Why I Quit My Executive Director Job (Or The Importance of a Common Vision)

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.51.33 AM

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 11.51.33 AM

Several years ago I had a part-time job as the executive director of a small nonprofit. It was a great job in many ways. I loved our mission, the people we served, and the challenges we faced. Plus, at the time the job was a perfect complement to my other consulting work.

However, I had one main problem with the job: the board chair (also the founder) and I had dramatically different visions for the organization. He wanted us to be a somewhat regional program that used our nonprofit status primarily to qualify for funds. I, however, wanted us to become a strong nonprofit organization with a larger and larger national reach.

It's important to note that I liked and respected the chair. We were friends and worked well together in many ways. But we -- the two leaders of the organization -- simply had two starkly different visions. One vision wasn't necessarily better than the other. This difference led to my departure.

Your vision directs your actions. Because my vision was to grow the organization, I was always trying to catalyze strategic planning, staff/board development, and other capacity building ventures. The board chair resisted my efforts because those activities didn't support his vision. The result is that we grew more and more frustrated with each other and, despite our attempts, we couldn't reconcile our clashing visions. So I left.I've thought back on that situation many times and I always come to the same conclusion. Leaving was the right thing to do.The experience taught me some key lessons:

  • The relationship between the executive director and the board chair is often the most critical one in a nonprofit. If that working relationship is fractured then it impacts everyone. It should be an organization's priority to get that relationship right.

  • An aligned organizational vision is central to a leadership team's effectiveness. The healthiest organizations have leaders with common ideas for where the organization is going.

  • Despite the best intentions, sometimes people have to move on from their jobs.

These lessons have impacted my strategic planning consulting work. I'm always interested in the ED-Chair dynamic and the vision of the leadership team. It's a red flag for me if I see problems there. It should be a red flag for you too.I hope my story and lessons learned are of help to you.