Deeper Insight: Leading with Vision
The Imperative for Leading with Vision: Nonprofit organizations and the environments in which they operate are rapidly increasing in complexity and volatility; consequently, leaders must possess the ability to navigate change and lead transformation toward the vision.
In this new reality of great uncertainty and rapid change, leaders, including staff and volunteers from all levels of an organization, must embody the principles of Adaptive Leadership, which will help them embrace possibilities and break through barriers to deliver creative solutions. For organizations, this may mean that longstanding business and service practices need to be updated or eliminated. For those who lead with vision, it is about identifying opportunities and navigating change with future-oriented, creative solutions.
Creating an adaptive organization that is nimble and embraces new and different ideas is no simple task. To do this, high-impact nonprofits engage staff and empower leaders at all levels of their organizations as they undergo changes. In turn, staff who lead with vision foster connections throughout the organization and community, and are open to opportunities that exist outside of traditional relationships and hierarchies. They embrace the concept of shared leadership, power, and governance within their organizations, through partnerships, across
disciplines and sectors, and with the many people that come into contact with their organizations every day.
Those who lead with vision continually develop their knowledge and skills, which helps them to embrace new ideas and leave old and ineffective practices behind. But they do not automatically change their business model or programs to appear consistent with current trends for current trends’ sake. They learn, experiment, and adapt to the challenges and unique strengths and the assets at their disposal.
When confronted by challenges, those who lead with vision are not deterred by complexity or ambiguity. They break down barriers and are willing to make compromises and adjustments midcourse, always seeking to leverage individual opportunities to achieve multiple goals. When confronted by challenges, they listen musically, as well as analytically. Leaders are mindful of how actions and practices will affect other staff, constituents, and stakeholders, and they perform self-checks.
Organizations that lead with vision see themselves as advocates and neighbors first and service providers second, which means their values around advocacy should always trump. Staff, volunteers, and stakeholders are personally inspired by the organization’s purpose and are among the community and organization’s best advocates, continually raising awareness of the cause within their personal and professional networks.
Marsha Edwards, president/CEO of Alliance for Strong Families and Communities member Martha O’Bryan Center in Nashville, Tennessee, commits to Leading with Vision by blending the entrepreneurial spirit and results-oriented mindset she developed in previous careers as a lawyer and businesswoman with skills in consensus leadership that she has developed through her nonprofit sector experience.
Edwards leads with the Center’s purpose—that it be a welcoming and accepting space that supports neighbors in transforming their lives and their community. Using the community as their guide, staff are encouraged to take risks, break down barriers, and create new programs that respond to challenges and leverage neighbors’ strengths.
The Center’s staff often engages in calculated risk taking by starting programs to nimbly move on a community need, and seek funding after the program has been established. However, in doing so, they are realistic about the organization’s capabilities, start small to make sure the concept is viable, and track results for improvement and marketability.
Key Alliance Resource for Leading with Vision
The Alliance’s Center on Leadership is created for and by leaders in the human services sector to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to lead through change and navigate the organization toward their visions. It hosts annual leadership development events including the Executive Leadership Institute. Information is provided through a blog, interviews, and resources.
Resource Collection for Leading with Vision
Staff of Alliance member organizations may request the electronic collection of resources on Leading with Vision curated by Severson Center librarians.