Plays Well With Others
Perhaps the biggest leadership challenge is understanding that non-profit (particularly IMO) leadership is most often in teams, ie, project teams, functional committees and governance teams. This is often challenging because the leadership experiences many volunteers bring to an IMO, from their day job, may often be based on strong, energetic individual leadership energies. Leading through teams, particularly volunteer-composed teams, is often an wholly new (often frustrating) experience for some volunteers.
My initial reaction to this was one of surprise. ALL leadership is in teams! Of course, I define leadership in terms of a collective capacity, rather than in terms of individual charisma and forcefulness, so I am coming from a different perspective on this topic than many.
But I would suggest we think of OTHER reasons that these leaders are not playing well in the group setting. Even if their day job work cultures are individualistic, I have to think they’ve worked well in teams to get to the top, or at least many of them have (I am speaking generally here, of course, and not about Virgil’s organization specifically).
Now I would agree that you have a general problem when all the volunteer leaders happen to be hierarchical leaders back in their day jobs. Even if they are good at working in groups back at the home office, in their current positions, the members of their groups all report to them (and this is NOT the case in the association context). You get a bunch of people who are used to running the meeting all on the same committee, and it can get frustrating.
But beyond the external factor, what is driving this internally? What is it about the culture of your organization and the underlying assumptions in your governance model that actually reinforces the individualistic behavior? Virgil’s point about starting early with leadership development plays in here. You have the opportunity to actively develop the culture of leadership and move it away from an individual-focused model, but it takes a lot of work and attention. We tend to create governance models based on structure and content and then we end up surprised they don’t work because of the softer “process” issues.