Examine the word transform. It does not merely mean change, or we would use that word. It is a verb with an expanded vision and is much more transcendent. It implies a deeper, more fundamental alteration of our very form (to trans – form). The continuing process of transformation begins with the moment of inspiration and continues in us through times of action, rest, and reflection. Times are changing. Cultures in the world are changing. Attitudes of charities are, for the most part, static!

It’s the duty of the leader, whether Executive Director, President, CEO, or clergy, to distinguish themselves and influence others. Organizations must transform their cultures to be successful and to even survive. Half of the 30,000 nonprofits that are formed each year will close, some with money in the bank, without achieving their vision. This is unfortunate, especially since most of these organizations have a worthy vision that the world needs. The mainline churches are losing members at an alarming rate: thousands per week! Many local judicatories are closing churches and selling the property.

We have apathy that can be converted into passion. We have fostered scarcity thinking when we have abundance at our fingertips. Nonprofit leaders have the highest burnout rate in history. It’s time for leadership to change to preserve our rich resource of philanthropy.

Reframing leadership is a high priority. We have been taught leadership wrong and have inherited broken or low-functioning systems. Boards are not as effective as they could be. Leadership is a culture as well as a skill. The leader is the person who influences the culture and impacts the functioning of teams, boards, committees, and members. I have gone on record to eliminate the word volunteer because it fosters this past low-functioning thinking. I suggest using servant leader for charities and member in ministry for churches. This reframing of title allows for reframing of role and responsibility.

James Allen wrote that “People want to change their circumstances, but are unwilling to change themselves, so they remain bound.” Leaders naturally point to external sources to pinpoint the problem. In reality, leaders should be looking in the mirror. As a musical conductor, I know that the choir or orchestra will perform as I influence them. The culture is a reflection of the leader, indeed!

Leaders also focus on differences rather than diversities. I also recommend to leaders that they ditch the term equal. It’s not a useful term. Rather than attempting to dumb down the culture to make everyone the same (one definition of equal), why not raise the bar and encourage excellence in diversity? This includes Boomers like me wanting Millennials to look and act just like me. No way! We have more in common than we have differences.

I encourage leadership in charities to learn to utilize business principles for the organization. It’s important, for example, to identify various sources of income. Many of the charities I work with on board capacity building and strategic planning only have one or two sources of income. When we explore other options, we commonly come up with about seven sources of income. Most of the time, people are amazed by this. In business, we constantly look for multiple sources of revenue. Having only one source is certain failure. There are many other ways that leaders can change the thinking, and then the culture, of the organization.

Transformational Leadership is a culture of high-functioning leaders. It’s time for leaders to get serious about improving themselves, nurturing leaders on teams, learning how strategy fosters engagement, and stop being the answer person. I write about this style of leadership on my blog for social entrepreneurs, which includes clergy and nonprofit leaders, at Please scan the articles and leave comments.

Building High Performance teams: Systems and Structures for Empowering Transformation

Hugh Ballou is a Transformational Leadership Strategist and the President of SynerVision International, Inc. A musical conductor for forty years, Hugh has written eight books on Transformational Leadership, and works with leaders in religious organizations and business and nonprofit communities as executive coach, process facilitator, trainer, and motivational speaker, teaching leaders the fine-tuned skills employed every day by orchestral conductors.

This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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