Nonprofit 411: Creating a Great Place to Work: It’s All About Leaders

By Lillian LeBlancLeBlanc

Lillian will be presenting at MNN’s annual conference ADVANCE on October 21. Click here to learn more about this topic or the 20+ other exciting and essential options.

It’s October 21, 2020. You’re sipping coffee from your smartmug as it dictates the latest business news. Suddenly, a visual alert floats before your eyes. It says, “Breaking News from your organization’s PR team: WE DID IT! We’ve been named one of America’s Best Places to Work!” 

The immediate euphoria fades and you proudly reflect.  “We finally made it! I’m pleased that we sent a team to the 2015 MNN conference and listened to the talk on creating a great place to work.  We thought that doggie day care and a company bowling team would make a difference. But, we discovered exactly what every employee really wants – a great work experience, under the guidance of a great leader.”

Transform your organization into a place where employees truly want to be by creating a great leadership team. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization stated in First, Break All the Rules, “A bad boss is the most common reason for employee turnover.”

Investing in the quality of your leadership team pays long-term dividends.  But where do you start? What are the most important first steps, especially for small organizations or nonprofits, where funds may be tight?

  1. Understand your organization’s values

It isn’t enough to copy another organization’s definition of great leadership.  Consider what attributes are critical to support your organization’s desired culture. Is compassion important?  Where does business acumen fit? Gather data from your employees, leaders, board members and clients to understand what they value most in organizational leaders. Assess the quality of your leaders based on these attributes.

  1. Create your succession plan

Succession planning isn’t as challenging as it may sound. Start by evaluating the growth potential and performance of every leader. Ensure objectivity, by relying on documented evidence such as recent performance appraisals.  Conduct a “calibration meeting” where groups of leaders at the same level gather to discuss and rate each other’s direct reports.  Then, fast forward a few years and consider which leaders have potential to rise into “mission-critical positions,” defined as functions that are so crucial to your organization that they cannot be left unfilled. Once completed, you’ll have a succession plan.

  1. Develop successors and fill gaps

 a. Develop internally

One of the best ways to develop leadership talent is through one-on-one work with a professional coach. Using powerful questioning techniques, a coach can help a leader create effective ways to enhance skills or change behavior. Because there are many who call themselves coaches without specific training or expertise, it’s important to seek a coach who is qualified to use the title.  Look for a coach who is a member of the International Coach Federation ( He or she has demonstrated a commitment to quality coach training, continuing education and adherence to a strict code of ethics.

b. Hire externally

If you have key positions that do not have an identified successor (either ready to step in, or able to do so with reasonable development), consider creating a plan to hire an external successor.  Partnering with a skilled executive search firm that has a track record of success in your industry is an excellent succession strategy. A good search firm doesn’t simply refer candidates.  Working in concert with you, the search professionals take time to understand your culture and learn exactly what’s important to be successful in your organization.


Truly great organizations have one thing in common, and it’s not nap rooms or free lunches.  The best places to work know that their ongoing success depends squarely upon attracting, developing and retaining the kind of leaders that employees love to work for.


Lillian LeBlanc is Executive Leadership Development Coach for Baptist Health South Florida. She is also a Senior Coach for Ibis Coaching, LLC and regularly collaborates with ZurickDavis, a Massachusetts-based executive search firm. Lil is credentialed as a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation.