Sustaining a NORC Program
Guiding Principle # 3
Visionary leaders and strong managers are both critical to the success of a NORC program.
Actions and Considerations
Determine where leadership and managerial skills reside. A program director should be either a good leader or a good manager, but will not necessarily be both. Look for the additional talent you need among board members and partners.
Leaders sometimes emerge from unlikely places. In one program, visionary leadership came from the board chairman of the housing cooperative in which the NORC program was lodged. The program director was a capable, committed, and innovative manager who could carry out that vision. Together, they were able to identify and respond to the aspirations of the residents they served.
Understand the program director’s strengths and limitations. It is easy for a NORC program to evolve in the image of its director. For example, if a director excels in many features of management, the NORC program may be well run. But if the director is intimidated by multi-year planning documents, grant writing, or community networking, those elements will likely be weak unless program partners recognize the gaps and find other ways to fill them.
Encourage bold leadership. A leader who can imagine and describe new ways of doing business and a better future for older adults can empower people at all levels to move together in new directions. An effective leader involves others in deciding how best to achieve the NORC program vision.
Create a leadership-centered culture. The ultimate act of leadership is to instill a sense of responsibility at every level of the NORC program. The resulting culture of commitment allows people with leadership potential to emerge and prevents dependence on a single individual. Identifying and developing new leaders strengthens the NORC program and helps ensure continuity as staff changes. It may also be essential if the program director or other key leaders depart.
Keep in Mind
Leadership needs may evolve over time as the political environment or other factors shift. It is important to be strategic, not defensive, in evaluating leadership skills among NORC program staff, board members, and partners, and to make changes where necessary. Remember, this is not about individual effort and competence; it is about building a responsive team.
Hardworking and committed leaders can sometimes feel and act as though all responsibility falls on them. In trying to do everything, they can become self-righteous and impatient with process. Ultimately, this leads to burnout and a failure to delegate or to engage adequately with partners. Sustainable organizations can not depend solely on an “heroic leader.” Continue to Guiding Principle #4