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Leadership Monday: Articulate the 'Why'

Daniel Burnham, hailed as a Chicago visionary, once said, “Make no small plans.” Burnham was renowned for leading the design of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago over 100 years ago.

He challenged civic leaders to think big as they envisioned what the future of Chicago would be. The results of his vision are evident today in expansive public parks, open spaces and famous institutions along the shore of Lake Michigan.

While most of us who are engaged in the world of nonprofits are unlikely to be involved in projects of such magnitude, we’ve all seen successful organizations that defied the odds and evolved from the thinking of one or two individual dreams and plans.

What separates the “big dreamers” from others who are “just” ambitious can be seen in leaders who clearly articulate the “why” for their organization? It’s how great leaders inspire others to take action.

When leaders communicates and “live” their vision by example, that vision becomes everyone’s goal. We see it time and again. Without such demonstrated leadership, employees and others often focus solely on their immediate tasks. If they don’t understand how their role contributes to achieving the organization’s vision, their loyalty, energy, pride, and joy in their work suffers. Collecting a paycheck may become the primary motivation, leading to performance and staff turnover.

Remember, the answer to your “why” should not be to compete with others like you. It should be to challenge the status quo of your organization.

A successful nonprofit’s “why”might include improving communications to “building the potential of our youth,” to “empowering a segment of our population,” to “bringing the magic of the arts” to everyone. The vision statement of a successful nonprofit should not focus on a specific solution but rather on the organization’s “why.”

As a leader, what’s your “why?”

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