Bringing The Five Practices to Life March 13

Certified Masters Give Back Program

What could bring 20 women leaders together on a day where it was so cold, if you breathed, an icicle might form? Believe it or not, it wasn’t chocolate! It was “Ladies Day” at The Leadership Challenge Workshop®.  On a bitterly frigid morning, members of The Leadership Council of Human Services Executives, a coalition representing nonprofits serving the Greater Cincinnati area, gathered together to look at their organizations and themselves through the lens of leadership.


It gave me great joy to invite this distinguished group of leaders to a two-day workshop filled with opportunities to explore and discover what it takes to be an exemplary leader—especially in these difficult times of funding cuts to many social service nonprofits. Thanks to the 25th Leadership Challenge Anniversary Masters Give Back initiative and the support of Pfeiffer, we were able to equip these leaders with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to “achieve the extraordinary’ in their organizations. For me to be able to give something back to this illustrious group was a privilege.


Collectively, these extraordinary women faithfully serve the community in various ways. Although they may offer very different social service programs, the representatives of these nonprofit agencies came together like a symphony. There were many different voices, but with one common purpose: to serve.  The missions of these agencies blended together like the colors of a kaleidoscope. You could see how their working together created a beautiful aura. The leaders spent two days focusing on the future of their communities and how to achieve excellence in their work.


Who were they and why did they come? They represented faith-based organizations that provide food and assistance to those in need, and agencies that support the needs of our senior citizens. They came to help ensure that Cincinnati area youth graduate from high school. They came to find new ways to inspire visions that would allow senior citizens to live their lives with meaning and purpose. They came to learn how to more effectively help willing and capable people living in poverty. The nurses came, who wanted to bring quality healthcare to those in their nursing homes. These leaders came to bring justice and equity to our communities. They came to change the world.


Each organization came with its own unique challenges but shared what nearly every nonprofit in the U.S. faces: nonprofits live on an economic fiscal cliff as they compete for dwindling resources. Life in the nonprofit world is much like an inverted pyramid: the need for services continues to expand as financial support to fund the essential resources continues to decline, getting smaller and smaller, narrower and narrower. Finding balance is a leader’s most daunting challenge.


Our unique Leadership Challenge Workshop® offered this group an opportunity to share:  how they were challenged to lead their organizations through tremendous change as they experience mergers, layoffs, and new levels of accountability; how they Challenge the Process frequently, creatively figuring out how to deliver great services in spite of deep and drastic budget cuts. 


When we listened to the stories and struggles of these leaders, we also heard their deeply rooted commitment, passion to serve, and a need to care.  At the end of the day, this esteemed group of The Leadership Council clearly believed that they had to be great leaders who work together for the good of all the community.


When asked what they wanted to accomplish over the two days, they told us they wanted:

  • To be a more inspiring leader
  • To enhance their community leadership
  • To demonstrate positive leadership
  • To foster positive relationships
  • To foster accountability
  • To build great cultures


While it may have been frigid outside, the energy generated by these executives kept our room quite toasty.  As we delved into The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® they found new inspiration, new hope, new challenges, and new friends.


Without a doubt, nonprofit agencies today are challenged by funding cuts and higher demands of their services. Yet, these leaders persevered because of their unwavering passion to serve others. They were challenged to think differently about leadership and the changing environment of social services. And in the end, they challenged themselves to become more effective and better leaders.


One participant summed up the two days best by saying, “I have finally found a leadership workshop that shows me step by step what I need to change in order to become a more effective leader.”


The Leadership Council participants send their special thanks to Pfeiffer for their generous donation of materials. Without their support, this opportunity would not have been affordable to many.


How do you change the world? One leader at a time. 


Valarie Willis is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and principal of Valarie Willis Consulting, in Loveland, OH, where she focuses on strategic management consulting. She can be reached at


Note: Through education, training, funding opportunities, cost-savings programs, strong alliances and collective action, The Leadership Council <<>>

brings together human services executives who, as partners, set the direction to provide human services that meet the needs of the Greater Cincinnati community.  



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