Failed Leadership: When Good Organizations Go Bad
The award-winning documentary film Redemption: The No Kill Revolution in America (written by Nathan Winograd and funded by No Kill Nation) chronicles the early days of the animal welfare movement in the United States. It was a movement born of compassion that, tragically, lost its way.
The history documented in the film is clear: animal shelters that were born from a vision of saving homeless pets became the leading killers of healthy dogs and cats in America. Unfortunately, in big and small ways, history continues repeating itself. Examples of it are everywhere.
PETA, an organization that professes to be a voice for animals, steals and kills pets.
Best Friends Animal Society advocates for shortening stray hold periods for lost pets.
Operators of lost and found pet systems refuse to share their data with others, thereby ensuring it is harder for families to find their lost pets, rather than easier.
Many animal shelters across the USA continue killing the majority of animals in their care while failing to implement programs to save them.
Each of the above bullet points might seem separate and isolated. Each, however, has a common connecting factor that can be clearly defined, measured and articulated, based on the field of organizational and leadership development. These examples represent failures in leadership. More specifically, they represent failures in a specific area of leadership: Management of vision and purpose, which is a critical aspect of leadership for any nonprofit and one of the most difficult leadership competencies to identify, select for and train, because it is also a relatively rare skill to have. To make matters worse, many organizations don't even know they need to select leaders who have this capability.
Fundamentally, leadership who are good at managing the vision and purpose of an organization are capable of identifying and clearly articulating the organization's mission, while ensuring that all operations and activities directly link back to it. They are also good at enrolling others to help fulfill it, without being taken off track by the bumps and pitfalls that come at them on a daily basis. In effect, they own the vision and take the pursuit of it on as their own personal lives missions.
Lacking leadership that is passionately driven by a compelling vision, it becomes too easy for organizations to make bad decisions, based on distracting factors, like fundraising or expediency. Then, an organization's choices and actions become disconnected from the core vision or purpose of the organization.
Strangely, when an organization's leadership becomes unmoored from the organization's vision, it is often easier for people outside the organization to see it. After all, the leaders have rationalized the choices they make and the actions they take. To them, their actions make sense, even if, on a broader perspective, they don't directly connect back to the mission of the organization.
One thing that should give all organizations reason to be concerned, including those that currently manage their vision and purpose very well, is this: Too often there are a small number of individuals in leadership positions that truly own and live this critical function. If and when those leaders leave, the organization's vision is at risk. This is made worse by the fact that people and organizations are notoriously bad at assessing their own leadership competencies, and most have no plan in place for identifying, recruiting, retaining and developing this skill, or any of the other critical competencies needed to run an effective animal charity. As a result, it is not surprising to see good organizations go bad.