Great leadership - whether paid or volunteer - requires putting the needs of the organization ahead of one's own. If you read that and thought “Pshaw, obviously. I’m working at a nonprofit, for heaven’s sake” you might be missing some of the ways our sneaky little egos can show up at work.

I’m no pop psychologist, but I do know from experience that people (including me) can do some pretty silly things when their egos feel threatened. There are a few things, in particular, that can become behavior patterns that slow everything down and keep teams from moving forward.

That’s why so many nonprofit leaders can benefit from taking this one very specific piece of advice:

Get out of your own way.

What that means, for many people, is: if you weren’t working so hard to protect yourself, you probably wouldn’t have to work so hard. In other words, you might be the reason you haven’t made progress, desperate as you may be to do so.

  • Take the executive director who hasn’t been able to develop an effective team because they can’t relinquish control of every little thing. That's probably a product of their ego's need to prove they can do it all.
  • Or the board president who micromanages the pants off of everything in sight. That’s most likely her ego trying to show who’s boss because, maybe, she doesn't have much control in her own job or personal life.
  • Maybe it’s the colleague who takes credit for group successes. You bet that’s his ego trying to avoid rejection by making himself look better than everyone else.
  • Or maybe it’s as simple as obsessively completing tasks instead of taking time to strategize and delegate…because the ego feels great about being “extremely productive.”

There are lots of ways we keep ourselves from doing the best work we can possibly do, and some are easier to notice than others. The fact that we can't delegate, can't slow down,  and can't get out of the way of progress is very likely tied to our deep need to avoid failure at all costs. Plus, many of us work in environments where trust is low and risks are forbidden.

If you can't identify with these common ego hangups, then perhaps you know someone who can. Simply becoming aware of our own blind spots can help us start to let go of these ego-driven habits and move forward. 

If you need help, I'm your gal. After 20 years in nonprofits, I'm not afraid to call a spade a spade and I can give you an outsider's perspective on problems that often hide in plain sight. As a consultant, I'll hold up a mirror for you and your organization. 

It's not always comfortable, but your mission is worth it.

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