Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What I Learned About Leading

At Thursday’s Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference themed “Thriving in the New Normal,” three people were honored with Nonprofit Leadership Awards. The awards are a first-time initiative of MCN to invite nominations from across the sector to recognize and honor the best among us.

Jeff Freeland Nelson, managing director of public strategy, Minnesota Public Radio, received the first ever Catalytic Leader award. Jeff says that he’s learned along the way that no matter how big and powerful you are, no one person can do it alone. That’s how he’s managed to make a difference from where he is early in his career and working from the middle in a large nonprofit. “I know a solution is out there,” he says, “let’s figure out a way to get it done.”

Kate Barr, executive director, Nonprofits Assistance Fund, said this in accepting the Visionary Leader award: “Thank you, and I need to tell you that in-between visioning and leading, there’s a lot of work! I have two plates on my office wall. One reminds me to ask ‘Why?’ and the other reminds me to ask ‘What If?’” Kate says that we need to keep asking questions and be willing to listen to answers. “Leaders have to be willing to let others take risks and to be accepting if it doesn’t always work out. We have to be enthusiastic about learning and changing.”

Michael Wirth-Davis, president and CEO, Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota, received the Transformational Leader award. In more than a few years of learning and growing along a very successful nonprofit career path, Michael says that “my view of leadership is it’s a group activity; it’s not a solo activity.” His list of what leaders believe is a call to action for all who have it in them to dig in.

“Leaders believe in: abundance, not scarcity; giving gifts and receiving gifts from others; not being afraid of messy work, of being wrong, of working hard, of drawing energy from giving and serving, of seeing potential in small and big things, of borrowing practices and ideas from others and sharing freely your own. Leaders believe in going with your gut, numerous starts and lots of stops; taking risks. Leaders believe in being dissatisfied with what is and optimistic about what could be.”

An incredibly inspiring cast of leaders, these three. Helps us think about leadership not as a concept or a role, but as flesh and blood and personality and passion.

Lois Schmidt
NRS – Willmar Charter

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