Our local nonprofit sector is in a time of transition which means developing new leaders couldn't be more important.

The retirement wave for nonprofit executives has reached New England –just like they said it would. Many organizations across the region (GWCF included!) are working through the stages of executive transition, preparing for incoming leaders who will hopefully set a strong course for the future.

People have built careers defining the attributes of leadership; everyone has their favorite philosophy. One I like can be summed up like this: leadership requires solid grounding in knowledge, skills, motivation, and confidence. Effectiveness suffers when elements of this matrix are out of balance.

At age 31, when I became Executive Director of the Foundation, I was highly motivated to work for the people of Worcester. I brought a variety of programmatic skills. And while I was missing some knowledge, I “knew what I didn’t know,” and quickly set forth a learning agenda. My obstacle was feeling uncertain that my profile fit that of a leader. You could say it was a confidence problem.

Today, when I talk with younger people about a future in nonprofit leadership, I’m asked, “How do you know you’re ready?” Part of my response includes, “You won’t know until you try!”

Thanks to generous board members, former bosses, colleagues, and friends, I received guidance that was essential to my early career. These mentors set examples and empowered me with their trust. Once again, the next generation needs an open door.

At this time of transition in our sector, reaching across generations is especially important. If you are seasoned, share your knowledge. If you are new to leadership, try out new roles. In both cases, I’m sure there will be mutual benefit.

The work we’re doing is difficult. The daunting community problems of disparity and injustice demand people who are willing to work continuously on the leadership matrix. The Foundation’s upcoming NSC workshops, some for future Executive Directors, and our 5th Leadership Worcester cohort aim to provide supports for skills, learning, and valuable connections.

We hope you’ll be able to take part in efforts to support one another. And please share your thoughts with us.

From the archives (1993): Me with an early mentor, John M. Nelson, Board Chair