Three Lessons From Creative Leaders


Creative isn’t the first word that anyone would use to describe me. Nor is it a word thrown around often in revenue conversations.

But this year, I’m claiming it for myself.

The truth is, managing through change and raising revenue to support our missions has always required creativity.  Over the past year, I have been blown away by the creativity and innovation I’ve witnessed in our sector.  Leaders had to find new ways to raise funds, lead their teams, and deliver on their missions. I almost laugh when I hear the word “pivot” now, because the word is just too small for what most nonprofit leaders had to do.

It’s been inspiring.  And, since my role offers a unique vantage point, I want to share three  lessons I’ve observed from the most innovative leaders during this time:

They take time and space.

When some were panicking or scrambling, these leaders paused and created the time and space to assess their new reality, look ahead, and plot a path forward.  They did this on their own AND in connection with other leaders in their organizations.

We saw this in our Fuel Series Workshops last year, with leadership teams taking time and space away from their daily schedules to work through their revenue challenges together.  They didn’t do it because they had spare time, they did it because they knew they needed time together to align, innovate, and build.

They seek input from peers and experts.

These leaders are not shy about picking up the phone and asking for help or input.  They seek out their peer network.  They educate themselves by reading the latest blogs and attending webinars.  Instead of choosing to cut networking and learning in crisis, these leaders double-down and dig in.  They invest in personal and professional growth.

This month I have been able to visit some of our R-Squared Peer Groups and they are filled with leaders at the top of their games, who know that access to a network of other leaders provides insight and clarity when they need it.

They model freedom to fail.

These leaders create cultures that allow for failure.  In every organization that has successfully weathered this last year, I am willing to bet many plans were reimagined when the world shifted.  These leaders tried things that didn’t work and they made it okay for the people they lead to have ideas that wouldn’t work.  As John Maxwell says, “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”  As cliché as it might sound, these leaders genuinely view failure as opportunity.

So for me, 2021 is a year to embrace creativity and to continue to incorporate the habits of these creative leaders.  I will:  Take time and space, seek the input from peers and experts, and continue to model a willingness and freedom to fail.  I hope you’ll join me.