In 2013 and in 2015 PLC undertook research about the Executive Director experience in Peel (see our ED Surveys HERE). Much of the information uncovered by the surveys has driven the work PLC has delivered over the past several years. It has been the evidence upon which we’ve built programming and our overall organizational strategy. It is an invaluable piece of our organizational foundation.

Recently the Ontario Nonprofit Network released ‘Leading our Future: Leadership Competencies in Ontario’s Nonprofit Sector’. This brilliant research reveals the 7 key competencies that leaders of the future will need at different moments based on organizational needs, and at different times in a leader’s career. We’ve quoted the competencies directly from the report, below;

  • “Builder of a strong, adaptive, and diverse organization that embodies a clear vision, mission, and values.
  • Thinker that anticipates change, understands dynamics, assesses data, and analyzes situations and environments.
  • Mentor to support growth and development in employees and volunteers, and a model of perseverance, patience and resilience in a complex, uncertain environment.
  • Storyteller and champion of the mission-driven and value-based work of the nonprofit and sector to clearly establish a compelling identity and profile.
  • Innovator that promotes learning and takes responsible risks to adapt and adjust to the changing environment.
  • Connector to identify and develop critical relationships, partnerships, networks and collaborates within and across sectors.
  • Steward that manages the nonprofit’s human, capital, and financial resources, accepts responsibility for accountability and transparency and introduces technology and management strategies to strengthen capacity for the long-term.” (page 40)


This report not only identifies the competencies the sector needs, but outlines how we can move towards creating the conditions to foster these competencies.

Looking at both vital reports (the PLC Survey and the ONN report), created at different times and for different needs, it occurred to us that there are key areas where implementing some of the actions identified in the ONN report that will move us toward creating conditions that foster these competencies, can address some of the findings regarding stress and burnout uncovered by the PLC ED Survey.

The ONN report provides recommendations on how nonprofits can move toward developing these competencies within the sector and our organizations (while also recognizing that many future leaders may come to the nonprofit sector from other sectors). One such recommendation is that

“[n}onprofit organizations need to better develop and support their internal emerging leaders through succession planning, recruitment, training, and development. Nonprofits need to be ‘intentional’ and strategic about developing leaders and sharing opportunities for employees to exercise leadership skills. Existing leaders need to develop leadership within their organizations by giving opportunity and responsibility to potential leaders and taking risks by giving staff ownership of a project or initiative and promoting learning as part of a development path.” (page 32)

Developing leadership competencies and leaders within our organizations means redistributing some of the responsibilities held by EDs to identified staff members. It requires taking a risk (real or perceived) but it feeds a staff member’s leadership development. These future leaders are given the opportunity to ‘try out’ ED activities, responsibilities and initiatives which develops skills, builds leadership confidence and, also, lessens some of the workload with which EDs are burdened.

The 2015 PLC ED Survey identified that “92% of EDs reported they feel some degree of burnout…” (page i). This burnout statistic was one of the most alarming (though perhaps not surprising) statistics uncovered by the survey. Burnout has been linked to a multitude of risks including mental, physical and emotional health issues. The survey indicates that ED burnout is attributed to many factors including a dearth of ‘staff with a primary responsibility for a range of functional areas…’ (page 10). Thus, many EDs are managing such high workloads that they are potentially negatively impacting their health. A lesser but important issue for our sector is that the burnout experienced by EDs also impacts the organization’s capacity and resilience. When the leader is in distress, so is the organization.

The PLC survey does include ‘Calls to Action’ for EDs in order to combat their stress and burnout:

“In the interest of organizational resilience and your workload, encourage and support emerging leaders to develop skills in key areas. Once they have, delegate some of your responsibilities and decisions to them.” (page 13)

Empowering staff with decision making control and responsibility for projects, programs and outcomes does present a risk, but it’s benefits may outweigh it.

Part of succession work and internal leadership development requires staff to learn while on the job and access learning and development opportunities outside the office as well. In order to develop our emerging leaders, we can provide them with roles and responsibilities that challenge and build their skills and grow their talents. Delegating responsibilities traditionally held by EDs to staff members could form part of their leadership development plan. And once those staff have been trained, prepared and empowered to undertake those initiatives, the ED’s workload decreases. Of course it requires thoughtful planning, onboarding and oversight, to ensure people are prepared and systems are in place.

Part of our role as ‘Leader’ is to develop future leaders. The success, resiliency and capacity of our organizations, plus the future health and vitality of our sector rely on emerging leaders. Developing emerging and future leaders requires current leaders to steward their learning and development. This is accomplished when emerging leaders are identified then given the training and opportunity to take on decision making and significant responsibility within an organization. In so doing, the stress and burnout attributed to excessive workloads experienced by 92% of EDs decreases.

The health of current EDs and the future of the nonprofit sector depend upon it.

Are you able to share some of your responsibilities with staff? How are you managing it? We’d love to hear from you so let us know in the comments or contact us at

Until next time,


This week’s blog was written by Tina de los Santos. Tina brings a diverse mix of nonprofit and business leadership to her role at PLC. Throughout her career she has been passionate about creating engaging learning experiences that support and inspire people’s professional and personal growth. Tina is our chief knowledge sharer and enjoys digitally connecting with other leaders in Peel to help them find great resources and learning tools.

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