Perhaps like many in my generation, I, too, was a rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan (if you weren’t, you should’ve been. It’s fantastic.). Looking back on how the adventures of this no-nonsense heroine inspired me growing up, I knew I couldn’t avoid blogging my tribute to Buffy. In fact, I think we can learn a lot from The Slayer when it comes to nonprofit leadership. So here it is, my unabashedly geeky account of 5 things we can learn about nonprofit leadership from Buffy (the Vampire Slayer!):
- Get a Mentor: Having a mentor is a tradition for Vampire Slayers, and Buffy found connection, guidance, and support in her ‘Watcher’, Giles. Nonprofit leaders aren’t required to seek mentors of course, but having one (or more!) is a great and arguably necessary part of skillfully navigating the nonprofit sector and those within it as new Problems-Of-The-World Slayers. In addition to having the emotional support of a mentor as a nonprofit leader, there are practical reasons to work with one. There is a notion in leadership that you should “surround yourself with people more skilled than you” in order to exercise humility and practice important skills. Even for those starting out with a natural talent for working with people, writing, or branding your cause-efforts, mentors can help you hone your skills at practical nonprofit tasks: meeting other movers and shakers, writing or presenting requests for financial support, or developing a strategic branding plan — Things it might have otherwise taken months or even years to learn alone. I know it was only because of one of my mentors that I learned how to write a good grant proposal – and I can definitely credit her for our success in getting our very first grant.
- Train. Always.: Despite her super-strength, speed, agility, and know-how, Buffy always remembered to revisit the gym. As we grow and develop as nonprofit leaders, we’ll learn a plethora of useful skills, but just like any other muscle, our brains and hearts will atrophy if we don’t work them out every once in awhile. As I admitted in another post, we may never be exactly the leaders we hope to be, but we can always get closer to our ideal. As nonprofit leaders it’s important to always be learning and practicing: Read articles and books on the sector to keep fresh perspectives. Attend learning sessions and network with others. Don’t be afraid to take a class to refresh your knowledge on a subject.
- Delegate: It’s always easier said than done. But Buffy, though she may have been the Chosen One, knew she couldn’t do it all herself. As time went on, she surrounded herself with skilled friends she knew she could count on to get aspects of the saving-the-world business done, and she never hesitated to call on them. And, driven by her confident leadership and trust in them, her friends always lent a hand. As nonprofit leaders it may be tempting to slip into the mentality, “if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.” A hardened work ethic or feelings of guilt about asking others to help us may prevent us from seeking assistance, but this is a dangerous mindset to stay in for long. Many tasks may be over our heads, and trying to tackle them ourselves could lead to failures that impact our entire organizations and the causes we care about, meaning that a leader’s attempts to be selfless actually end up detrimental to his or her purpose. Like Buffy, we have to remember that the most important thing is saving the world, not saving the world by ourselves.
- Empower others, and give them the tools to succeed: When the end of the world was nigh, and the only one strong enough to prevent the apocalypse was The Slayer, Buffy didn’t throw herself into the fray to try to battle the forces of evil alone. Instead, she recruited other potential slayers and worked to learn the secret to grant them her own Slayer-super powers. When it was time to save the world, Buffy had empowered an army of other women to be Slayers, just like her, increasing their collective potential for success. This is a crucial lesson in nonprofit leadership, and an obvious complement to #3: Delegate. If we are able to empower others around us to act on behalf of our cause, we will have an easy time entrusting them to be skilled advocates, and amplify our potential for impact.
- Have a life: No matter how much destiny called on Buffy to save the world, she always remembered to spend time with her friends. Doing so refueled her and in many ways, renewed her sense of purpose. Her connections to other people were added to her reasons to save the world, time and time again. Nonprofit leaders may be at greater risk of isolation and burn-out if they do not carefully cultivate and continue to enjoy the mutual benefits of relationships and friendships. Like Buffy, we should always remember our mission in the back of our minds, but save ourselves from detachment by remembering to enjoy the world we are trying to improve.