6 Minutes With a CEO
President, The Forbes Funds
- As someone who has led numerous nonprofit organizations, what management practices do you feel are most important for any aspiring young leader to do well?
As a nonprofit leader, your greatest assets are your Trustees and your staff. With that in mind, identify the strength of your Trustees and give them the opportunity to add value by creating a shared vision, a plan for execution and follow through. This will build a level of trust and credibility that will allow you to move an agenda forward (even if there is no previous track record).
Allow your staff the opportunity to be an "expert." I hire people whose talents are different than mine. This way, we can get multiple perspectives and viewpoints that produce better outcomes.
Finally, have good systems and procedures. There are never enough hours in the day to meet the demands of your organizational mission. Therefore, practice the discipline of building your organizational capacity. Have a strategic plan that the board, staff and volunteers understand, use it as your roadmap and adjust accordingly, make sure good systems are in place, seek out evaluation and collect data as a vehicle for improved service delivery.
Each year, I asked if our mission still had relevance, if we were still best suited to serve that mission, and whether we were making a difference. We discussed this as a board and staff.
- What experience (formal or informal) do you feel has been the most helpful in the development of your leadership skills?
There are three things that have most influenced my leadership skills:
- Constantly try new things. Each time I go someplace new or try a new experience, it builds my confidence, increases my understanding of the world and teaches me to be adaptive to a constantly changing environment. This happens when I travel, seek out people with perspectives different than mine or try something new. It can happen through something as simple as a new recipe, taking a trip, meeting new people or a new activity (such as rowing).
- Seek feedback. I thrive on feedback and use it to become a better leader. I find that the feedback challenges me and often leads to a better outcome. If you stay focused on the goal or mission, you can remain open to new ideas, which will lead to better results.
- Pursue role models. I know the term "Mentor" is used often. It's a big word that can, at times, feel heavy for people. Instead, think about a problem you would like to solve or issue that is challenging you, then find the person who you think is best suited to respond. I learn so much from seeking out others who can give me a perspective that I may not have considered. By giving them a question to respond to, the conversation quickly becomes substantive, exciting and relevant.
In the end, the real thrill of being a leader comes from being relentless in your pursuit of excellence. It's contagious and inspires those around you to be their best, too!
- I know that being involved in sports has been important to your development as a leader. What did you learn from these early experiences that helps you today?
Having been an avid basketball and softball player, I have learned many life lessons that remain core to my leadership style:
- When a team works in tandem, the outcome is infinitely better.
- A high performing team will always do better than one superstar and a group of supporting players.
- There is nothing as wonderful as mastery of a skill – if you give those you are working with the same opportunity to master a skill, you will be unbeatable.
- Even when you're down with minutes remaining, you can still work magic!
- Never give up!
- It's important to be a good loser and an even better winner.
- As a woman, it's OK to be competitive and want to win.
- Just when you think you can't give any more, give a little more.
- Life is full of tough disappointments and wonderful successes. Embrace both.
- What's the best leadership advice you ever received?
While it's good to know your strengths, it's even more important to develop your weaknesses. In the times of greatest stress, your less instinctive skills may be required. Develop them well enough to draw upon them when needed.
- We hear from many people outside of the world of philanthropy that feel it is a "closed" or secret society. How has leading a foundation differed from leading a community based nonprofit?
I've suddenly become very smart and popular! Seriously, I've found that we share the same vision – creating healthy, vibrant communities. On the nonprofit side, I was part of the "human capital" that implemented the mission of the organization. Now, in philanthropy, I get to be part of the "venture capital" that finances the effort. Those are the differences. The similarities, however, are far more compelling. As I mentioned, both are joined by a shared vision, they also bring infinite knowledge and resources to the table and have the privilege of spending days trying to create a better world. We all deal every day with complex issues that require everyone's participation, voice and ideas to create the change we seek.
- What advice would you provide for anyone seeking a career in philanthropy?
The art of good grantmaking is a balance between expertise and good judgment. There are times when the data should drive the decisions and times when it is simply the right decision for the right reasons. We live in a world where increasingly expertise makes you more competitive. The same holds true for philanthropy. To become an expert on a topic will be invaluable. Complement it with analytical skills, and you will be well on your way.
- Please complete this sentence – People would be surprised to know that…
I LOVE to jump rope, find cooking to be relaxing and would like to someday sing the national anthem at a baseball game.
- What's a leadership lesson/advice you'd like to pass on to our readers…
Leadership is about allowing others to be part of a shared vision with you. Always be willing to put yourself out there, take risks, be reflective, value EVERY opinion and do the right thing for the right reasons. It won't always be easy, and it will sometimes be lonely and scary – but it will always be worth it.
Diana Bucco is the President of The Forbes Funds, a Pittsburgh-based foundation that supports nonprofit capacity-building, research and leadership development.
Previously, she was the founding director of the Coro Center for Civic Leadership and The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania. She is on numerous boards and advisory committees, including YouthPlaces, the YWCA, Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors and Advancing Academics, and is a member of the Women’s Funders Roundtable. Nationally, she serves on the Independent Sector Public Policy Advisory Board, National Council of Nonprofit Board of Directors and the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations 2010 planning committee.
Diana has been recognized by Pittsburgh Magazine’s “40 Under 40,” a list of rising young leaders in the Pittsburgh region, and was recently awarded a German Marshall Fellowship. She was also recognized by the state as one of the top ten of the GenX generation.
Diana holds bachelors degrees in communications and political science from the University of Pittsburgh.
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