As the Executive Director of a charity you must be aware of everything that goes on within your organization. But that doesn't mean that you need to micro-manage your staff. Effective Executive Directors spend their time leading and inspiring their staff, Board and volunteers. Ineffective Executive Directors tend to micro-manage and overwhelm their staff with unrealistic goals.

Consider this: Employees and volunteers who are stressed out or feel like they're being micro-managed are more likely to:

  • Make mistakes that are entirely avoidable
  • Get involved in unnecessary conflicts with co-workers
  • Spread gossip in an attempt to undermine your authority
  • Be absent more often without a plausible explanation
  • Feel less loyalty toward the organization.

Stressed employees aren't valuable assets who are motivated by fear to work harder. In fact, they're quite the opposite. They can be liabilities! That's why as a non-profit leader, it's in your interest to cultivate a positive, respectful relationship with every person you work with.

Be Realistic

Set reasonable goals and deadlines. Do you automatically label every task assigned to your staff and volunteers with an "Urgent" tag, hoping that even if your staff miss the urgent deadline, they'll at least finish the project within a reasonable timeframe? If all of your projects are labelled "Urgent" then as an Executive Director you're not prioritizing tasks properly. If employees aren't consistently meeting deadlines, ask yourself if you've given your team clear goals and objectives.

Set Your Staff Up for Success

Good leaders use other people's strengths in healthy, productive ways. Assign tasks and responsibilities that fit well with a each employee's aptitudes and personality. If you think your employees aren't being challenged enough by all means give them work that is stimulating. But if you're deliberately setting the bar too high, just to make your employees jump, then your employees will never feel that warm rush of pride that comes when a task has been successfully completed.

Avoid Asking Questions that Begin with the Word "Why"

"Why" questions tend to sound like accusations instead of a genuine interest in what's going on. When people are asked "Why did you do that?" they often feel as if they need to defend and justify their position. As an Executive Director, it's your job to be curious about the way things work and it's well within your purview to ask about the steps that led to certain outcomes. But try to focus on group process-oriented questions that start with phrases such as "how do we" or "what can we do to..?" Framing questions as a challenge for the whole group will likely lead to a higher number of creative solutions to choose from.

Use Humor to Diffuse, Not Confuse

Laughter and positive humor can help diffuse tension and reduce stress. But if humor is oblique, negative or based on singling someone out for ridicule, it can elevate conflict, rather than alleviate it.

Reward Hard Work and Creativity

Your organization can't succeed on hard work alone. Creativity and innovation are what propel successful non-profit organizations to the top of people's hearts and minds. Learn how to promote creative thinking among your staff and volunteers and they'll not only come up with better ideas, they'll have more fun reaching for the worthy (and attainable) goals you and the Board have set for the organization.

The easiest way to be an effective leader, one who inspires people to reach for the top, is to always follow the Golden Rule. Being patient and empathetic towards your staff is not a sign of weakness or poor leadership. Think back to a time when you were once someone else's subordinate. (Unless you're an entirely self-made entrepreneur who has never had to work for anyone but themselves, you've had someone supervising you at one point or other.) Think back to how your boss made you feel. What things did he or she do that made you feel valued and appreciated? What things made you feel taken advantage of or underappreciated?