Quick Questions on Leadership Transition

Businessman's outstretched arm passing a flaming torch to another businessman's open hand

I read Joshua 1-3 today. One of the things that grabbed me, among other lessons learned, was the orderly transition of leadership after Moses died. If you are a leader, are you grooming your successor? (regardless of whether you intend to leave your position any time soon) If you are looking for a leadership position, are you faithful and loyal to the organization as well as to the person who brought you along? Does your organization have the right mechanisms in place for an orderly transition? What is your succession plan?

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Throwing Bad Money After Good Causes

Bad Money

As you and your organization raise funds, remember, “Not all money is good money”. Consider the source; what their stated goals and objectives are; their mission, core values and culture. If they don’t mesh with those of your organization and what you’re trying to achieve, it’s best to turn the money down.

Remember, “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re straying away from the original intent of your organization, mission creep or a rocky relationship with funders and/or the community.

I remember times in my own career where the organization I was running opted to not renew certain grants or go after certain funds because the cost of the money was a much higher price than we were willing to pay. Peace of mind, and singular focus on mission, in the long run are much more important than instant gratification of receiving money for programs that don’t fit your core mission, or being tied to a funder that doesn’t share your core values.

Can you remember a time when your organization had to wrestle with accepting a gift from a funder? If so, I’d be very interested in reading your comments below.

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What is Your Organization’s Mission?

What is your organization’s mission? How do you fulfill it?
My mission as a community and organizational development consultant is to strengthen the capacity of organizations to make a positive impact on the communities they serve through technical assistance, specialized workshops, resource and organizational development and project management.
I fulfill my mission in everything I do as a consultant. In addition to providing consulting services I have an occasional newsletter that connects nonprofit leaders and resources. I do a weekly podcast, Nonprofit “U”, hosting nonprofit thought leaders to share lessons learned in the industry. I write articles and blog posts on various topics in nonprofit management and community development. I teach online courses in nonprofit management with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. I am converting my workshop series to courses people may take on demand. I use social media to share resources and communicate various ideas in nonprofit management and community development. I advocate for more resources for communties and nonprofit organizations.
I’d be very interested in hearing from you. Please share your organization’s mission and ways you fulfill it in the comments section.
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Beyond Groupthink


Image:  Penn State

In the best of all worlds, we, the members of our groups bring our ideas, skills and talents together, and all of a sudden, 1 + 1 =3. That is, the collective impact of what we are able to achieve is greater than the sum of the parts that any individual brings. I have found that this is more likely to happen in groups that adhere to a strong set of core values that create an environment of mutual respect, open and honest communication, transparency and accountability.

Adherance to core values goes beyond writing them down and having them printed on organizational literature. We must make sure that all decisions and actions we take within our organizations are done within the letter and the spirit of the core values. Anything less is lipservice. The litmus test is being able to adhere to the core values when tough decisions have to be made, or when conflicts arise. All too often, we fall short, and groupthink takes control.

Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment” (p. 9).  Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups or individuals within the group.  A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making. (Psychologists for Social Responsibility)

Groupthink can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes we, as members of organizations can observe unjust or unethical behavior and say nothing because we don’t want to be confrontational or rock the boat. Most of us have been conditioned to go along to get along. The reality is, every time we look the other way without addressing the issues, the fabric of our organizations begins to erode, dying a slow death. We may not say anything, but truth be told, we are watching very closely to see what happens next, wondering if the negative behavior is a one-time occurrence, or if this is typical.

If the negative behavior is allowed to continue, and we are not comfortable in the environment, we become less engaged, less trusting and less productive. Momentum dies, and progress is stalled. We vote with our feet and use our time and talents in more positive environments where we can grow and thrive.

It is better to address issues head on, in a constructive, transparent manner, with everyone who is impacted, and take corrective and restorative action. This is not the easiest, or most comfortable thing to do in the short run. In the long run, it may be the best way to save our organizations and right the ship.

Psychologists for Social Responsibility have provided some remedies for groupthink.

  • The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member
  • The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset
  • Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups’ deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate’s reactions
  • One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis and encouraged to challenge views of the members.
  • At least one member should be given the role of devil’s advocate (to question assumptions and plans)
  • The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals.

I recommend that you read Psychologists for Social Responsibility’s presentation on groupthink.  They define groupthink and identify the issues and dangers of groupthink using real world examples.

