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What Makes a Great Nonprofit Leader?

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We are pleased to share this blog entry written by Thom Andrews, Director of ONEplace @ kpl, about leadership development opportunities available right here in the Kalamazoo community.

Every fall I ask myself one simple question:

Where do I see great work happening and no one taking credit?

I pose this probing question because I read years ago that when you see great work going on and no one taking credit, there you’ll find an emerging leader. And we need leaders, or, more accurately

We need to encourage our nonprofit staff to discover and develop the leader within them.

To this end, ONEplace offers the ONEplace Nonprofit Leader Academy. Since 2012, the Academy presents participants with the critical elements of running a nonprofit organization. With nine intensive, daylong sessions over ten months, participants engage presentations and discussions as well as outside assignments and one-on-one work with a mentor.

In a third-party evaluation of the Academy, past participants commented on the impact of their experience: “more confident,” “deepened my understanding,” “expanded my nonprofit network,” “gave me focus and a clearer path,” and “provided me with the confidence and knowledge to step into the executive director role at my organization.”

The Academy, costing $1,500 per participant, is provided free of charge. In fact, all ONEplace capacity building programs and services are free, because ONEplace exists as a unique collaboration among the Kalamazoo Public Library, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

Thanks to this forward-thinking partnership, ONEplace focuses on individual leader development. The Academy and other programs seek to develop a critical mass of Resolute-Humble Leaders that will work together to inspire and influence others toward community success.

What is a Resolute-Humble Leader? It is a person who has unwavering commitment to their cause and a laser-like focus on their organization’s purpose. They also have an intense personal humility and a personal values-to-action alignment that fuels their ability to do the right thing and stop doing the wrong thing.

Simply by showing up, Academy participants demonstrate a significant leadership trait: a willingness to step forward and put themselves outside their comfort zones. During our sessions they engage discussions on ethical dilemmas, board meetings, and supervision. They confront themselves with cultural biases, interpersonal communication practices and peer coaching. They also make themselves vulnerable in 360 evaluations and public speaking.

Through it all they not only draw upon their own internal resources, they also listen and learn from colleagues, instructors, mentors, and others. They come to realize that “you can’t do it all yourself,” even when that “all” is your own professional development.

We see Academy participants as persons on the path to being Resolute-Humble Leaders. They become: Individuals who take full ownership of their role, listen and learn from others, and teach and share with others; Individuals who step up and walk courageously toward new challenges; and Individuals who depend on one another in a community of mutual support.

Certainly, we want them to be successful in their careers, but we don’t encourage climbing the proverbial ladder ??" amassing achievement upon achievement. Instead, we define success as a state of continual improvement in which a community admits and addresses their problems and opportunities in a spirit of hope and unity.

As our Academy participants end their experience, they are sent forth with this charge: keep learning, stay connected, and know that you are not alone on this path.

It is our vision for us all.

The 2017 ONEplace Nonprofit Leader Academy is accepting applications: www.kpl.gov/ONEplace/ONLA

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