What does it mean to bring in an executive from the private sector to your nonprofit? Generally, the idea is that his or her business acumen will rub off on your organization for the better, giving you a much-needed shot of private sector discipline.
However, cold business savvy sometimes does not compute in the nonprofit mind. And sometimes the private sector could benefit from a focus on meaning.
Let the Process Change You
This month in the Harvard Business Review, Gail McGovern, the CEO and President of the American Red Cross, talks about arriving at her new job and tackling the problem of an organization with than $600 million in debt. Coming from the private sector, to her the road forward was simple – simplify the organization’s structure.
This “no-brainer” plan was met with mutiny. The passionate board gave a bit of push back – not enough to shoot down the plan but enough that McGovern took it off the table.
Listen then Lead with Heart
Then McGovern started to collaborate – asking more than 30,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The multitude of responses made McGovern change her plan for the better. Suddenly, at the last meeting, she found herself delivering a speech to the board she would have deemed “sappy” in a previous life – but suddenly felt the entire room respond to her like never before.
Did she become a better at public speaking? Not quite. McGovern writes that after her emotional speech
I saw people’s skepticism change to belief. Did my leadership team and I show any special rhetorical brilliance? No—we proved we’d been listening.
In the end, McGovern learned that nonprofits don’t have the “monopoly on meaning.” Every leader needs to find the mission. She writes:
Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart.
Nonprofits understand that the business world has things to teach us. But leaders in the private sector have important lessons to learn from us as well.