Qualities that make all the difference

Anne M. Nolan

Crossroads Rhode Island, president and CEO

AFTER 30 years in the private sector and another 14 at a nonprofit, it is clear to me that good and bad leaders exist in either type of organization. But the best leaders in both share many of the same characteristics.

One is a clear and articulated set of values. They become the cornerstone for building the organization’s management structure, as well as the standard by which all decisions are measured, no matter what. This predictability and consistency reduces stress on the organization and its employees.

Another characteristic is a sense of humor. When you take yourself too seriously, you end up ruling by fear, and you shut down creativity and commitment. When the senior-most person in an organization can laugh at herself, other people don’t have to.

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The ability to listen to employees, clients, the board, funders and the community may be a cliché, but it is vitally important if you want your organization to be responsive to its constituents. Knowing how to listen is a practiced, learned skill. It is not something we are born with. But when you really do listen, it is amazing what you will hear.

If you don’t love what you do, then don’t do it. Passion is contagious – when you don’t have it neither will your employees.

Finally, recognize that all living systems must constantly be moving and changing or they die. Both you and your organization must heed this fact. Unless you are willing to change and adapt, you will not survive.