- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
This post is the first in a mini-series by Meg Busse for our Nonprofit Jobs Series with advice on working in the nonprofit sector. Meg was Idealist.org's Coordinator of High School and College Career Transitions from 2007-2010, and co-authored Guide to Nonprofit Careers.
Here’s my confession: I’m really, really bad at submitting expense reports on time.
There’s just something about sitting in front of a spreadsheet, entering in numbers from a credit card statement, and double-checking that I’ve used the proper class and code to categorize. I’m also not good at doing them: I inevitably mislabel a charge or forget to fill in a cell or mix up transaction dates. Steve Ting, our amazing Operations Coordinator, is incredibly patient about this and is always willing to help me untangle my reports.
While I’ve not been deeply pondering my aversion to expense reports, this task seems to connect with a Harvard Business Review book coming out at the beginning of February, In Praise of the Incomplete Leader. The synopsis of the book states that:
…no one leader can be all things to all people….Those at the top must come to understand their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Only by embracing the ways in which they are incomplete can leaders fill in the gaps in their knowledge with others' skills. The incomplete leader has the confidence and humility to recognize unique talents and perspectives throughout the organization--and to let those qualities shine.
I’m sure this is relevant for the corporate sector, but I’m interested in how this affects nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. In this type of work, “wearing multiple hats” is a cute euphemism for having to do any and everything that needs doing at any given moment. It’s a great way to learn what you’re good at and what you’re not, but it’s hardly sustainable. More importantly, it’s not efficient, effective, or smart.
While it can be an amazing opportunity for younger or entry-level employees to learn what they’re good and what they’re not, it’s frustrating to see seasoned executives not recognize their own limitations, insist upon doing it all, and not allow for shared responsibility and decision making. While it’s frustrating, it’s not uncommon. There’s even a name for it: Founder’s Syndrome.
I love stories of how successful businesses and organizations got started. So often, they’re not stories of one person who had a great idea and triumphed, but of brilliantly fortuitous partnerships that created a perfect check and balance of skills, passions, and egos that allowed a good idea to become great.
I’m still whittling down what I do well and what I don’t, what I love doing and what doesn’t light me up. I am also getting smarter about working with people whose skills and aptitudes balance mine out, and who are patient enough to help me learn. Like Steve Ting.