The Ship Can’t Sail Without the Captain: Executive Directors Need to be Engaged Too

By Carol D’Agostino

The Nonprofit ScreamToday, we are constantly hearing about employee engagement and how it is critical in order for organizations to be strong, efficient and effective. However, is it even possible to have engaged employees if your Executive Director is not engaged? The answer is no, and instead you have a sinking ship on your hands. That ship might be trying to stay afloat because your staff is partially engaged through their emotional engagement, but if that Executive Director isn’t removed or doesn’t leave, that ship is sinking…….guaranteed. Of course there is the possibility of re-engaging the Executive Director, but the chances of that happening are usually slim.

So, how do Executive Directors recognize when they are the one that is losing their engagement? Well, this is a tough one because let’s face it – who wants to admit that they are the problem? But, let’s take a closer a look at why this is happening and who is really at fault. Executive Director’s suffer the most from lack of engagement in their work because there is no one to engage them. They are responsible for engaging their staff and for their own engagement as well.

So let’s start by thinking about why you became an Executive Director in the first place. Now think about the organization you work for, the mission behind it, and the people or cause you stand for. This is your emotional engagement. This is your WHY. This is your partial engagement, but we all know we need a lot more than this to keep us going in a job. Emotional engagement just isn’t enough. The Board offers minimal to no engagement. This has not been addressed enough and the interaction between the Board and the Executive Director should be one that is both healthy and meaningful.

Executive Directors need the same engagement a typical staff member needs. The expectation is unrealistic and Executive Directors will eventually burnout. Unfortunately, they can take an entire team with them without even realizing what they are doing. Having seen it first hand, the best Executive Directors can turn into an organization’s worst nightmare.

It’s time for the Board to engage their Executive Directors and for Executive Directors to take an honest look at their work and their job satisfaction. Taking a simple 10 minute survey every 6 months, asking yourself and your staff some basic job satisfaction /engagement questions can mean all the difference in the world. Remember your WHY and be honest with yourself. If the Captain can’t sail the ship, it will sink – It always starts at the top. Employees leave managers, not jobs. Focus on the top first and then work your way down.