7 Magnificent Ways to Lead Nonprofit Teams

In the 2016 remake of the film the Magnificent Seven, a small town is terrorized by a greedy land baron and his men. As a result, the townsfolk get together to hire U.S. Marshall and Bounty Hunter Sam Chisolm, played by actor Denzel Washington, to help them defend themselves against the land baron. Sam recruits a group of men from a variety of backgrounds to come together and defend the town from tyranny.

With more than 30 years of experience both solving problems and leading teams in the nonprofit sector, the movie Magnificent Seven plays out like many of the nonprofit organizations I've consulted. The people have a problem, they seek out the right leaders, the leaders build a team, and they all work together to defeat the enemy.


To get the best results as a leader of a nonprofit, the people you lead should all be saying in one way or the other after you speak, "let's march!" When you speak to people as a leader, it's not what you say that's so important, it’s the action people take after you speak. In a nonprofit organization, if you’re not having the people you lead take the right action, you're giving short shrift to your leadership, their trust in you, and their desire to act for you.


Here are 7 ways nonprofit leaders must facilitate action to get teams marching in the right way for the right purpose at the right time in the right direction.


1. Physical Action


Action is not what your team thinks or feels, it’s what they actually do. Most nonprofit teams act with their hands, feet and tools. When thinking of what action you want your team to perform imagine that they're doing something physical and you're on track. Getting your team to take right action involves challenging them to do one specific thing. There's a saying that "if a train is coming at you, closing your eyes won't save you... but if you look right at it, you at least have a chance to jump.”


In your day-to-day leadership activities, you're probably not meeting such daunting challenges as dodging a moving train, but you can use the principle to raise the effectiveness of your teams activity to much higher levels.


2. Intentional Action


People who act for the sake of staying busy are useless to an organization. It is only those people who act for intentional results who are useful. Make sure your teams’ actions are intentional.


When your team does act, they should know exactly what they're doing and why. Constancy of intentional action in leadership has three aspects: reason, feeling and awareness. Your team should understand the rational justification for the action. They should be intentional in their commitment to the act and be fully mindful that they are acting.


3. Honest Action


If you trick your team into acting or lie to get them to act, you'll damage the element on which all motivation is based, trust. Afterward, you may be able to order them to do a job, but you will never motivate them. Be honest with yourself in developing a call-to-action and be honest with your team in challenging them to act.

"Never esteem anything as an advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect."

- Marcus Aurelius


Leading based on trust is a practical standard for leaders. After all, you won’t know how good you are as a leader unless you can challenge your team to be better than they think they are. They cannot be persuaded to accept that challenge if they think the you or the organization is deceiving them.