The Talent Imperative

April 25, 2016


Tim McClimon

The following are excerpts from my recent keynote speech at the Nonprofit Talent & Culture Summit in Washington, DC on the need to develop talent and leadership in the nonprofit sector.

The reality of leadership is that it's:

  • Always hard. Vince Lombardi once said, "Leaders aren't born, they are made. And, they are made like anything else - through hard work."
  • Sometimes lonely. Franklin Roosevelt remarked, "It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead - and find no one there."
  • Often frustrating. Bill Clinton quipped, "Leading a country is like running a cemetery - you've got a lot of people under you, but no one's listening."

But, leadership can also be:

  • Transformative. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
  • Inspiring. Albert Einstein wrote, "Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value."
  • Differentiating. Will Rogers warned, "Always drink upstream from the herd!"

At American Express, we believe that one of the most important roles of a leader is developing talent, and we believe so strongly in this role that we've invested over $50 million over the past 10 years to help develop high potential, emerging leaders in the nonprofit and social sector globally, and we have helped train over 16,000 leaders directly through our sponsored programs.

Here are five lessons that we've learned:

  • Mentoring and executive coaching is key. One of the most important and transformative aspects of our American Express Leadership Academy programs is the one-on-one coaching that takes place with trained and certified executive coaches. We consistently hear from participants that they profit the most from this type of personal interaction with a trained mentor. Here is Emmanuel d'Harcourt, Senior Health Director at the International Rescue Committee, discussing how he and his colleagues have benefitted from mentoring and an executive coach:

    • Technology is your friend. Whether you're sponsoring leadership development programs or working directly with your staff, there is a likely place for technology to help strengthen your in-person training and help scale your program so that it can reach more leaders. See this video on the platform for global leadership development programs:

    • Networking is necessary. Helping leaders understand how to develop, nurture and leverage their networks successfully is instrumental in today's networked world. Rob Gordon, who runs the Leaderosity platform for the Presidio Institute, continues to value and lean on his network not only for opportunities, but for ideas, problem solving and work-related collaboration.
    • Embrace entrepreneurship. Whether you are working directly with social entrepreneurs or are working in the context of a more traditional nonprofit organization, there is a growing number of innovative changemakers who are founding and running social enterprises and purpose-driven organizations. Embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and skills can help strengthen training programs and organizational culture. Here is Alexandra Meis, founder of the education technology company, Kinvolved, discussing the impact of our Emerging Innovators Boot camp.

  • Comprehensive engagement is essential. In order to ensure long lasting impact, leadership development can't be just a one-time or ad hoc program. You will need to invest, as we have, in ongoing programs, on-line learning and alumni networks for continuous, comprehensive and life-long development of leaders in your organization.

It's a journey, and as we say at American Express, the journey never stops! Check for more leadership journey stories like the ones featured here.

Author and Pastor John Maxwell once said, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way." We think that part of showing the way is helping others develop as leaders.

But, don't take my word for it. Listen to Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE who wrote, "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues.

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