Surveys consistently show that nonprofit organizations are acutely aware of their leadership development gaps, but unsure about how to address them. The nonprofit leadership teams that Bridgespan has surveyed single out leadership development and succession planning as their most glaring organizational weakness by a margin of better than two to one. Of the nearly 900 leaders who have completed Bridgespan’s leadership diagnostic survey, about two-thirds disagree with the statement that “our organization is highly effective in developing a strong internal and external pipeline of future leaders.”
While resource constraints are one challenge most nonprofits face, the biggest obstacle to improved leadership development may be the behavior of leaders. A change of thinking is needed to overcome this obstacle. Bridgespan has created Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? as a guide to help nonprofits think differently about leadership development. Plan A treats leadership development not as an ad hoc response to crisis but as a proactive and systematic investment in building a pipeline of leaders within an organization, so that when transitions are necessary, leaders at all levels are ready to answer the call.
At the heart of the leadership development discipline is Plan A–a three-year road map for the future that spells out an organization’s evolving leadership needs, identifies future leaders, and details activities to strengthen their leadership muscle. While the future itself may not unfold exactly as expected, having a plan allows the organization to develop leaders more intentionally and effectively. Plan A is created and executed through the five linked processes detailed in this guide. The processes are:
- Engaging senior leaders
- Mapping out a vision of the future leadership team
- Developing future leaders
- Seeking new talent to fill gaps
- Monitoring and improving the process of developing leaders