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A blog for nonprofit leaders featuring fresh voices, perspectives, strategies, and news about the relational work of fundraising that inspires abundant, sustainable, and meaningful philanthropy.

  • Otto Reinisch

From the Crucible: Your Journey Toward Values-Based Leadership

More than ever, values-based leadership is the true ‘North Star’ organizations need for direction, meaning, and purpose. In today’s blog, I share an effective strategy every nonprofit leader can follow to become this dependable, authentic source of hope their constituents need, especially in times of crisis.

The hardest questions for nonprofit leaders to answer are not about challenges in front of them. Instead, they’re deeply personal questions about what’s inside.

A distressed nonprofit board chair called me, unsure about his role regarding a potentially divisive board vote. While helping him develop a strategy to address this, I asked,“Regardless of the outcome, as future generations look back on this vote, how do you want to be remembered?” After a moment of silence, he responded,

“Thank you. I know what I need to do.”

Our values are the roadmap and guard rails that guide and define us as leaders. The best of us are those who know what we value most and then courageously live – and lead – according to those values in every situation…and whatever the cost.

While there are many ways to develop values-based leadership, this strategy has helped many nonprofit leaders – both professional and lay – become the trustworthy, dependable “North Star” their organizations need.

A Less-Traveled Journey Toward Values-Based Leadership

First, our essential self is revealed in the crucible; in the trials and challenges of life. Revisit significant personal and/or professional moments when you faced adversity. Write down as much as you can about each situation.

Next, thoughtfully consider how you responded to each. Don’t filter your answers; describe what worked as well as what didn’t.

Now, ask probing questions about each response. Be thorough in your answers. Be aware of feelings as you write; make note of those. Here are some questions to help you get started:

For each trial or challenge…

  • What did I fear or worry about?

  • What did it feel like at my lowest points? (Here, analogies are helpful. “When I knew the program would fail, it felt like…”)

  • Who helped me during this trying time? What did they do?

  • Did I read, hear, or see something that encouraged me?

  • What do I wish I had done differently? Why?

  • What did I do that makes me proud today?

Next, identify the values embedded in each response. Use a “Socratic” type of questioning that digs deep to uncover motives behind each response. This is best accomplished through dialogue with a trusted friend.

Finally, make a list of the top values you identify. Turn each into an action statement. For example, if “learning” is one of your values, you might write: “Being a learner means I ask others to evaluate my leadership and recommend ways I can be more effective”.

In Closing...Words of Encouragement

I hope the following recommendations encourage and inform your own leadership journey.

1. Be patient. Values-based leadership is not a goal to attain; it’s a lifelong journey requiring honest self-evaluation, continual learning, and the courage to be authentic. Walk slowly at first. Practice. Take one step at a time. You'll grow more confident along the way.

2. Turn off technology. In our digital age, we look to our phones at the first sign of boredom and project only our best selves on social media (even when not true). Discovering the real you is an intensely personal, yet extremely rewarding, process. Give it the full attention and the “authentic you” it deserves.

3. Ask others to help. We lack the objectivity needed to describe the emotions experienced in this process. Relax, it’s not you. Emotions are a ‘right brain’ function and this side of our gray matter has limited language capabilities. A trusted friend can help provide the objectivity you need to identify and articulate what you feel.

4. Don’t quit. There’ll come a time (or two) in the process when your feelings are scary and the lack of progress is discouraging. Keep going...go deeper. You’re getting close to the answers that will make you the authentic leader you want to be.


This process also is meaningful journey for nonprofit boards to take together as the identify - often for the first time - authentic values that guide and define the organization. Because I only facilitate this personal process with boards in person, my work is ‘on hold’ until life in the pandemic resets to our new normal.

Until then, let me know how you’re doing. Your journey will be worthwhile as you become the confident, steady, dependable values-based leader others follow on their own paths of discovery.

Please write should you have questions or simply need a word of encouragement along the way.

- Otto [otto@whywegive.net]

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