Nonprofit work is hard. Leadership is lonely. Surviving the first few years as an Executive Director or CEO of any organization can be tenuous, exhausting, and thrilling all at the same time. Combine the classic challenges we just described with succeeding a strong leader and inheriting a staff you didn’t hire, and you have a recipe for…[FILL IN THE BLANK].
How does one weather the ups and downs of leadership transitions, managing staff, working with a Board, and advancing the organizational mission without losing their mind?
The simple answer is - friends. And maybe some alcohol. Definitely coffee.
In all seriousness, leaders need to belong to a community of other leaders that they can call, text, email, snapchat, etc. with stories of success, desperate pleas, burning questions, and more. But, how do you find your people? How do you develop a group of peers that coalesce around a common set of challenges, and all get along at the same time?
We don’t have all the answers, but let us share what has worked for a group of six (6) nonprofit leaders in Charleston called t(ED) i.e. “tired Executive Directors.”
First, the concept was inspired by multiple interactions and connections between several individuals, made primarily through Together SC members and staff. It was almost as if the universe was conspiring to pull this diverse group together through completely separate yet distantly related connections. The common denominator amongst all of the conversations and connections was a visceral recognition of the challenges of leadership and the value of linking new leaders together.
Admittedly, the initial start-up of t(ED) was not of our making; however, the first conversation between two ED’s, and then another, and another, all centered around a common desire for regular information exchange, sharing lessons learned, and a curiosity about how to effectively lead in a time of unique challenges, led to the formation of a small group now known as, or rather self-identified, as t(ED).
An important, and profound, aspect to this is the group grew organically. It was not forced. It was built slowly on key principles that were intuitive, but upon reflection, can be listed as follows:
- Positive energy
- Different missions
- Gender, race and age diversity
- Small, intimate
- Regular, scheduled gatherings over a meal or happy hour
- Prioritize the meeting dates over other obligations
What t(ED) has learned over years it has been convening is that the “special sauce” is in gathering together around shared values and a desire for community and safety. There are issues we share in common, and there are issues that are unique or first-time experiences with which we help each other wrestle.
Perhaps the most fulfilling and beautiful outcome of t(ED), is that we have all become friends.No matter what, we have each other’s backs, we cheer each other on, and the foundation of trust is solid. This is a recipe for not just survival of leadership, but for learning and growth.
We hope this bit of insight inspires new groups all across the state. After all, we’re in this together.
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From the left:
Kim Clifton, HALOS | Jonathan Wright, Bridges for End-of-Life | Ericka Plater, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services | Stephanie Kelley, ECCO | Courtney Plotner, Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired SC | Ashley Demosthenes, Lowcountry Land Trust