People skills are crucial to developing a vision, motivating staff and moving an institution forward.
“Look ‘em in the eyes, and shake their hand!”
This was my dad’s standard advice to my brother and me when we met new people. A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy makes clear that an aspiring nonprofit CEO needs to have a great vision and smart people skills. Other aspects of the job can be learned.
Why are great people skills crucial?
First, leaders rarely develop vision in a vacuum. Most effective visions are developed in peer relationships and conversations with other aspiring leaders, says Caroline McAndrews, who wrote a study on new nonprofit leaders for the Building Movement Project.
Second, even if you are a self-motivated individual, a transformative leader knows how to motivate staff. In nonprofit jobs, people tend to be more emotionally connected to their work and to their colleagues, and this may make managing staff more complicated. In addition, leaders of nonprofits tend to be more responsible for employee well-being.
Third, a leader needs to be “an evangelist for the cause.”
“Board members typically want an executive director who can put people together to make things happen,” says J. R. Yeager, a project manager at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in San Francisco. “No one wants a lone wolf… When they come to interview with the board, they need to be able to hold the room. Many of the other missing pieces can be filled, but that elusive leadership quality needs to be there.”
But what if the aspiring CEO lacks the emotional intelligence needed to lead people?
Luckily, even people skills can be learned. Enter Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves’ book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. The authors, cofounders of consultancy TalentSmart, describe a program for increasing your emotional intelligence (EQ) using four skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. The book includes a brief but effective online quiz, and then an action plan and strategies to help you boost the EQ areas in which you are deficient.
“Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others,” they write, “and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”
For instance, rather than avoiding a feeling, our goal should be to “move toward the emotion, into it and eventually through it.”
While cognitive intelligence (IQ) describes your ability to learn and generally does not change, the authors argue that EQ is “a flexible skill that can be learned.” Most important, 90 percent of work-site high performers they have studied are also high in EQ.
You may want to get a copy of the book in time for Valentine’s Day.