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In Loving Memory of My Dad, Theodis R. Leonard

Theodis R. Leonard

Happy Black History Month! I’m posting this in honor of my dad on his birthday.

Theodis R. Leonard, Sr. was born on February 3, 1934, in Slater, Mississippi to loving parents, Joseph Richard and Lelia Leonard, who preceded him in death. He was the fifth of the couple’s six surviving children.

Mr. Leonard graduated from Mileston High School in Tchula, Mississippi in 1953 and enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he served four years. He obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant, and received a special commendation for inventing a hand tool to service airplanes. He was honorably discharged in 1957. Shortly thereafter, he married his high school sweetheart, Essie Tate, and moved to Chicago’s North Lawndale community. Mr. Leonard and his wife expressed their love to each other for 54 years, 3 months and 12 days. The couple have four adult children. The Leonard family was one of the first African American families to purchase a home in North Lawndale’s Historic K-Town.

A persistent hunger for education led Mr. Leonard to enroll at Crane Junior College, where he received his AB degree in education. He later received his Masters degree in guidance and counseling from Chicago’s Teachers College (now Chicago State University). He completed additional coursework to obtain his Type 75 certification (to qualify for school principal) at Governor’s State University.

Mr. Leonard began teaching at Gregory School in 1965, and was promoted to guidance teacher, and later to Assistant Principal. Early on in his career, he served as a program director for a summer youth outreach program based in the Urban Progress Center. Mr. Leonard was a mentor to younger teachers and was instrumental in bringing programs such as Project CANAL and Adopt A School to help teachers develop professionally and to supplement the school’s public resources. He encouraged a number of parents to get involved with the PTA and Local School Council, and to go back to school to become teachers. A number of his former students refer to him as a “father to the fatherless” and credit him for their becoming educators. Mr. Leonard also served as a representative to the Chicago Teachers Union under the leadership of the late Jackie Vaughn. Mr. Leonard was instrumental in getting a representative from the West Side appointed to the Chicago Board of Education(the late Michael Scott, during former Mayor Jane Byrne’s administration) and helped organize students, parents and faculty to keep Gregory School from closing in the late 1980’s. He networked with a number of community based organizations, including the Midwest Community Council and Better Boys Foundation. He was also an active member of the PTA for Daniel J. Corkery School, where his children were educated.

Mr. Leonard served as Principal of Paderewski School until his retirement in 2001. He was a founding member of the North Lawndale Learning Community, a network of principals, educators and North Lawndale residents. He also served as an informal advisor to Congressman Danny K. Davis, Former Representative Arthur L. Turner and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele on a number of community and education issues.

Mr. Leonard’s thirst for education didn’t prevent him from serving in the church. He was a member of the Carey Tercentenary AME Church for over 50 years. He served in a number of capacities, including Sunday School Superintendent, a member of the Usher Board, Class Leader, member of the Steward Board, and member of the Board of Trustees. He served as the co-chairman of a scholarship drive in which the church sold subscriptions to Johnson Publishing Company magazines. Through his efforts, Carey Tercentenary was Johnson Publishing Company’s top producing community partner, and several members of the church were able to get scholarships to offset college expenses.

Bishop McKinley Young, who once served as the church’s Pastor, helped to organize the Laymen’s Organization and appointed Mr. Leonard President, a position that he held for over 30 years. Under Mr. Leonard’s leadership, the organization organized a tutoring program to help students with their reading and math skills while enabling student teachers to get hands on experience. The Laymen’s organization was one of the first churches in the City to develop a computer training program, using TRS-80’s and the Commodore 64 computers. The Laymen’s Organization organized the Carey Cardinals baseball team, which was the West Side’s only official Little League affiliate at the time. The team expanded to a league sponsored by the West Side Recreational Association. The Laymen’s organization also sponsored sewing classes where students learned to sew, and showed off their creations with an annual fashion show. Mr. Leonard also worked with his Vice President, Cecil Morris, to develop a Black History Bowl in which youth and adults competed on teams to answer trivia questions concerning Black History. The game was eventually adopted by a number of schools in North Lawndale. Mr. Leonard was active at the City, 4th District (regional), and Connectional (national and international) levels of the Laymen’s organization, focusing on educational issues and raising funds for scholarships to Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Pennsylvania.

Above all of these accomplishments, Mr. Leonard was a family man who believed in attending church on Sundays, bringing his children to church and supporting all church auxiliaries with their fundraisers. He was a lifetime member of the NAACP, Retired Teachers Association and the Principals and Administrators Association.

