As a nonprofit leader you will often find yourself in the middle. The middle can be exhausting, with stakeholders on both sides pulling you in opposite directions or using you as an intermediary to telegraph their displeasure to the other. This can take the form of two powerful board members with opposing visions for the organization. It can take the shape of staff assumptions that conflict with board expectations. Sometimes it shows up in conflicts between a responsible accounting department and an overtaxed program staff. Or an assertive fundraising team frustrated with an unhelpful service delivery staff. The list goes on and on. There are always competing needs, demands, expectations and opinions.
Your job, as an emerging leader, is to place yourself smack dab in the middle of all that tension. You’ve often heard it said that it’s lonely at the top. But effective, genuine leadership is more about getting comfortable with the discomfort of the turbulent middle than the loneliness of seniority. Life at the top may be lonely, but life in the middle is downright chaotic. We truly grow into our roles as leaders when we cultivate the discipline and peace of mind to wade joyfully into the mess. We embrace the discomfort and calmly help those around us find solutions.
Is there a situation you’re avoiding today because it’s painful? How will things be better when you muster the discipline to own your power and embrace your responsibility? What can you do about it now?
Note: “The Messy Middle” is also the title of a book by entrepreneur/author Scott Belsky. Though I haven’t read The Messy Middle, I did hear Scott speak 10 or so years ago, and I found him and his book Making Things Happen engaging and practical.