We often hear boards discuss the skill sets, experience, and qualifications desired in a future executive director.
In the hiring process, boards often face the challenging and reoccurring dilemma of choosing between a candidate with trade experience specific to the organization's field and a candidate with leadership experience, albeit unrelated to the organization's field.
As you sit on the board of a non-profit, which would you choose: trade or leadership experience?
The knowledge necessary to make informed decisions can be learned.
If the organization has staff members, those employees are already responsible for the detailed knowledge of operations. And, regardless of staff size, an entire board (and, likely, a fleet of volunteers) possesses valuable institutional knowledge that can be shared with a new executive director.
It is essential for an executive director to have the leadership skill needed to discern when an executive decision is necessary, to tackle making it, and then to follow through.
While there are benefits to hiring a candidate familiar with the organization's field, scope, and audience, those benefits do not outweigh the core, and essential, need for strong leadership. The ability to implement a strategic plan as well as manage finances, people, programs, and projects while demonstrating results is a foundational leadership skill that can be universally applied across multiple industries--nonprofit and for profit--regardless of previous industry experiences.
The absence of institutional knowledge can actually be an asset.
A new executive director brings a fresh perspective to an organization. Combine that with solid leadership experience and your new executive director can uniquely benefit the organization. The less he or she knows about operations, the more questions they might ask and question. The more they ask, the more they may uncover about organizational challenges, inefficiencies, and outdated approaches.
The hiring process is involved and complex. The need for strong leadership is clear, necessary and essential. Does your candidate have what it takes to successfully lead your organization now and into the future?