Mr. Leonard made his transition on Easter Sunday morning, April 8, 2012, at sunrise. Those who cherish his memories include his wife Essie, also a retired teacher; four children, Renee (Floyd)Turner, Valerie F. Leonard, Theodis R. Leonard, Jr. and Curtis Allan Leonard; special family friend Kyshia Thompson; a brother, William Humphrey (Juanita) Leonard ;brother-in-law, Thomas Stepp; god son, Dr. Raymond H. O’Neal, Jr.; one aunt (LB Holmes); 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

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Notes from the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation January Meeting

Cook County Commission on Social Innovation January Meeting-Marc and Chuy

The Cook County Commission on Social Innovation (CCCSI)held its monthly meeting at the Loyola University Schreiber Center, on 16 East Pearson on January 19, 2017.

Kevin Stevens

The meeting started a little after 4:00 pm, with a welcome and remarks from Kevin Stevens, the Dean of Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business.  Mr. Stevens also shared an overview of Loyola’s Quinland School of Business’ programs.


Scott Curran
Scott Curran, former General Counsel of the Clinton Foundation shared lessons learned from cross-sector collaboration during his tenure at the Foundation.  Cross-sector partnerships are partnerships o 2 or more organizations that work in government, nonprofit and/or the private sector (to address complex problems).  He reminded the audience of the addage, “If you wanna go fast, go alone.  If you wanna go far, go together…”

Mr. Curran shared the following recipe for successful cross-sector collaboration:

  1.  Crystal clarity of purpose and objectives
  2.  Clearly defined roles and deliverables
  3.   Timelines
  4.   Objective criteria and measures of impact
  5.    Procedures to pivot the work to another entity

When asked about how to engage people in impacted communities in the work, Mr. Curran advised that it is best to only go places where (the Commission) is invited.  He also admonished us to not “parachute” in to communities, and to make sure we add value.  Processes must be stakeholder-driven, and documented from the beginning.  Objective criteria for measurement must be developed, as well as a blue print for moving forward.

When asked how groups with open-ended timelines should approach their work, Mr. Curran suggested that any initiative be new, specific and measurable.  The process should be documented, with assignments, timelines and deliverables to everything to ensure accountability.


Sara Aye

Sara Aye, Co-Founder and Principal at Greater Good Studio, spoke about design thinking, or ways to ensure that people benefit from products and services.  Ms. Aye defined human-centered design,  a process that begins and end with the user in mind.  Her firm uses design methods to solve business problems, as well as social problems.  Ms. Aye indicated that it is relatively easy to find unmet needs in under-served communities.  The challenge is finding the assets.

Human-centered design may also be used as a capacity-building tool.  Ms. Aye shared as an example a literacy program to help teachers improve their own skills, as well as the reading skills of the students.  Other examples included capacity building programs that led to improved school lunchroom nutrition and a program to improve medical assistants’ ability to better understand their patients’ needs and develop more impactful medical care plans.

Ms. Aye indicated that there are 3 levels of human-centered design .

  1. Level 1 is capacity building
  2. Level 2 is teaching
  3. Level 3 is collaboration

Discussion ensued, with Commission members expressing an interest in applying this framework to workforce development.

Reggie Greenwood

Reggie Greenwood, Chairman of the Public Capital Committee, shared an update.   He indicated that the Cook County Board’s Business and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved the Commission’s recommendation to conduct a feasibility study of the proposed Cross-Rail Chicago project, which would connect Chicago’s North, South and West Sides to suburban job centers using various modes of transportation, with the primary focus being under-utilized Metra electric lines.  The Business and Economic Development Committee is chaired by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who also chairs the CCCSI.

This is the first major policy recommendation developed by the Commission, through the leadership of our Public Capital Committee. Not only was the resolution approved unanimously, but every member of the Business and Economic Development Committee signed on as Co-Sponsors of the resolution, which will be presented before the full Cook County Board.

Vice Chairman Marc J. Lane has indicated that this is the first of several policy recommendations he envisions the Commission putting forward in the very near future.


Maria KimMaria Kim, the Human Capital Chair, indicated that the Committee hasn’t met for a couple months, and they are looking for new members.  They are working on access to emplooyment, particularly in the ride sharing industry, as it relates to providing transportation to somewhat remote suburban areas.   She also indicated that they have been successful in their advocacy for the City of Chicago to provide extra points in RFP’s for vendors who serve under-served communities.  This would include social enterprises.


