Being a Purpose-Driven Leader in a Native Nonprofit

When preparing to write this blog, I did a little research on the meaning behind purpose-driven leadership and found that Harvard Business Review narrows it down to 5 principles: clarity of purpose, role and whom you serve, value and authenticity. As CEO of one of the largest Native-led nonprofits, I considered these principles, any purpose-driven leaders I could identify and what within myself aligns to these principles.

For instance, I have always wanted to leave things better than I found them. As consummate coach, I really want to help people learn and evolve. I surround myself with people that are smarter than me. To me, being bold and transformative is awesome. I think leading from the front is important, but listening to the back is too. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.

Next, here are my takeaways from Harvard’s principles of purposeful leadership.

What is your purpose?

Leadership is hard, but having a clear purpose can help lower some of the anxiety that goes along with being in a leadership role. As the Harvard article points out, trying to be a know-it-all or the smartest-person-in-the-room does not equate to good leadership. In fact, it can create an overly competitive and toxic environment. Being clear about your purpose, building up others and creating a collaborative environment will produce a healthier outcome.

What is your role?

When entering an organization as a new leader, clarity about your role can be illusive, murky or shifting. Sure, every organization has defined roles and responsibilities, guidelines or guardrails for their leader. However, when charting a different course and resurrecting teams to prominence, you may find yourself wearing completely different hats such as counselor, assessor, arbiter, evaluator, strategic planner and final decision maker.

Whom do you serve?

I love this question, because when I think of PWNA, I know exactly whom I serve. I serve the Tribal communities we partner with, the students to whom we award scholarships, the beneficiaries of our relief services, and the donors and staff that make it all happen. My experience at PWNA and prior experience working with Native students across the U.S. contribute to my certainty around service. The Tribal communities where we work are not abstract places to me, I’ve been there, experienced them firsthand and know people who live there. Serving Indian Country is my passion, and I try to convey that message to my team every chance I get. PWNA has so many great people working behind the scenes, I always try to recognize them for their dedication and hard work.

What values drive you?

I believe values are important not only to leadership but because they also determine how you are outside of work and within your community. Do you live by honesty, integrity and compassion when the camera is off? Are you truthful, dependable and accountable beyond the four walls of the office? Do you live by these values or merely project what’s expected? Living with integrity means your thoughts, words and actions are aligned to your values.

Are you being authentic?

One thing I have learned is that I can only be me, and I consistently try to be the best version of myself. Understanding your truth, your authenticity and your values is something that comes with life experience. For a long time, I did not know my self-worth, and I did not think I could bring much value to an organization. But after 20 years of work and life experiences, 15 years of recovery and countless failures/rejections/denials, I have learned some better ways to be and live, and that includes being authentic and vulnerable.

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