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4 Methods to Sharpen Your Leadership Skills


By Will Schmidt

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

On the Classy Podcast, we have the opportunity to sit down and talk with leading executives and influencers in the social sector, and we like to ask them: “What makes a good leader?”

It might seem like a simple question, but developing leadership skills can be difficult for anyone regardless of how big or small their organization is.

Two recent guests, Piper LeJeune, the director of digital strategy and engagement for the Salvation Army Southern Territory, and Jeff Roman, executive director for Convoy of Hope, both offer a wealth of knowledge about how you can foster leadership skills to grow your team and organization. Below, we dig into their expert insights.

1) Build Your Team Bravely

As you build up a team, there’s no room for fear to dictate your actions. This starts with the hiring process and carries all the way to your everyday interactions with your staff.

When you go through the hiring process, be brave and ask tough questions to potential candidates. These are the people who will potentially work alongside you to further your mission.

During his interviews with marketing candidates, Jeff will invite promising individuals back for a second interview with a twist. He’ll ask them to create a marketing campaign and then present it during their second interview.

It’s about asking candidates to show something more than a portfolio or resume. I want to see what kind of work you’re capable of from concept and creation to implementation.”

Jeff Roman

Executive Director, Convoy of Hope

That’s not an easy ask, but it’s necessary to get a well-rounded view of potential hires. And even after you make the hire, you need to stay brave to build up your team emotionally and professionally which can put you in uncomfortable positions.

Embrace the discomfort whether you’re resolving internal conflicts or promoting one employee over another. Piper, an introverted leader, finds she needs to communicate as much as possible, often more than she’s comfortable with.

I tend to think in my head and be in that space, but then you realize people need what’s in your head. People need to understand where you are and what you’re thinking, even if it’s just to say ‘no.’”

Piper LeJeune

Digital Strategy and Engagement, Salvation Army Southern Territory

Takeaway for Your Nonprofit

Being brave isn’t limited to having tough conversations or dealing with uncomfortable situations. You can also be brave when trying creative new ideas or optimizing your internal operations.

For instance, your team may be nervous about a key employee that decided to leave for a different organization. As the team’s leader, get ahead of the situation and show your employees this isn’t something to fear or that the team’s going to fall apart.

Frame it as an opportunity to grow by hiring a more senior candidate that can elevate your fundraising to the next level, and also open yourself up to feedback from the team. Lead by example: if you’re brave, those who follow you will be brave as well.

2) Empower Through Delegation

As a leader, you can’t do everything at your organization. That’s why the ability to successfully delegate work is a crucial leadership skill. You need to stay focused on your own responsibilities and trust your team can handle the load you give them.

Further, strong delegators know that this responsibility and trust empower their staff. Instead of dumping tasks off onto people, Jeff has developed a process of delegation that fosters this empowerment.

For any task, even if it’s seemingly simple in nature, he works through it with staff the first time. The second time he watches them do it and the third time they do it on their own.

What happens is then an associate becomes empowered to take ownership of the task. They watch me do it and then modify it to do it on their own. They get feedback, turn it into their own personalized style, and accomplish it.”

Jeff Roman

Executive Director, Convoy of Hope

Takeaway for Your Nonprofit

When you delegate a task, you’re accomplishing a few things. First, you’re clearing something off your plate so you can focus on bigger projects. Maybe you delegate writing Facebook posts to a marketing associate so you can free up five hours in your week to write grants instead.

Second, you’re showing your team that you trust their ability to work autonomously. Not only does this build confidence, it may also open new doors of opportunity.

That marketing associate who writes your Facebook content can commit more time to optimizing the posts for engagement than you did. As a result, you might watch your organic audience grow by 20 followers a month—that’s a new cohort of potential donors. Further, your employee feels a sense of pride and empowerment in their accomplishment.

3) Learn to Let Go

A mature leader doesn’t steamroll their staff and force their opinions or agenda. Instead, they “let go” and roll with the punches.

You’ve taken the time to build your team up, empower them, and now you need to trust they can carry you forward.

I love what I do so much that I feel like I’m always in it. I’m always touching it, and sometimes I need to not touch it and just let it evolve the way it will naturally.”

Piper LeJeune

Digital Strategy and Engagement, Salvation Army Southern Territory

Give your team the chance to operate in their best way, doing the thing that comes most naturally to them, and then let it happen. From this position, you can take a step back and ensure the larger goal for the project is achieved.

Takeaway for Your Nonprofit

Part of “letting go” is setting clear expectations and alleviating any uncertainty around projects you’re passing off to your team. Before anything is kicked off, host a meeting where you address critical questions like:

  • What the purpose of the project is
  • Why it matters for your organization
  • The ways it lines up to your goals
  • How you expect your team to carry it forward

You can express your high-level ideas for the project, and then host a brainstorm session where your staff dives into the detailed ways to make it a successful project.

4) Commit to Improvement

A good leader is constantly evaluating and refining their processes. It’s like the journey of a mythical phoenix: you’re feeling really good, you’re looking really beautiful, and you’re flying high. Then, you realize it’s time to burn yourself up and start over again.”

Jeff Roman

Executive Director, Convoy of Hope

It’s easy to say you’re committed to improving your organization, but it’s difficult to put it into practice. Remember that improvements don’t always need to be grandiose. Sometimes, they can be as simple as learning a new skill.

Regardless, a commitment to making improvements fosters a culture that constantly pushes you to do things you’ve never done before or perform at higher levels. This also opens up a golden opportunity to study and learn what improvements work and which ones don’t.

Part of leadership is being able to be a teacher and also a student. Learn from the people around you.”

Piper LeJeune

Digital Strategy and Engagement, Salvation Army Southern Territory

Leading isn’t always about being right or always having the answer. Be vulnerable and open yourself to fresh concepts, ideas, and strategies. And when your team provides feedback, listen to what they have to say.

Takeaway for Your Nonprofit

Improvements can be made anywhere, anytime, from setting new standards for internal communications to sending employees to nonprofit conferences. The important part is that you remain committed to bringing your best every day.

Maybe you realize your email audiences aren’t segmented, and as a result you’re not able to send personalized content to donors based on their interests. At the same time, an employee approaches you because they see a need to segment your lists, and they recommend a new email client that makes the process easier.

You have half of a solution, they have the other half. Being open to improvements, and being able to admit that you don’t have the full answer, could help you create an email strategy that increases your fundraising revenue for future campaigns.

There are so many other leadership skills we don’t cover here that you can hear on our podcast, like communications strategies and how to ask the right questions. Not to mention, Piper and Jeff are only two of the many leaders we’ve spoken with on the Classy Podcast. Visit the page now to start sharpening your leadership skills.

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