Leadership presence is one of the qualities people possess that we recognize almost immediately.  It’s more than charisma or magnetism. Many describe it as a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Can’t quite define it, but people either have it or they don’t.

Yet, that’s not entirely true.  Leadership presence is a unique blend of personal and interpersonal abilities that draw people. We know someone has it by the confidence they exude, the way they make us feel, and how they influence and motivate us to passionately work with them.

Leaders aren’t born, they’re raised.

Leadership presence is developed and cultivated over time. But, traditionally, in the nonprofit arena, many assume leadership positions without either the time or opportunity to personally explore their leadership growth.  Often, the Peter Principle of promotion to the level of leadership incompetence applies, and then it’s trial by fire.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

What if nonprofits really started to invest in leadership development? Programs that give their people the opportunity to explore, reflect and envision their own authentic potential and develop the confidence needed to get things done!

I recently met with a new CEO. After 15 years of experience and a long list of credentials, she achieved her dream job.  But her quiet admission to me was a reflection of what’s going on with so many nonprofit leaders, “After years of hard work, I finally became a CEO. But I don’t feel like I wear the title yet.  I need to develop my confidence.”

She’s not out in front of her leadership, she’s working from behind!

She is on the hard road of trial by fire. She didn’t have the opportunity for personal leadership development so that she could bring a confident presence to her new role and the big challenges she faces.

So, why are so many new leaders in this position?

Simple and short-sighted.  Leadership development is often one of the last items on the nonprofit budget list despite the fact that it’s vital for the present growth and future potential of their organizations. Nonprofits are slow to invest in their people, often considering it a “soft” area. They’re measuring outputs not outcomes. The “hard” fact is that it’s the quality of their leadership that will decide their outcomes. They will either flourish, stumble along, or eventually fail.

Leadership mentoring, coaching, and training have gained wide acceptance in the for profit sector and coaching alone is showing upwards of an 80% ROI. Nonprofits are increasing competitive for resources to achieve their missions. Time for them to invest in developing the powerful presence of their leadership.

What can they do? Here’s some ideas.

  • Establish a mentoring program to help staff and volunteer leaders learn the ropes from others who can share their experience.
  • Offer the support and safety of professional coaching for leaders as they encounter often difficult challenges. There are plenty of leaders tossing and turning at 2:00 a.m. with issues that keep them awake.
  • Create a peer coaching culture within your organization that embraces learning and makes it part of achieving all your goals. Staff and volunteer peers who support one another will strengthen teams by creating shared values and commitment to owned goals.
  • “Lead up” with engaging leadership training that challenges emerging leaders to discover their interest, enhance their passion and unleash their potential to bring your organization into the future. When asked why he volunteered to participate in my rigorous training program, one young leader once said to me, “because the organization was interested in my growth, I’m interested in developing my potential to lead them.”

Nonprofits have to do more than just recognizing leadership presence. They have to define and develop it. Powerful people lead powerful organizations. And the powerful presence of your leaders is the key to the success of your organization.