Victor Dickson 2

Victor Dickson, Chair of the Social Capital Committee indicated that the Committee met with Dr. Byron Brazier, the President of the Arthur M. Brazier Foundation to better understand his model of civic engagement and community development.  The Social Capital Committee will also be meeting with ASE and Alderman Sue Sadlowski Garza to understand their model.  Mr. Dickson recommended that both organizations be invited to present before the full Commission to share lessons learned.

Marc Loveless

Marc Loveless (right), Social Capital Youth Subcommittee Chair, shared an update.   There will be a young adult civic engagement summit on March 4th at the Rainbow PUSH headquarters.  Featured speakers will include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Attorney Marc J. Lane and others.  The event will be publicized County-wide, and is expected to draw 200-300 people.  More details will be provided as they come available.



Wendy Raymer, Financial Capital Chair,  indicated that her committee is working on a document to propose changes to local TIF laws to allow municipalities to work together on TIF-funded projects.  The Committee is also testing project manager databases to support the work of the Commission.

The next SEA/CCCSI technical assistance session will be on February 10, from 12 noon- 2:00 pm at Calumet Park Fieldhouse, 9801 Avenue G.

There will be a leadership training session on February 9, at 9:00 am at 69 West Washington, 17th Floor.


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Ice Cold Self-Determination

Man on a Snow Covered Mountain

The most powerful models of community development involve a strong element of self-determination. When I say “self-determination”, I mean, the community leaders have a vision for the community, and know how to get there, utilizing people, their skills and assets that are internal to the community.

Sure, it stands to reason that if marginalized communities had everything they need they wouldn’t be marginalized. However, that does not mean indigenous leadership cannot have a vision for how to improve by leveraging investment from the outside. The key is leveraging internal assets with outside resources to drive change from the inside out.

One of the many stories that come to my mind is how my grandfather, with a third grade education, helped to rally the residents of a little town in LeFlore County, Mississippi to get a school built in the community so the children could have a better opportunity than he did. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to get this stuff done. You do need vision, and the ability to tap into the dreams and passion of the people around you.

Community leaders who utilize models of self-determination tend to tap into a groundswell of local grassroots leaders to carry on a community-driven vision, versus having funders and elected officials dictate from on high. After all, funders and elected officials come and go, but the citizenry remains and must live with the consequences of any action or lack thereof. In communties with self-determination, the funders and elected officials provide the resources to give planning and development processes momentum, versus driving the processes. In order for this to happen, rank and file citizens and community leaders must have a collective vision and confidence to know that they know what the community needs to move forward.

Too often, leaders in marginalized communities devalue their own processes and look to the outside for validation. The irony is the “outside forces” pay people to interview indigenous leaders and then go on roadshows to talk about the lessons they learned from marginalized communities, including the bake sales and barbecue dinners to raise funds for projects. They include this stuff in “asset-based community development” packages and sell them back to the community.

If marginalized communities wouldtake the temperature of their own ice every now and then, they may just be pleasantly surprised to learn that their own ice is just as cold—if not colder, in some instances–than anyone else’s.

About the Author

Valerie F. Leonard is an expert in community and organizational development with a mission of strengthening the capacity of organizations to make a positive impact on the communities they serve through technical assistance, specialized workshops, resource and organizational development and project management. She is also the host and producer of Nonprofit “U”, a weekly podcast featuring nonprofit thought leaders sharing lessons learned. Valerie is a member of the adjunct faculty of the UIC Certificate in Nonprofit Management program, teaching nonprofit operations. She has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Spelman College and a master of management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

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What Would You Do If…? Part 3


Photo:  The Skillman Foundation

You are the newly-hired executive director of a community-based youth program with a budget of $350,000.  In this capacity, you would have 8 employees, including an administrative assistant, 2 program directors, a business manager and 4 case workers.   You have a master of social work degree, and have recently served as the associate executive director of a citywide youth program with a one million dollar budget and 40 employees.  The board of directors of your former agency was well on its way to becoming institutionalized.  The board consisted of a number of up-and-coming civic leaders.  For the most part, they did not get involved with the day to day affairs of running the organization.  They did serve as staff volunteers from time to time, assisting with occasional mailings and phone banking.

You accepted the job of executive director of this agency because of the significant opportunity to develop your own leadership skills, while growing the agency.  This would be an excellent stepping stone to a leadership position at a larger city wide agency or local affiliate of a national agency.

