Is Your President a Leader?

By Gerry Czarnecki

There’s no doubt most presidents or executive directors of nonprofits have a passion for the cause. The real question is, “Is that executive a leader?”

Candidly, our experience on this point is not good.

Too many who get into the “doing good” business have a tendency to be passionate, but they have little or no knowledge or experience in understanding what managing and leading is all about.

Knowing the answer to that question could be the difference between your organization’s success – or failure.

Leadership failure often results in an “I would rather do it myself” mindset. If that happens, the president eventually will run out of hours in the day to do all the work. A boss must use his or time more wisely: Leadership is part science (left brain) and – perhaps more – part art (right brain).

So how do you know if you have a leader? There are no surefire ways to know, but here are some factors to consider. (None of these is an absolute test.)

• Does the president talk about vision and values? Or is every presentation based on quantitative factors?

• Are presentations to the board made by employees in addition to the president? Or is every one done entirely by him or her?

• Does the board have access to staff members? Or are they kept at a distance?

• Does the board feel good about its relationship with the president? Or is there a degree of tension?

• Have you seen sensitivity in the way the president speaks to the staff? Or is he or she gruff and insensitive?

• Do employees seem happy in their work? Or does they show signs of fear or intimidation?

• Do employees seem to like and respect the boss? Or is there obvious tension?

• Does the president share the credit for success and take blame for failure? Or does he or she take credit for success and blame failures on the team?

• Do employees feel empowered and responsible? Or do they seem like functionaries following the boss’ orders?

• Would you find it easy to work for the president? Or would your styles or personalities clash?

For each factor, if you answered “yes” to the first question most of the time, then you might have a leader. If you mostly answered “yes” to the second question, you might have a leadership challenge – and it could be time to start paying more attention.

Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or

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