Lead Your Nonprofit Organization with Focus and Clarity
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we work and the way we relate to each other. There have been profound changes inside the office and at home in our interactions with friends and family. Pair that with the ever-increasing demands on our time and super high levels of stress—it’s not difficult to understand why more and more of our nonprofit staff are feeling burned out. What’s a leader to do?
To answer that question we sat down with two experts to help us understand what nonprofit leaders can do to take care of themselves AND their teams. What follows in this post (and our two-part video series) are a few practical tips you can use to lead your organization with clarity and focus, so that you can be successful today and throughout the entire year—at work and at home!
Recognizing challenges that leaders face at home and at work
Because so many leaders are working from home now, the line between our personal life and our work life has blurred. The stress we feel at home blends into our work life, and vice versa, causing us to feel overwhelmed and to lose focus on our goals.
In these situations, people shift their focus only to what they perceive as urgent and important, which is then followed by focusing on what’s urgent but not important. Often, leaders wonder what they’ve accomplished during any given day. Over time, that leads to even more stress.
This is especially common with leaders who try to protect and insulate their staff and their teams, but who then often forget to take care of themselves. You give your all at work. Then you go home and give your all to your family too. Afterward, you are completely spent and have no more to give. Some leaders even feel bad taking time out for themselves. For those who work in nonprofits, it’s easy to rationalize that behavior by telling yourself “it’s all in service of an important mission.” But in the end, you just get burned out. Your home life suffers and you become less effective at work too.
Refocus, rejuvenate, and rededicate with the wheel of life
In our leadership series, Lola Elfman from DevelopWell presented a tool called the Wheel of Life to help you refocus on the things that matter. It’s applicable to every facet of your life, including relationships with your family, work, recreation, and more.
The Wheel of Life helps you assess your happiness (on a scale of 1 to 10) with all the things that occupy space in your daily life. Each one is represented by its own section of the circle. You then grade your level of happiness with that segment and spend some time thinking about what you can do to maintain your happiness or improve it just a little bit.
“Start, Stop, Continue” is the process to follow here. Start on the things that really matter and where you want your happiness to increase. Stop the things that aren’t important or don’t bring you happiness and continue the things you want to maintain at the level where they are currently.
There is no right or wrong, but you must find that small thing that is meaningful to you. Finding that mental perspective to reflect can take different forms but when you identify it, you can build on it. Take a moment to pause and appreciate what you’ve accomplished already. Then identify the right things to work on next by assessing what needs your attention right now.
Small steps lead to positive change
Remember, it’s not about going from zero to 10 in just a single day. It’s about creating and establishing positive habits and then reinforcing them regularly until they become second nature. Small steps repeated lead to positive change.
If you’d like more information on how to implement the Wheel of Life, check out the video from Part 1 of our series on Leading with Every Action: Focus and Clarity Leadership.
Bring the wheel of life into your workplace
When there are tasks at work that your team does not have the capacity to do, leaders often pick up the slack and fill in the gaps. Over time, this makes your team less efficient and less effective in their work. To combat this unsustainable practice, adapt The Wheel of Life to your work processes using the “Now, Next, Later” method.
Start by identifying two or three things that are critical for your team to handle right now. The next most important batch of three items gets handled “next” and then everything else would be tackled “later.”
Share the wheel with your team and have each member create one for themselves. Then make one as the team leader and make sure it’s reflective of those priorities you laid out earlier. That way, when outside influences bring the potential to split your focus, you can be purposeful and intentional when you and your team need to say “no” to new work.
Saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re saying “we’ll never do this.” Rather, it means “we’ll get to this later.” That subtle shift frees up brain space for your team to concentrate on what is important and it lets them do their best work.
Slow down to move ahead faster
No one can continue permanently at breakneck speed. Sometimes, you need to slow down and pull back so that you can move ahead effectively and efficiently.
A smart leader takes an inventory of how they’re communicating across all channels at work. Is it all video? Is it all email? If so, take some time to deliberately change things up so that you can be more adaptive to the needs of your team.
Take a look at the items on your calendar right now. Are the right people in those meetings or did you include people who DON’T actually need to be there? Will it suffice for them to get the meeting notes instead of wasting an hour of their time on the call?
Again, the more you can free up the brain space of your team, the more efficient and effective they will be. Helping people understand what they need to be involved in and what they don’t need to worry about can be extremely liberating and helps them focus on doing their best work.
If you’d like more information on how to implement the Wheel of Life at work, check out the video from Part 2 of our series on Leading with Every Action: Focus and Clarity Leadership.
Slow down and assess what makes you happy. Be purposeful with spending time in the right places and in the proportions that make sense for you. Carry that process over to your work life and assess the needs of your team and yourself as their leader. Recognize that sometimes you need to slow down to continue effectively and efficiently down the road. Focusing on what’s important now and next (and pushing everything else until later) helps you be more deliberate in saying “no” to that potential focus-splitting new work.
And remember to download the Wheel of Life Worksheet and apply it to your own situations so that you can continue to lead your nonprofit organization with focus and clarity.
Connect with the Experts
Lola Elfman is the founder of DevelopWell and a certified Leadership Coach and Master Facilitator who believes that everyone is a leader, not just the people in the C-Suite. She is committed to supporting people in their leadership and purpose as they balance the many roles they play in their lives and communities and to developing strong, dynamic, and equitable work cultures and systems. From scrappy startups or the campaign bullpen to scaling global organizations, Lola has worked with leaders and organizations at all stages of growth. She has a passion for developing great leaders, strong teams, and having fun while doing it. Reach Lola at firstname.lastname@example.org and https://www.developwell.org.
Sonali Arurkar, CPCC, PCC is an Executive and Leadership Coach. She believes game changing organizations are built by people who are inspired to contribute their best every day. Sonali enjoys working with high impact individuals to reach beyond what they thought was possible. Her clients push past limiting beliefs, explore new perspectives, and create more fulfilling professional and personal lives. Sonali has 20 years of experience managing teams and building organizations in the social enterprise and nonprofit sectors. She has a passion for working with individuals who are focused on making the world a better place. Reach Sonali at email@example.com and https://www.inspiredleadercoaching.com.