The agency that you are currently working in was founded by a team of dedicated people who have a passion for youth.  Seven of the 10 board members were founders. You notice that the board members are very hands on, and seem to be somewhat territorial.  For example, the treasurer had responsibility for preparing the financial statements and presenting them to the board of directors.  One of the mutually agreed upon goals you and the board set was to begin to transition this responsibility to the business manager.  During your first transitional meeting with the treasurer and business manager, you noticed that the treasurer shared information about “what” was done, rather than “how” it was done.  This behavior was consistent among the seven founding board members, regardless of what position they held.  In fact, there have been times that you would “swear” that some of the board members were jockeying for position with you during the board meetings.  While the board chairman insists she is fully “in your corner”, you don’t feel that you have yet established the relationship in which she sees you as her primary “go to” person on board affairs.  You have been on the job 3 months and have gotten an outstanding performance rating.

While you love the people, the work and the opportunities before you, this is a very difficult transition for you.  You would like to see more clearly defined board versus staff roles so that the organization could move to the next level in its development.  At the same time, you realize the potential for disaster should you miscalculate the political lay of the land.  What would you do?

  1. What are the main issues?
  2. What alternative tools would you consider using to address them?
  3. Why?

Written by Valerie F. Leonard

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2017 Nonprofit Outlook Survey Results Are In!


I thank every organization that participated in this informal survey. As a result of your participation, we now have better insights into what some nonprofit leaders in the Chicago Area are feeling about the prospects for local organizations in 2017.
–Valerie F. Leonard

Companion Report Episode 53 by valeriefleonard on Scribd

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Case Study: What Would You Do If…? Part 2


You joined the board of directors of a community development organization 6 months ago. The organization is the faith-based affiliate of a local church.  A total of 4 of the 11 board members are members of the church, including the pastor, the chairman of the board of deacons, the head of the women’s auxiliary, and the chairman of the church’s board of directors.

The founding board chairman is also the founding pastor of the church that started the community development organization.  When the group was organized 3 years ago, the decision was made to serve as a convener of community development activities, and not to get involved in the actual hands on development of housing.  This would ensure that the members of the board of directors who are involved in real estate development as a profession would not be engaged in activities that could potentially pose conflicts of interest.

The board chairman has noticed that the low-income community is rapidly undergoing change.  Housing values are growing at double the rate of inflation.  Most of the new housing units are not affordable for current community residents.  At the same time, there seems to be a dearth of commercial development.  Community residents have to drive a minimum of two miles on average to find shopping areas to purchase high quality staples.

Even though the organization had agreed not to be engaged in hands on real estate development, the board chairman feels the organization should reconsider, and become a primary player in the real estate game.  The developers in the area have focused on market rate housing, and not affordable housing.  Furthermore, there has not yet been a catalyst for commercial development.

The organization has undergone phenomenal success over the past 3 years serving its role as convener.  They are also in the process of increasing their own capacity.  They have plans to hire new staff, expand their board, and strengthen their programs.

You were recruited to shore up the organization’s financial management skill set.  As a bank vice president and a volunteer with the local United Way, you have had considerable experience working with boards. The United Way is considering making an investment in the program through a new initiative.

You have recently participated in a board retreat to discuss how the organization should go about increasing its capacity.  There is discussion as to whether the organization should get into the real estate business or continue to be a convener of development activities.  While the board chairman would like to get into the development business, the three developers on the board are opposed to the idea.  They don’t believe the two member staff has the necessary commercial real estate development experience or the time to devote to development.  Furthermore, they do not want to be in a situation that would cause potential conflicts of interest, since their primary development area is the same area served by the organization.

You noticed that even though the majority of the members have expressed strong doubts concerning the notion of getting into the real estate development business, the board chairman continues to press the issue. In fact, he has done so for the past 3 meetings.  He has even had guest speakers who have had significant experience in community development to answer questions. There is a reluctance to vote on the issue because the board chairman has not yet fully persuaded the board to pursue direct real estate development.

You have observed in the past that the board chairman seems to get his way on all matters that come before the board.  People with opposing view points tend to miss meetings when there is a controversial vote. Furthermore, the members of the board who are also members of the church tend to defer to the will of the board chairman, (who is also their pastor). After weighing the pros and cons, you tend to believe that the organization does not have the capacity to do hands on real estate development.  What would you do?

  1. What are the main issues?
  2. What alternative tools would you consider using to address them?
  3. Why?



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