THE 10 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP IN 2020
1. You find it in your own backyard.
2. You don’t need a title to lead.
3. Crises can turn people into neighbors.
4. Leaders do what they were sure was not possible.
5. Leaders pick up the phone.
6. Leaders are vulnerable.
7. Every leader has imposter syndrome.
8. Leaders invest in getting it right.
9. Leaders have absolutely no idea how much we need them.
10. The nonprofit sector is the single biggest source of leadership in our broken world.
From the blog of Joan Garry, nonprofit consultant: blog.joangarry.com/nonprofit-leadership
Gerri Chizeck, Head of School
Albert Einstein Academy, Annapolis
This year was different—and yet the same: People need to be trusted, appreciated, supported and challenged. This goes for faculty, parents, co-administrators and heads of school. The challenge for me as a new head was to build this trust and encourage a growth mindset, all while confronting the stress and reality of Covid. With little ability to hold casual daily conversations and other face-to-face interactions that build relationships and capacities, this was difficult. Almost impossible, but not impossible.
How am I getting through the year? By celebrating small moments and small victories. The appreciation of a student who says, “You listen to everyone.” A former student reaching out and writing, “You changed my life.” A colleague in another school asking for mentorship and advice. A new teacher brimming with enthusiasm over reaching students with new projects. Seeing someone try a new idea with their class, even if it didn’t work. A note from a parent saying, “I trust you with my child’s life.” Hearing spontaneous singing (even if squelched by Covid protocols). Feeling the support of board members who say, “Thank you.”
Small moments and achievements are building blocks for success and growth. I am thankful for them, hopeful for them to increase a hundredfold and eager for the day when singing will once again ring out in the hallways of our schools.
Chris Aguero, Head of School
Austin Jewish Academy
At the end of last summer, our health task force informed us that we would need to keep our occupied building below 50% capacity, eliminating in-person education for just over half our students. Members of the board of directors were initially reluctant to adopt the recommendations, and I faced a plan that I knew was best while also being tough, if not impossible, for many families to accept.
Hours later, our community came together to create Outdoor Academy under the clear blue sky of Central Texas. I discovered that we could achieve the impossible: moving teachers and students from their comfort zones into a space of possibility while also accommodating families whose students would remain online. In only a few weeks, together we erected outdoor classroom spaces, solicited major gifts, and organized a daily system that would facilitate classes 100% outside for more than half the student body—all by Labor Day.
Like Jewish communities the world over, Outdoor Academy students and teachers felt like they were wandering through the wilderness of uncertainty toward a goal that was far from inevitable. Seven months in, we have found a world teeming with promise, created with a unique recipe: trust, vulnerability, hard work and the chutzpah to dare.
Lisa Stroll, Head of School
Denver Academy of Torah
Brené Brown defines vulnerability as, uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. As the leader of my school, I cannot think of any three descriptions that better encapsulate what I feel on day-to-day basis.
There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty in everything that leaders do: uncertainty regarding the future; uncertainty regarding their decisions; and uncertainty regarding the impact of their decisions. Despite confidence in my abilities, I am frequently plagued with these feelings. Nevertheless, when faced with critical decisions, it’s a leader’s job to be willing to take risks.
Taking risks, however, is quite different than engaging in risky behavior. As such, one need not be impulsive and frivolous. It’s my job to carefully weigh and methodically calculate each and every risk in order to maximize gain and mitigate damage. However, as the name suggests, any risk potentially opens one up to adverse consequences.
And this often leads to the most challenging aspect of vulnerability: emotional expo- sure. While I may not be 100% comfortable emotionally exposing myself, it is my willingness to do so that gives me the strength to forge onward in the face of whatever challenges I might encounter. These collective feelings are what makes me and all leaders vulnerable.