Striking the Balance: Exploring executive directors’ learning trajectories through life history

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Jewer, Seana
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Mount Saint Vincent University
When Executive Directors take on leadership roles at non-profit organizations, they quickly learn there are numerous tasks ranging from those that are more directly related to carrying out the mission of the organization to others that are focused on the business or technical aspects of the work. Mission can be defined as the purpose of the organization to help address a social inequity experienced within the community. For many Executive Directors, the initial motivation to work in the nonprofit sector entails a sense of passion and commitment to social justice which has been developed from lived experience as well as a desire to improve the wellbeing of others. At the same time, Executive Directors are organizational leaders who must also learn the business and technical work to meet the demands of leading a nonprofit. They must handle budgets, seek funding, and oversee staff while carrying out other managerial duties. Increasingly, within the nonprofit sector the need for Executive Directors to have expertise in these areas is emphasized in their day to day learning and tasks which reflects the increase of neoliberal values on the sector that emphasize competition and accountability. Due to limited time, money and resources for education, many Executive Directors will often learn both mission and business skills informally rather than through structured educational opportunities. Understanding how Executive Directors negotiate the tension and strike a balance between the learning required to carry out both the mission and business aspects of their work as a part of their leadership role is the focus of this thesis.
Executive directors, learning trajectories, learning