Working in higher education has its perks. One perk I have become immensely grateful for is lifelong learning. Last week my institution sent me to an Advancement Roundtable at LaGrange College in Georgia for vice presidents of development. I learned a lot in three days! Here are five leadership insights worth sharing from top professionals in the field.
1. I am a steward of resources. I am a guard of morale.
While discussing the challenges of leading teams, Dr. Joe Watkins, Vice President for External Relations at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA, made this astute observation and I couldn’t agree more! We come across all kinds of people challenges at work and it’s easy to get lost in the gray area. As leaders, we must remember, we partnered with our employer toward a shared vision. It’s our job to ensure the resources we steward – financial, capital and human – are aligned most effectively toward that aim. We will come across good people who simply need help and others who are unable or unwilling to grow. In the midst of those challenges, we are guardians of morale. Drops come unexpectedly. We must be ever vigilant in identifying those painful slivers under the surface and addressing them quickly. In doing so, we keep all eyes forward.
2. Our grief over anticipated problems can steal the joy of the day.
This piece of wisdom came from Jim Casky, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Goshen College in Indiana, during his morning “centering moment.” This insight applies to life and leadership. Simplified: Don’t borrow trouble. We have enough problems to solve today. That’s not to say we shouldn’t consider possible outcomes and prepare, but we mustn’t pain over the possibilities. One of my favorite books as a twenty-something was the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. They talked about the trap of negative emotions. His holiness said that when we act on negative emotions like fear or anxiety, we often cause the outcome we are trying to avoid. Be a wise planner and an astute observer, but do not give your joy away to unnecessary grief.
3. Coach up or out.
I loved Terry Toler’s view on coaching. As the Vice President for University Advancement and Church Relations at Southern Nazarene University, Terry views his team of fundraisers as development’s version of the Navy Seals. “We need high performers,” he said, “and not everyone can make the cut. Sometimes you have to coach up or coach out.” Fifteen years into my profession and more than a decade of leadership experience tells me Terry is spot on. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be led – to be grown. A good leader uses the evaluation process to spot deficiencies, bring attention to them, and begin the work of coach. Some team members will take the opportunity and accomplish things they never thought possible. Others will resist and eventually come around. Some outright refuse. We can’t afford to leave people in positions for years who aren’t willing to work hard to meet shared objectives, but rather invest our time into those who can.
4. What is the institution’s story? How will your chapter read?
Dr. Vance Peterson is a former vice president and college president who now serves as a consultant for AGB Search. Dr. Peterson spoke about the transition from vice president to president and how one prepares. Among his suggestions was this piece of brilliance, “What will your chapter be in the life story of the institution?” I think back to my time as Executive Director of Development at Houghton College. I was a mid-manager working hard with passion. What was our chapter? Well, our team hit all-time highs in the annual fund and total giving. We launched a sustainable county-wide leadership development program and graduated almost 60 people. We rebranded our giving societies, started faculty and staff campaigns, and spearheaded a comprehensive major gift program. It was crazy and amazing! I’m proud of that chapter and plan to write one just as cool as the VP at Trocaire College. Our chapters should never be dull and uninspiring!
5. Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Okay, this one didn’t come from one of the attendees. Do you recognize it? This jewel is straight from Mahatma Gandhi. During lunch on the second day of the conference, I found a little scroll tied with a red ribbon at my plate. I opened it and Ghandi’s words were typed on the paper. How perfect! As a passionate leader, a hard worker, and a believer in civic engagement at every level of the organization and community – this one hit home. One of my greatest assets as a leader is being a sponge and learning as much as I can every day. This is also something I highly value in my team members. But learning is not enough. We must act with urgency if we are to make a significant impact on our community and the people we serve. After all, we are on this earth but for a fleeting moment. Live and work well!
Pamela Witter is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Email me at BeASeedPlanter@outlook.com.