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Leadership: Five ways you can be the leader of your dreams

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The AFP Daily in Canada presents a three-part series on leadership in the charitable sector by Gail Picco. Today, we feature Part Three – Five ways to be the leader of your dreams, where Gail talks to sector leaders Roger Ali, MBA, CFRE, Kimberley Blease and Diane Lloyd, as well as emerging leader, Teresa Cheng, CFRE, for perspective.

“In an environment where many see a leadership skills gap in the charitable sector coupled with a discomfort with different ideas of leadership, it is often left to the fundraisers themselves to find ways in the system to work around poor leadership,” says Kimberley Blease, EVP strategic solutions and consultancy at Blakely Fundraising.

“Qualities that people desire and respect in a good leader encompass compassion, integrity, empathy, adaptability, effective communication skills, visionary thinking, and the ability to inspire and motivate others,” says Teresa Cheng, CFRE, a “NextGen” leader, who grew up volunteering. She’s currently a development officer for annual fund and stewardship at Seneca Polytechnic, and recently participated in the first cohort of the AFP Leadership Institute.

“Leaders need to be culturally sensitive and aware of the varying cultural dynamics that shape perceptions of leadership. Different cultures may prioritize different qualities in their leaders,” she says.

We’ve consulted with three long time leaders and one emerging leader to give you serious and practical advice on how to thrive in a sector that requires new leaders and progressive forms of leadership.

  1. Mentorship

    “I believe in the power of both formal and informal mentorship, and I think mentorship can help bridge the leadership gaps in a very real way. It can really change the way we think and lead. I've had many great mentors over the years including Tony Elischer and have found some amazing resources through the Tony Elischer Foundation in the UK,” says Blease.

    “I see some amazing young leaders but worry whether they have the training and mentoring to weather the core elements of the jobs,” says Roger Ali, MBA, CFRE, former president and CEO of the Niagara Health Foundation, current consultant and chair-elect of AFP Global. “Good mentoring requires intention, options and flexibility. When I think of mentoring, I think of a professional working with newly minted leaders on how they show up for their staff. And for racialized leaders, check-in with yourself around your sense of belonging. If you have someone who’s guiding you, it can help, especially when you feel you really don’t belong.”

    Current leaders who are concerned about the impact of poor management can work together to start mentoring programs. Prospective fundraisers who feel they can use a mentor can first band together to examine the kind of mentorship they need. AFP chapters can facilitate these discussions, and AFP Global has the Alford Group Women’s Impact Initiative Mentor Program and the AFP/Blackbaud Emerging Leader Mentor Program.

  2.  Always have your ear to the ground. 

    “Be aware of what’s happening around you,” says Ali. “Work on being politically astute. Read the nuances of the board members. Who doesn’t look you in the eye? When you listen to an issue, consider whether you are incorporating feedback. Some leaders are good at showing they are listening, but they don’t incorporate what they heard. How are you at incorporating feedback?”
  3. Determine your allies.

    “Who are your mentors and the circle you want to surround yourself with?” says Ali. “Who will shout your name from the rooftop? Nurture the relationships that are built over time. Find your confidantes and those who will advocate for you.”
  4. Know thyself.

    “Determine what kind of leader you want to be. Develop a style that is authentic. Show up with passion and purpose and work towards being someone who has higher integrity. Feel engaged in what you are saying,” says Ali. “Build your narrative that reflects your values. Determine what kind of leader you are. Are you thoughtful? A doer? Do an online leadership assessment.”

    “For me, showing up is being your authentic self. Developing your confidence as a leader starts with knowing your values, your strengths, and your blind spots. Be willing to ask for help and be open to feedback throughout your leadership journey. Embracing a growth mindset is key,” says Diane Lloyd, founder, and CEO of Inspired Results Group (IRG), which specializes in creating engaging workplace environments and working with leaders across sectors.

    “Know the kinds of things that make a good leader,” says Blease. “Don’t keep people at arm’s length. Develop your empathy skills. Understand that everyone needs something different to help them be a better leader. And understand your priority is helping other people be the best they can be.”

  5. Be a learner and value that in others.

    “We need to do individual learning and self-reflection,” says Lloyd. “Find out the source of our biases so we can show up knowing what they are and how to talk about that journey with others.”

    “With the increasing availability of leadership training opportunities, such as programs like the AFP Leadership Institute and AFP LEAD, we should anticipate a gradual shift towards filling leadership roles with competent and compassionate leaders,” says Cheng.

    Sometimes, people feel called to lead, they self-identify. If you are feeling that call, ask for opportunities, put yourself in those situations, read about leadership and what you need to do. Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder.

Leadership: Five ways you can be the leader of your dreams is Part Three of a three-part series. Part One Leadership: A Time of Reckoning? was published on October 16 and Part Two Leadership: What does it mean to be ‘different’? was published on October 25.

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