As a nonprofit leader, you’re not just the face of your nonprofit. You’re also the determining factor in your workplace culture, and your actions shape your organization more than anyone else’s.
Great leaders can inspire great cultures, but poor leaders have the potential to bring their entire organization down with them. Think of CEO Ken Skilling of Enron, who was arrested for corruption and illegal financial practices. The Enron code of ethics outlined key principles of communication, respect, integrity and excellence, but the CEO’s actions had created a culture counter to those values, and Enron collapsed as a direct result of Skilling’s leadership and actions.
Your impact may not be as dramatic as that, but it’s still worth asking: are you hurting your organization’s culture? Here are five ways you might be.
Are you inaccessible?
The last thing you want is to be the unapproachable boss: out of reach and out of touch with your staff. Every organization should strive to foster a culture of inclusion, and when the CEO isn’t accessible, their example may be emulated by other leaders in the organization. The best CEOs ensure that they are tuned into the needs and concerns of employees at all levels, as well as external stakeholders.
If you find yourself falling out of touch with the day-to-day needs and realities of your organization and its workforce, which often happens to leaders as they focus more of their attention externally vs. internally, make the effort to shift your priorities and re-engage with your team. Host an organization-wide town hall meeting to recommunicate your vision, go on an employee “listening tour” or simply spend some time working side-by-side with employees at various levels of your organization.
Are you overinvolved?
While a disconnect between a CEO and their employees can hurt an organization’s culture, it’s equally detrimental to be overly involved in day-to-day operations. If you’re finding yourself constantly in the weeds with your organization’s operations, take a step back: micromanaging leads to frustrated employees who aren’t given the chance to lead themselves.
Being a leader means knowing when to step in and when to step back. To establish a positive culture at your nonprofit, delegate responsibilities to motivate and encourage growth within your organization and hold staff accountable for results. Give your employees the opportunities to grow on their own and become leaders in their own right. Encourage your leadership team to serve as mentors and share ownership for goal achievement across the organization – not just with senior management.
Do you fail to celebrate your team?
In the words of Lyft CEO Logan Green, “If you want employees to feel appreciated, you need to celebrate their achievements regularly and publicly.” Don’t leave lower-level employee appreciation to the managers and supervisors who oversee them. A bit of acknowledgement from the highest level of leadership can go a long way.
Create a positive workplace culture by fostering communication and celebrating employees’ work. Ask your reports to let you know who in the organization is going above and beyond the call of duty. Whether it’s a quick email to someone who’s been exceeding expectations or a lunch with the top performers in your organization, recognizing excellence in your organization is essential to fostering a positive culture. However, praise is a balancing act: don’t do it too often or it won’t be meaningful, but give praise enough to prevent employees from feeling neglected. Set the bar high and give praise when it’s well-deserved.
Do you know what’s happening with your organization’s culture?
Often times, CEOs see the responsibility of maintaining an effective, positive workplace culture as the responsibility of HR. However, the quality of your workplace culture is as important as the quality of your programs. One has direct impact on the other. Don’t make assumptions about the health and level of engagement that exists among your staff. Regularly get a read on what’s going on with your organization’s culture using surveys, focus groups and ad-hoc staff interviews and do something with what you learn.
While your senior management team may provide you with feedback about their respective teams, it is critically important to hear and understand the perspectives of all your staff when it comes to workplace culture. Know what’s working and what’s not. Eliminate barriers to individual and organizational effectiveness whenever you can, and be transparent with what you plan to do with the information that you’ve received. Your ability to retain and engage your top staff is essential to both your individual success and that of your organization.
Are you lacking a clear direction?
Be honest with yourself: have you lost sight of your mission? If so, you’re leading your organization off-track in terms of both your trajectory and your culture. When your employees don’t understand how their activities relate to the larger goals of your nonprofit, they lose motivation in their work. As a CEO, your most important role is driving alignment around your mission, and if you aren’t clear about that mission, your staff won’t be either.
If you need to revise your organization’s goals and its approach to achieving mission because of natural shifts that have taken place over time, make it a team effort. Involve people at all levels of your organization in your efforts to refocus, and you’ll likely walk away with a refreshed perspective about your direction and gain increased engagement from your team.
What are you going to do today to ensure you’re helping your organization’s culture thrive?