Most of my friends don’t work in either philanthropy or in the nonprofit sector, and they usually provide an interesting perspective on the work that I do. So, as I was thinking about writing this blog in response to the launch of the Statewide Capacity Collaborative (SCC’s) Leadership Scan in Washington State, I asked a few of them to tell me who they felt was the best leader they had ever met. The most compelling and surprising answer was “my mom”!

When questioned, my friend explained “well, my mom managed a house of five—two adults and three kids—but she also led a house of five. She made sure we were all on the same page most of the time (in spite of the fact that my sisters and I never agreed on anything!) and, even if I didn’t agree with her decisions (why did I have to sit and eat with everyone when my favorite TV show was on?) or what she wanted us to do (grocery shopping as a family on a Saturday afternoon, really?) or how she wanted us to do it (why did I have to do the dishes when my sister just had to set the table?), we all followed her lead because somehow, deep down, we knew that she loved our family more than anything and would do whatever it took to ensure our family was strong and prospered, emotionally and physically.” (Of course, my friend sees all this with hindsight!) For some reason, this is the answer that I can’t stop thinking about. Not many of us would think about our mom as a leader; maybe as a manager, yes, but a leader? Yet the more I think about it, the more this response resonates with me.

Leadership really isn’t about formal education or positional title. How many of us have worked with someone who, in theory, was leading a project but the reality was that a deputy director or project manager was providing more leadership to the team? This can be especially true in communities or progressive movements pushing for change.

Similarly, there is no ‘correct’ definition of leadership. Leadership is defined by the situational context and by the cultural context. This is why the Leadership Scan defines leadership as “the process of working with others in order to move forward an organizational vision and agenda” and why my friend’s mom so perfectly fits the bill as a leader!

Regardless of how you define leadership, we should all be able to agree that strong leadership is necessary in our organizations and in our communities, and that we need to invest in leaders (at every stage in their careers) if we are to ensure a strong and resilient nonprofit sector in the future.

Please read the SCC and CompassPoint’s Washington State Leadership Scan, and think about what leadership means to you. How do you define leadership? Who is the best leader you have met? Why? Then let’s think about how we, as a sector, can strengthen and support our nonprofit leaders to ensure their continued success.


This blog post was written to coincide with the release of the Statewide Capacity Collaborative’s report, Washington State Leadership Scan, researched and authored by CompassPoint. Over the next few weeks, members of the SCC, including the Seattle Foundation, SVP Seattle, and Satterberg Foundation and Sherwood Trust, will be blogging their response to the report. The SCC, of which Campion Foundation is a proud member, hopes that the release of this report will spark a lively conversation in WA about leadership and investments in the nonprofit sector which would best support nonprofit leadership.