I recently completed a term as board chair of a non-profit organization, a volunteer position. The two-year term was not what I hoped it would be. Instead of concentrating on important public policy issues of the day, my work centered mainly on difficult financial and personnel matters facing the organization itself.
Some nine months ago, I wrote a blog post about the challenges of leadership in hard times:
When we hire, appoint, or elect new leaders for our businesses, organizations and our government, we naturally are drawn to those who present an uplifting, optimistic vision for the future.
. . . But reality can be hard on those expectations. When we face difficult times, as we do now, the leaders we need today may be less about lofty hopes and upward movement, and more about survival, sustainability, and keeping a steady hand at the helm in rough seas.
My experience was hardly unique. But it did give me a new appreciation for my own words! The economic meltdown has hit the non-profit sector with a vengeance. Within many of these organizations, much attention and energy are devoted simply to ensuring that the entity survives.
We tend to valorize leaders who were able to advance great visions and move their organizations, companies, and governmental bodies forward in dramatic, memorable ways. That’s all well and good.
But I confess that my own experience has taught me also to look closely at leaders who guide their organizations through difficult times with integrity and wisdom.
The best of these leaders arrive at tough decisions fairly and then stand behind them. They take responsibility for measures that may be painful. They don’t seek glory, but rather carry a sense of duty. And their actions are guided by qualities of vision that may have to be temporarily sacrificed during their tenure.
These qualities are rare. (I certainly don’t claim that I displayed all of them during my term as a board chair.) But I submit we are going to need a lot more of these leaders in the years to come. More than ever, we should avoid selecting the preening peacocks, flaming narcissists, and pageant contestants in favor of grounded, mature leaders with the right commitment.