Modern Leadership for Fundraising Executives
When was the last time you asked yourself what type of leader you are? It probably was the last time a situation presented itself to challenge your leadership skills.
It’s a great question for nonprofit managers to ask themselves as a first step to understanding if their skills match up with the leadership challenges of the modern workplace.
Many executives and managers see themselves as leaders but aren’t confident that their skills align with the expectations of their workforce. The biggest challenge often discussed is finding a leadership style that resonates with today’s worker. For many leaders, their current style incorporates a managerial approach that tends to be more “top-down” and they find that this approach doesn’t fit well in the modern workplace, which has changed exponentially in just the last 10 years alone, with the rise of a more educated and technologically savvy workforce that brings a different set of expectations to the job.
Today’s employees, even those fresh out of college, feel they already possess the necessary knowledge and skills to get the job done. They no longer look to their leaders for answers. Instead, they want their leaders to empower them to make decisions, be creative, develop their skills and provide opportunities for growth. It’s a tall order for nonprofit leaders who are operating on tight budgets that don’t always allow for professional development, but these expectations are a reality that cannot be ignored without consequences such as the defection of much-needed young talent from the nonprofit sector.
It stands to reason that the progress made by workers will not be turned back to the days of old. The same can be said for worker expectations, so this leaves current and future nonprofit leaders standing at a managerial crossroads that requires a little self introspection beginning with the question, “What type of leader do I want to be?”
Successful nonprofit managers and executives have found that with discipline and a firm commitment to change, they are able to move out of their “comfort zone” to adopt a new approach to leadership. With a few guidelines and persistence, managers can navigate their new workplace and be the leaders they want to be.
1. Establish an affirmation that you will commit to being a source of inspiration.
Everyone has different reasons for why they go to work each day, but it’s safe to say that no one enjoys going to work in a place where the energy level is low or even negative. Quite often, the attitude that emanates from the top officers sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Energy, both positive and negative, is transferable and contagious among workers, leaving managers, especially top executives, with the ability to create a constructive environment in their departments and the organization as a whole.
Inspiration can come in many forms, from showing real enthusiasm for the organization’s mission to recognizing the accomplishments of individuals or the “team,” to not gossiping openly about other decision makers. The imperative is for leaders to recognize negative energy and replace it with positive energy that builds morale and commitment among staff.
2. Communicate with staff and everyone around you.
This isn’t a new concept, yet it remains sorely lacking in the workplace. Effective leaders are good communicators who not only speak well, but more importantly, hear what others are telling them. This requires self-control to resist the temptation to multitask while in meetings and focus on what is being communicated verbally and physically. Generally there are three levels of listening, but the most useful is called the perceptive level, where the listener is intuiting more than words by noticing body language, hearing the speaker’s tone of voice, all in an effort to understand the real message. It’s not an easy skill to master, but when it is mastered, it allows the leader to fully engage and focus on the nuances and true meaning of what is being conveyed.
At this level, the listener genuinely believes the speaker has something valuable to say and purposely checks to make sure that the message being received is what the speaker intended to communicate by restating or clarifying the message. It’s not the goal of the listener to merely appear to be present; rather he or she is “tuning in” intently and connecting with the emotions and energy put forth by the speaker. In other words, the listener is one with the speaker, trying to understand his or her point of view by listening from the heart with respect and empathy, while attempting to keep personal judgments and biases at bay.
3. Determine your level of involvement.
Leaders are involved in the decisions their employees make, but they can’t think for them. Effective leaders empower others to be decision makers in the everyday processes that move the organization forward. Leaders do not remove themselves from the work of their staffs entirely; rather their role becomes less hands-on and more about encouragement and holding players accountable for the outcome. In essence, a leader is available for advice but is removed from the execution of the process in order to give employees an opportunity to grow and become more invested in the organization’s success.
But for many leaders, being less involved isn’t easy. There usually is discomfort and fear around not knowing every minute detail of even the most remedial tasks. These personal challenges, once met and overcome, allow a leader to more easily let go and develop confidence not only in the capabilities of staff but also in one’s own abilities. Becoming comfortable in this role is not instant; it happens through experience and ultimately in leaders learning to trust their own intuition.
4. Know where you are going.
It won’t make a difference if leaders inspire, communicate and empower employees if it doesn’t feel as though there’s a game plan in place. In order to demonstrate the direction leadership is taking, individual staff members and the staff as a whole need to see clearly defined goals so they have something to work toward. Whether you’re talking about the individual or the team, goals represent tangible concepts that can be easily identified and understood. But more importantly, when goals are specific, measurable, achievable and reasonable in nature, they provide a leader with an opportunity to use them as an additional form of employee motivation.
But what’s good for the employees also is good for leaders. When leaders establish goals for themselves, it not only gives the process credibility but also enables them to focus on their own ambitions and desires. This is as important as the direction sought for employees because it helps a leader maintain a vision and conceive the next steps on the path to reaching that target.
5. Everyone must be held accountable.
There cannot be any exceptions when it comes to a leader holding employees accountable to their jobs. It’s not unreasonable for a leader to expect all employees to demonstrate a sense of professional maturity when they accept the responsibilities of their position, but it must be transparent and reinforced that being held accountable is the norm. Then it is essential for the leader to follow through and adhere to the policy.
It might be difficult and even uncomfortable for a leader to confront an employee who is not meeting expectations, but the effects of not doing so will reverberate negatively among the staff and undermine any further effort to be credible. Additionally, leaders need to have uniform procedures to address issues of accountability. That means establishing standards and practices that everyone is subjected to in order to create an environment of equal treatment.
This can be an exciting time for nonprofit leaders who recognize the opportunity to change. Standing behind you is an army of workers who want nothing more than this effective shift in managerial philosophy. This shift also is an investment in staff through an outward recognition of their ability to successfully complete the tasks and decisions associated with their jobs. The prospect of changing how a leader leads may be a scary thought, but consider just one of the consequences of not changing: the loss of enthusiastic, well-trained employees, especially young talent who bring new ideas and ambition. FS