Are you ready to lead? Get your “career ducks” in a row!

I’ve been thinking a lot about New Year’s Resolutions this year, probably because I was successful in keeping mine for the first time ever last year (I went to bed earlier/slept more and lost the baby weight I’d been carrying for 5 years). I want to build on that success in 2012 – and I’d like to more. Or maybe something bigger.

I decided that this is the year to get my “career ducks” in a row. I love where I am working right now; it’s a great fit professionally and personally. But I’ve heard that there is a huge leadership gap expected in the nonprofit sector right between 2016 and 2018 as more baby boomers – the first of whom turned 65 last year – decide to retire. Back in 2006, Bridgespan Group claimed that approximately 640,000 leadership positions would need to be filled to close that gap. While there is some debate about whether that figure will actually be higher, or much lower, as a result of the recession, the fact of the matter is: retirement will continue to be an option for current leaders. And, as a result, their positions will need to be filled. By qualified candidates.

Those of us in the X and Y Generations should be preparing for those roles now, getting ready to lead in the nonprofit sector in the future.

While researching what “career ducks” I need to get in said row, to prepare for my next leadership position, I came across a lot of information and advice for “mapping your nonprofit career,” and for “how to market yourself in the nonprofit sector.” I read articles by search firms and human resource directors, discussing the qualities they’re looking for in leaders, and what they believe the trends are going to be over the next several years. As a result, I’ve culled this list of five common recommended actions for preparing to lead:

  1. Upgrade your talent.
  2. Be present (and aware of) where opportunities are being shared.
  3. Share your talents.
  4. Establish your value within your current organization.
  5. Build your personal brand.

Now that we know what the “ducks” (or actions) are, it’s time to figure out how to line them up! For this post, let’s look at the first, “upgrade your talent.” It’s not enough anymore to be passionate about an organization’s mission. Our jobs are getting more technical and more complex. As a result, there is a “flight to quality” among those recruiting nonprofit leaders. We must be technically skilled as well as passionate. At the same time, our competition for those leadership positions is getting stiffer and stiffer, as nonprofits are casting their nets wider and wider for the best candidates.

Upgrading your talent can include anything from furthering your formal education to keeping up with industry trends through webinars and white papers.

On the formal side, you may consider pursuing a graduate degree in nonprofit leadership; several universities right here in the Twin Cities have excellent programs with great reputations and amazing faculty and staff, many of whom are seasoned nonprofit leaders. Think the expense isn’t worth it? A recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study found that the unemployment rate is just 3% among those with graduate degrees. I will finish my Master of Public Affairs degree at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs in August.  So, check! I’m working on formally upgrading my talent through a masters program.

If the expense (both money and time) of completing a grad program is too much to handle, or you want to brush up on industry trends, check out the reasonably-priced conferences, trainings, webinars and white papers offered by many organizations, including the Nonprofit Technology Network, Network for Good’s Nonprofit 911, the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, and our own Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Another check for me here: I regularly peruse blogs, white papers and free webinars for useful information. It costs me nothing and may net important new information. For example, I attended a free Network for Good Webinar just this week on developing an Inbound Marketing strategy – while it was fairly basic, it was also free, and gave me a few ideas to implement and a few to follow up on in the future.

There are many other ways to upgrade your talent, too!  How are you upgrading your talent to prepare to lead? What other ideas for upgrading talent do you have for the folks who are going to follow in your footsteps? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

As for the other four “career ducks,” I’ll touch on those in future posts. In the meantime, happy resolution keeping!