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Identifying and empowering key organizational tools

CEO of the National Sports Center shares leadership ideas, such as discovering the why


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Four months ago I started a new position as the CEO of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD). The NSCD is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports agencies of its kind. Each year, more than 3,000 children and adults with disabilities participate in the programs to learn more about sports, themselves and their potential. The NSCD teaches more than 15 games and activities year-round to individuals with almost any imaginable physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral diagnosis.

This is my dream job – a coming-together of personal passions, professional expertise and the true privilege to lead a team of extraordinary individuals who are changing lives every day by providing transformative experiences to people living with disabilities. 

The stakes are high for me and as you can imagine, stepping into such a role in an organization that is nearly 50 years old, and one I believe in so deeply, is an overwhelming and daunting task.

So where to begin?

I’ve learned that empowering employees with these four key ingredients has helped me succeed including: vision, relationships, authenticity and boldness. Here’s why.

1. VISION

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are clear in communicating their vision. When everyone in an organization at every level understands the vision (the WHY), it builds a sense of belonging and connection to something bigger than themselves. As humans, we are hard wired with the need to belong. This makes us feel safe, inspired and engaged. When connected, we act on the good of the whole not because we have to, but because we want to. Inspired organizations require more than inspired leaders, but every single person must also think, act and communicate from the inside out by being connected to the WHY.

2. RELATIONSHIPS

Organizational success requires interpersonal trust and strong bonds. To build resilient relationships we often have to slow down to go fast.  We have to invest the time in listening well. We have to know our WHY, develop clarity around it, and then listen to whether or not our teams feel a motivating connection.  We cannot assume that a WHY that is established by a board or leadership team inspires the team members who are out on the front lines implementing it every day. Take the time and create the space to give everyone a voice in your organizational WHY statement. Once you have created this clarity, you must follow through and prove it with all that you do. 

3. AUTHENTICITY

Authenticity requires a leader to be vulnerable. This is often difficult as leaders are seen or see themselves as impenetrable.  Authentic communication requires both speaking from the mind and the heart directly to the minds and hearts of others.  Leaders have to be clear, not just about the alignment of change or direction of organizational goals, but also about their own stake in the strategy and why it is important to them personally.

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to face the assumptions that have been barriers in the past, we become free to look for connections and to notice patterns or relationships that had been previously veiled by assumptions. When we are able to see and experience things as they are rather than how others have told you they are, how thing have always been, or even how you think they should be, new opportunities, approaches, and ideas grow and develop.  When teams are invited into this type of authentic and vulnerable thinking -then all ideas are on the table, smarter decisions and more synergy, ownership and commitment to the strategy prevail.

4. BOLDNESS

Organizations that are mission- and passion-driven face difficult conversations because teams have strong emotions, opposing opinions and all decisions feel high stake when the ultimate impact is on the client everyone is there to serve. To impact change, a strong leader must recognize that people will only take action and change behavior if they feel that they have the tools and resources they need, if they feel they have the support of their peers and their leaders and if they are personally able and motivated to meet the new expectations. 

A leader must set clear expectations about the direction an organization is moving, but also ensure that the people they are asking to move toward that vision, have what they need to do so. These four values have helped me in the past create clarity and engage employee commitment.  

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Kim Easton

Kim Easton joined NSCD in April 2017. She has an extensive background in nonprofit management and leadership. Prior to this role, Easton was CEO at Urban Peak, Colorado Bright Beginnings and also worked with other nonprofit organizations as both an employee and in board governance roles. She was recently awarded a highly sought after seat with the Livingston Fellowship program, which provides advanced learning and professional development opportunities to promising nonprofit leaders.

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