What I've Learned About Leadership

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Like most nonprofit professionals, I am passionate about the cause I support, and like many professionals, I am always looking for ways to build and strengthen my professional skills. This latter pursuit led me to participate in the Allstate Foundation Greater Good Nonprofit Leaders program taught at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. A year later, the lessons I learned from this experience continue to guide my work.   

This guest post comes from Brian Pinero, Chief Programs Officer, National Domestic Violence HotlineHere are some of my takeaways from Greater Good that can help anyone aspiring to, or currently in a leadership position:

Cooperation is not weak, it’s smart. I used to see leaders I admired and think, “There goes someone who can do it all.” But no one can do it alone. During small group simulations, I learned how cross functional teams can share expertise and support each other, leading to better outcomes for all. Good leadership is built on cooperation; it benefits everyone.

You’re always sending out signals. As a leader, everything you do will be interpreted, from your body language to your preparation for meetings, even your silence. Through Greater Good’s 360-degree assessment, I learned that I needed to improve my communication skills. I have since become more aware of how I present myself to internal and external audiences. I also practice how to be more reflective and to slow down before I act.

Put relationships before tasks. You must cultivate and maintain good relationships as a leader. Leaders have to accomplish a lot of things, but it can’t be at the cost of relationships with peers and staff. Greater Good showed me the importance of having deep interpersonal connections with my teams, as well as a good understanding of group dynamics. I now set aside time weekly to connect with my department heads. This helped me to address issues early on, and it has also allowed for a better work flow among our various departments.

Your time is valuable, so use it wisely. One of the things I learned from Allstate chairman and CEO Tom Wilson, who visited our class, is the importance of being an effective time manager. As a leader, my time is the greatest asset I can give my staff, my organization and our funders. 

I begin meetings on time, and I try to maximize everyone’s time. I also ask colleagues to bring up issues at our meetings and to come prepared, so we make the most of our time together.

Take care of yourself. The Greater Good experience included learning about physical, mental and emotional wellness. We learned how eating six small meals a day can regulate energy levels, and the importance of prioritizing sleep and exercise. I have put what I learned into practice and lost 20 pounds in the process. Taking care of myself has allowed me to bring my best to work every day.  This transformation has affected my professional life, and it has helped me remove barriers to happiness in my personal life.

The Allstate Foundation Greater Good Nonprofit Leaders Program is seeking 23 nonprofit professionals for year three of the program, which begins in fall 2016. Greater Good is a year-long professional development opportunity designed to help mid-career nonprofit professionals prepare for leadership roles. The cornerstone of the program is 12 days of instruction from top faculty at the Kellogg School of Management. Travel expenses and tuition are paid by The Allstate Foundation. To learn more, visit www.allstatefoundation.org/greater_good.html  

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