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5 Keys to Leading a Big, Bold Decision

“Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity.”


Making big decisions can be hard — especially for leaders who thrive on consensus-building. Over my many years of working with nonprofits, I’ve seen smart and passionate people get overwhelmed by tough decisions they wish they didn’t have to make.

How can we stay true to our mission when our biggest funder keeps insisting we try a new approach?

Is your board so dysfunctional, you wonder if it’s time to fire everyone and start fresh?

Other organizations are doing what we do — only better. Should we change up our programming, merge with them, disband?

There’s a philosophy in social work that you lean into discomfort. You embrace it as something that will guide you out from between that rock and hard place. You trust that you’re about to learn some valuable lessons that will make the next big problem you face seem oh so much easier to solve.

I did all those things and more as part of a multi-year collaborative process that led to one of the boldest and smartest decisions I’ve ever been a part of.

While serving as president of the Northwest Development Officers Association, NDOA and our cross-town colleagues at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Washington Chapter (AFP WA) took a huge step together. We decided to unite the two organizations into one.

On our path to that decision, we held countless meetings, went on retreats, surveyed our members and consulted with organizational and business development gurus. It was hard work, but every step of the way, we reminded ourselves that we were all in it for the same reason: to figure out how to better serve our members, our nonprofits and our communities.

Here are five great lessons about leadership that guided me through that process:

Get the right people on the bus. Whether you need input from just a few folks or a diverse team of stakeholders, don’t call on people who always agree with you. The smaller the group you assemble, the more important it is that you choose people who will challenge you.

Communicate clearly and openly. State your goals early and often. Refine them with input from your team if you need to. Encourage your team to give honest and constructive feedback throughout the process. Be transparent every step of the way.

Stay focused on solutions. When you’re trying to solve a problem, it’s easy to fixate on the challenges that might stand in your way. That’s OK. Think of the process like an obstacle course. Remind your team that every time you put a hurdle behind you, you’re getting closer to a solution.

Don’t fear dissent. Your most important job as a leader is to make decisions. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. Don’t get bogged down by waiting for an unequivocal thumbs-up from every last person you’ve included in the process. Help your team see your vision of success as you see it: in crystal-clear focus with a can-do attitude.

When it’s time to move forward, move! Don’t let yourself get all hung up and mired in the multitude of options that are on the table. There comes a time when you’ve gathered enough input — sometimes more than enough. Trust your instincts and when it’s time to make that big decision, remember this: Your job isn’t to come up with The Perfect Solution. It’s to take action.

You might start with baby steps. You might get bogged down in that messy middle between the starting point and finish line. That’s OK. The most rewarding lessons you’ll learn in work and life are the ones that push you way outside your comfort zone — where you make big things happen.


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