One of James’ mentors was Jerold Panas, who has been called the poet laureate of fundraising. Jerry was idea-rich, high energy, and had a knack for making everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room. Part of the secret to Jerry’s success was his belief that fundraising isn’t about money, it’s about relationships, it’s about people.
At the core, leadership is about people too. Want to accomplish the mission? We’ll need people. Want to execute a strategy? People are essential. Want to be innovative? You guessed it—people are the key. People are at the heart of all organizations and movements, but whether those organizations and movements thrive is chiefly dependent upon the relationships that leaders develop with people. So how do we establish the relationships that ensure success?
Jerry taught us that before a fundraiser leaves the first visit with a donor, they must answer three golden questions the donor is silently asking:
Do you really care about me?
Will you help me?
Can I trust you?
While those questions are assigned unique significance in a donor relationship, we believe followers ask those same questions of their leaders every day. Our team members will give us their blood, sweat, and tears if they know we care about them, that we will help them succeed, and that we can be trusted. And their blood, sweat, and tears are equally valuable to a multi-million-dollar gift because they are the fuel that drives our organizational engines.
As we close this week, let’s consider whether our team members can provide a resounding “YES” to the three golden questions. Here are a few tips that may fortify the foundation of our relationships if we have room to grow.
Know our people.
To demonstrate care, there’s no substitute for knowing our people. Take the time to learn about their backgrounds, their families, their interests, their hopes, and their dreams. When we discover what makes them tick, we can personalize how we communicate with them and seek to motivate and inspire them. Simply, we can show we care.
Let them define success.
We once coached a mid-level manager at an agricultural testing agency who wanted to be a nurse. We also coached a young employee at a healthcare facility who had been identified for a management role but wanted to remain in their direct care position. While one individual left to become an RN and the other stayed as the top performer in their front-line role, they both did so with the blessing of their leaders, of whom they expressed a common sentiment—that they were more interested in helping them achieve their personal goals than trying to force-fit them into a mold that was right for the organization.
As leaders, we should be self-aware, genuine, and transparent. When we have a strong sense of ourselves and are willing to display both our strengths and weaknesses, we demonstrate that we have nothing to hide. When we eschew passive-aggressive, subtle, and convoluted feedback, we demonstrate that we are straightforward and honest. When we seek alternative viewpoints before making decisions and then remain true to our final decisions (even amid opposition), we demonstrate strength of character. These are building blocks for trust.
Final Thought: When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge).