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5 Insights into Being a Trustworthy Public or Nonprofit Leader 

By Tayo Switzer
Owner, Leadership 6 Consulting; Instructor, Glenn College MAPS Courses

Public and nonprofit leaders are mission driven and desire to serve the public good. If that is who you are today or desire to be, it’s vital that you stay true to what drives you to serve others. You will radiate your purpose, and others will be attracted to your agenda and want to support your cause. Your internal mission to serve others is your anchor. It’s also your north star and moral compass. When you are true to yourself, your anchor, North Star and moral compass keep you grounded and focused, and you become more trustworthy to others. 

Reduce Drama

Public and nonprofit work is typically people centered. As such, it is ripe for drama. With so many competing agendas, needs and desires, the work is fertile for wicked problems. A tendency of public and nonprofit leaders is to feed the drama in your dialogue with others. Don’t let drama be your conversational currency. Instead, see how well your vision shows up in every meaningful conversation you have with your team and your stakeholders. Notice whether you are actively moving conversations away from drama and toward vision. Reflect on how well you prepare to ensure vision is the noticeable currency of your exchanges.

Relentlessly Prioritize

There is no better way to maintain focus than to relentlessly prioritize your work and attention. In public and nonprofit work, there is a never-ending pull for one’s attention. Prioritization is a practice, and you as leader set the level of importance and discipline of prioritization in your organization. Your practice must use your internal compass to sort through what is important and what is not. And then help others do the same. Your internal compass should point to a need for wellbeing and productivity and move you toward feeling whole and confident in your decisions. In time, your sense of commitment and conviction will strengthen because prioritization pushes you to clarify your values and make tough choices as to how you spend your time and energy.  

Work Through Differences 

Differences always exist between you and those you lead. But differences also live inside you. As a public or nonprofit leader, taking time to wrestle with and reconcile within yourself your own desires and convictions will prepare you to do the same with others. Start by acknowledging reality. Often reality is obstructed by personal desires, promises and fears. These natural aspects of us are legitimate but sometimes must be set aside to take stock of our current state so that we know exactly where we stand today. As the leader you are responsible for acknowledging reality and getting those around you to do the same. By doing so you begin to create a shared context with others, which makes the work of addressing differences more manageable.  

Set Standards

There is no more empowering action a public or nonprofit leader can take than to set clear standards. What sounds so simple is not so easy. An arbitrary standard will not hold up to scrutiny. An arbitrary standard has no meaning, but a standard set based on experience or tied to vision or values, the care of others and the recognition of excellence has no match. It moves others to pursue better and to share in the pursuit of what is good for self and for others. As a leader, build your standards from your expectations. Notice what you expect from yourself and others and let that ground your standards. Lastly, confirm your standards are aligned with the purpose of the organization and benefit the people who are needed to move the organization forward.  

Foster Success 

Learn more from this expert. 

Tayo Switzer’s courses: 

Proven Techniques to Manage a Virtual Workforce

Mar. 2, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Zoom Webinar 

Building a Succession Pipeline

Apr. 18, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Ohio Union 


An assumption we make about public and non-profit leaders is that they care about people. But often it shows up as caring for those being served more than those fulfilling the mission. As a public and nonprofit leader, you must care about the success of your workforce in the same way you care about improving the quality of life of those your organization serves. You as leader must find ways to aid and support the success of each individual in your organization. A caring leader is always asking others: What do you need? What’s getting in your way? What can I do to support your success? 

Stay true to your passion and moral compass and help others do the same. Those you serve will be grateful, those who follow you will call you a true leader, and those who come after you will admire your resolve to create a better future for us all.