadership Experience with Amy Markham, a principal from the Bridgespan Group at Maryland Nonprofits and MARFY’s Annual Conference on October 3 and 4, 2019.

Leadership is a privilege to be honored, cared for, and refined on a daily basis. Every individual contributing to the mission has the potential to act and be viewed as a leader. Executive leadership is activated for decision making, communicating values and vision, developing talent, maintaining systems and processes, and measuring the consistency between values and behavior. While the business structure might have a top CEO position holding the reigns, leadership can also come from any position within an organization.

On a typical day in the nonprofit sector, staff moves quickly, operating at high speeds with a sense of urgency to serve the community. We juggle supervision, staff meetings, grant deadlines, client sessions, community discussions, referrals made, and people served – all while staff members keep churning out deliverables. Yet when and how are staff truly honored and invigorated?

A vibrant organizational culture is a part of executing a sound business strategy and requires intent and purpose. Our people matter. Understanding the assets and activating the authentic talents that each and every staff member brings to the mission can sometimes be overlooked due to the pressures of the daily grind. However, providing space for staff to radiate their unique abilities is as important as anything else.

Building and maintaining a valuable, vibrant culture begins with identifying individual assets and implementing a strategy to guide cultural direction. It is the executive leadership’s responsibility to nurture an internal climate that values every staff member and supports the strategic direction and organizational impact of the nonprofit.

Three simple ways for leadership to emerge at any level in the organization and regardless of title:

    1. Talent Hunting – Look for and highlight the assets of everyone in the organization. Create a list of the skills of all staff and find ways for them to use these particular talents on a weekly basis. Have it as part of your daily practice to acknowledge and help staff to shine.
    2. Practice with the Executive Team – Prioritize modeling talent hunting with the executive team and demonstrate how to nurture and build leaders with staff at any level of the organization. Give cues on how to identify and utilize staff that considers their true assets by doing this with the executive team. Encourage the top leaders to motivate others with humility, courage, and approachability.
    3. Proficiency in Listening – Practice active listening by allowing others to speak and be heard. Create opportunities for staff to speak and generate ideas without being negated. Brainstorming sessions are good activities for staff to get comfortable with sharing their unique contributions without the fear of judgment since there are no wrong answers when creating lists of ideas.

Integrate new ways to understand, activate, and promote the talents of staff. Allow people to grow as much as they can while in your care. As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, Lean In Women, Work, and the Will to Lead , “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”


To learn more about building a high-performance organization, be sure to attend Wendy Wolff and Amy Markhams’s session, The Leadership Experience, at #MANOAC19! Maryland Nonprofits and MARFY’s Annual Conference will take place on October 3-4 in Linthicum Heights, MD. For more information and registration, visit our website.