Leadership: Attitude or Aptitude?

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Is leadership an attitude or an aptitude?

When you sign up for leadership, it’s kinda like saying yes to the exit row on an airplane. You’ll enjoy lots of legroom. But if there’s an emergency—the responsibility is all too real. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in a crisis situation, you still need to be ready.

So, what do we do?

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

– Walt Whitman

My favorite approach, based on witnessing effective leaders in the wild, is to get curious. Consider yourself a curious anthropologist.
It’s hard in the moment, but I think Brene Brown got it right when she said, and I paraphrase, catastrophizing doesn’t help anyone. Never has and never will. So, when the going gets tough, what helps us get curious in times of uncertainty or crisis?

First, consider (and explore) that you have options. In other words, there are very few, rare circumstances where there isn’t some kind of choice. An approach we’ve found especially helpful, particularly for leaders, is scenario planning. A word to the wise, don’t fixate on whether you agree or disagree with the “idea” of scenario planning; just give it a whirl. We are creative creatures, and being able to visualize alternative futures is a gift that helps us develop a variety of responses to any leadership challenge. Watch out for short-term, reactive thinking. “Problem blindness” can take us all downstream. Leaders go upstream.

Second, see the situation as a gift or opportunity. It’s seductive to want to “weigh the odds” or consider options as either X or Y. But effective leaders recognize and embrace the power of paradox. Recently, I found myself ranting to a colleague that I’m done with the idea of self-sufficiency. The notion that somehow some of us magically just get along by our own wits. Hooey. We are in this thing called life together, and the sooner we recognize that we are in league with one another, the sooner we will be able to find creative solutions to that which ails us. All of us.

So, the next time you find yourself, whether as a CEO, senior executive, or board member, in what seems like a crisis situation, here are two wicked questions that can help open up the chamber of possibilities:

  1. What do we want to celebrate in (x period of time)?
  2. What is it we need to do together so that in three years, we can look back and say this is the best thing that ever happened to us?

Allow yourself to get curious, explore what’s possible, and engage your colleagues as the folks who will journey with you.

The future is just around the corner; how you embrace it is a choice. Lead on!


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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