With the start of a new year, everyone's talking about "change." Individuals set personal resolutions for change, and many organizations start applying change with new strategic plans, goals, and even new hires. As a leader, how you react to change is a key component of any long-term project or organization success. Below, YNPN Birmingham Board Chair Vanessa Stevens shares key tools and lessons she learned through participation in the AmEx Leadership Series about embracing change leadership.
As young nonprofit professionals, we face many changes at the beginning of our careers. We may move for a new job, decide to go to graduate school, or face organizational challenges like a new boss or a major new role within our organization. Often there is that bittersweet emotion with change--that energy and anticipation mixed with some hesitation and anxiety. As emerging leaders at our organizations and YNPN chapters, we must also continue to adapt to necessary changes to overcome the many challenges the nonprofit sector faces.
At the American Express Leadership Academy, I learned how important it is to understand one's own change style and what people need from a leader during change. All of the Academy participants completed an assessment called the Change Style Indicator that placed everyone along a spectrum from Conserver to Pragmatist to Originator. Each of these styles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. For example:
- A Conserver gets things done on schedule and respects the rules yet may be perceived as rigid, discouraging of innovation, and delaying action by overly reflecting.
- An Originator understands complex problems, provides future-oriented insights, and is risk-oriented, yet to others may appear impulsive and not understand how to actually get things done.
- A Pragmatist fall in the middle. They can organize ideas into action plans, build cooperation, and are flexible and adaptive. They may seem indecisive, compromising, and trying to please too many people.
Because of the different strengths and pitfalls of each change preference, it is valuable to build teams with individuals across the spectrum. Moreover, understanding one's own tendencies helps you appreciate what others bring to the table, adapt your style to what may be necessary for the particular decision at hand, and understand why you may be frustrating the Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator at your organization (or likewise why they may be frustrating you).
As leaders, we not only need to understand our own change style, but also what change is and how to lead change successfully. At the Academy, the trainers emphasized the distinction between change and transition. Change is the beginning of something new, and it is experienced externally whereas transition is the ending and letting go that we experience internally. It is important to remember that change begins with an ending. Many people may struggle with this ending by demonstrating signs of grief, such as anger, denial, and disorientation.
Leaders must guide others through the ending towards a point where they begin to gain clarity and accept and manage change. If a leader provides no vision, then others are confused. If people feel they lack the skills to adapt to the change, they experience anxiety. Similarly, if they feel they lack the resources, they will be frustrated. Through clear communication and composure, a leader can ensure that an organization has vision, skills, incentives, resources, and a plan for action to lead change. Whether you are leading a new chapter like YNPN Birmingham, or an established chapter facing critical points in your growth, decision-making and change are constant parts of your work. Take steps to increase your own self-awareness of what you experience internally when facing a decision or going through a change and what perception others may have of you. Likewise, pay closer attention to what others might experience as a result of your decision and ensure they have the necessary tools to adapt to the change. As we learn to embrace change leadership, we hopefully will see less conflict, more innovation, and increased effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out our work and meeting our missions.
Vanessa Stevens is the Community Engagement & Education Program Coordinator at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit dedicated to the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanic families. Previously, she was the Resource Development & Communications Director and an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is the Board President of the new YNPN chapter in Birmingham. Prior to moving to Birmingham, Vanessa studied International Relations at American University in Washington, DC.
YNPN is partnering with Wiley and Josey Bass to provide a discount on several nonprofit management publications and resources! We're grateful for the opportunity to share this with YNPN members across the country.
Here are just a few titles you may be interested in:
What makes great nonprofits great? In the original book, authors Crutchfield and McLeod Grant employed a rigorous research methodology derived from for-profit books like Built to Last. They studied 12 nonprofits that have achieved extraordinary levels of impact—from Habitat for Humanity to the Heritage Foundation—and distilled six counterintuitive practices that these organizations use to change the world.
“Most nonprofits struggle to find a long-term sustainable business model that will enable them to deliver impact on their mission…This book offers practical, concrete steps you can take to develop your own unique path to sustainability without compromising your mission.” —Heather McLeod Grant, consultant, Monitor Institute, and author, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits
Experience the yellow wristband campaign from the beginning and learn how to position your nonprofit for success.
Passionate and inspiring, Banding Together for a Cause will help you identify ways to generate funds for your programs and missions through valuable and meaningful partnerships. In it, author Rachel Armbruster dissects the LIVESTRONG campaign, from timing and brand, to partners and visionary thinking.
This book provides nonprofit professionals with the conceptual frameworks, practical knowledge, and concise guidance needed to succeed in the social sector. Designed as a handbook, the book is filled with sage advice and insights from a variety of trusted experts that can help nonprofit professionals prepare to achieve their organizational and personal goals, develop a better understanding of what they need to do to lead, support, and grow an effective organization.
This down-to-earth book shows how to hack through the bewildering jungle of marketing options and miles-long to-do lists to clear a marketing path that’s right for your organization, no matter how understaffed or underfunded. You’ll see how to shape a marketing program that starts from where you are now and grows with your organization, using smart and savvy communications techniques, both offline and online. Combining big-picture management and strategic decision-making with reader-friendly tips for implementing a marketing program day in and day out, this book provides a simple yet powerful framework for building support for your organization’s mission and programs.
This groundbreaking book shows nonprofits a new way of operating in our increasingly connected world: a networked approach enabled by social technologies, where connections are leveraged to increase impact in effective ways that drive change for the betterment of our society and planet
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