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Navigating Your Leadership Journey

Leadership, like innovation, is hard to learn and hard to teach. GCN President and CEO Karen Beavor reminds us that there is no perfect leadership: there is only change and how you respond to it.

I get to talk to a lot of leaders. As a result, not only do I hear about ideas, accomplishments, and goals; I also hear about struggles, insecurities, and shortcomings.

For those who aspire to lead, at any level, it’s important to realize there is no perfect leadership or leader: there is only change and how one responds to it. Managing a nonprofit, as a day-to-day endeavor, is incredibly hard. So why don’t we do ourselves a favor and stop beating ourselves up?

Leadership, like innovation, is hard to learn and, frankly, hard to teach, because it is largely situational. We can learn skills that enable better leadership or creative thinking, but the fact is that those skills are developed by doing, not just by knowing. What isn’t often discussed is that leadership is very personal. Leaders have personalities, what I like to call “junk in the trunk”— fears and bravery, self-comforts and self-doubts. Leading is about knowing how to apply skills and ideas to manage change; it’s also about knowing how to sidestep or leverage your “junk” in order to create the best opportunities to apply those skills and ideas.

Understanding what questions to ask, when to alter management styles, and how to modify systems and structures—those are the arrows in your leadership quiver. To hit the target, though, you also need to understand the context in which you’re making your shot: distance to target, shifts in wind speed and direction, equipment limitations. Leadership requires practice and, by default, failure. Rather than doubt, judge, and criticize, let’s give ourselves permission to strive, fail, and get better—which is, after all, what makes hitting the target so gratifying.

In this issue, and in our upcoming Field Trips, we are emphasizing the role, skill, and hidden struggles of leaders who are turning good ideas into successful endeavors. You’ll find an incredible array of leadership in our first annual roundup of great member ideas. Read my interview with Doug Shipman, who has, with Shirley Franklin and others, led the idea for the just-opened Center for Civil and Human Rights through a decade of shifting circumstances. Truly, Doug represents one of the best examples of situational leadership navigation I’ve seen in some time.

For even more examples of leadership at its best, join your colleagues for our nonprofit Field Trips event in September, which includes the opportunity to talk with Doug about his journey, and to hear from others in the field leading movements, implementing new ideas, and navigating shifting environments.

GCN is pleased to be at the center of nonprofit leadership, showcasing nonprofit innovation, and supporting your personal journey with opportunities—like our first Field Trips endeavor and this special IDEAS issue of NOW—enabling us to learn from one another.

Karen Beavor is president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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