Career Advancement, Management and Leadership

Want to be a successful nonprofit manager? Master these 3 key relationships

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Photo credit: OPOLJA, Shutterstock

Becoming a manager is an exciting and challenging step in one’s career. In addition to taking on new responsibilities, you have to shift how you view yourself and how others view you. As a manager, you have to manage down (your direct reports), manage up (your boss/bosses), and manage across (your colleagues).

At ProInspire, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to help emerging nonprofit leaders succeed. In a recent survey we conducted, 50% of nonprofit managers said they did not have the knowledge, experience, and resources to be successful. This summer, we are piloting a new program called “Managing for Success” to support nonprofit managers. The program is focused on managing yourself, managing others, and managing the organization – addressing the various “hats” that a manager wears.

Managing yourself

Managing yourself involves understanding your strengths and weaknesses, controlling your emotions, and building your ability to connect with others.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

Identifying your own strengths will help you figure out which tasks you should take on and which ones might be more appropriate for another member of your staff. Additionally, as you hire new people, it is critical to think about how they will complement your strengths and weaknesses and those of the team. To better understand your talents, start by sitting down with colleagues and asking them for feedback. Or take the StrengthsFinder test to really understand where you should focus your efforts.

Develop your emotional intelligence

Research shows that truly effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence.  As you move into your role as a manager, strengthen these abilities by increasing your awareness, committing to practice, and asking for feedback from colleagues.  Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, identifies five key skills:

  • Self-awareness: knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others
  • Self-regulation: controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods
  • Motivation: relishing achievement for its own sake
  • Empathy: understanding other people’s emotional makeup
  • Social skill: building rapport with others to move them in desired directions

Suggested Readings: StrengthsFinder by Tom Rath; “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman

Managing Others

The biggest change for a new manager is managing the work of other people. You don’t want to micromanage, yet you don’t want to provide too little guidance.

Communicate early and often

Communication is critical for a manager to provide the information needed to direct reports. We suggest following these tips from The Management Center:

  • Start with the end in mind: Be clear about what success looks like
  • Provide context for the work: Answer the 5 Ws – who is involved, what is important to know, where does this fall with other priorities, when does it need to be completed, and why this is important
  • Ask for a repeat back: Confirm that you are on the same page by asking them to repeat what they heard you say
  • Check in regularly: Schedule 1-1 meetings with each direct report at least twice a month to provide regular feedback

Act like a coach

Great managers are really great coaches. Coaches surround themselves with people who are more talented than they are. They focus on providing context about what needs to be done, but not directing how to do it. Finally, coaches understand what people are good at, motivate them, and help them leverage their strengths. Work alongside your team members, encourage them, and provide them with the support they need to develop their skills. When each individual player is strong, the team is more likely to be successful.

Like a sports team, a coach stays focused on the organization’s mission and helps the team stay focused, too. Keeping your organization’s mission in the forefront can boost the morale of the people working for you– it helps to remind them that they are part of something bigger, and that their daily efforts are making a real difference.

Suggested Readings: Managing to Change the World by Alison Green and Jerry Hauser; The Tao of Coaching by Max Landsberg

Managing Your Organization

Managers often think that their job will be easier because they have “power.” In reality, managers need the cooperation of other people to get things done. Title does not translate to power and real power comes from influence. Influence is driven by your behavior and relationships, not by the fact that you are a manager.

Build a productive relationship with your manager

Managing up is always a critical skill, particularly in the resource-constrained nonprofit sector where managers often have too much on their plate.  As a manager, you depend on your boss for setting priorities, managing relationships across the organization, and providing resources (like the opportunity to have a direct report work for you).  Just as you depend on your boss, your boss depends on you. Now that you are a manager, you represent the work of multiple people and are accountable for certain results.

Take time to understand your boss, including his/her decision-making style, and develop lines of communication. It will only make you more effective as a manager.

Strengthen your relationships across the organization

As a manager, you often have a new responsibility of managing relationships within the organization and externally. You are responsible for representing your team, sharing information and resources, and partnering with peers.

  • Understand your peers’ needs and expectations: Learn about their priorities, how they like to interact, and expectations they have from your team
  • Identify ways to support each other: What goes around comes around, so start developing mutually beneficial relationships early
  • Develop personal relationships: Find ways to build informal relationships through lunches, meetings, and social interactions

Suggested Readings: Managing Your Boss by John Gabarro and John Kotter; The 360 Degree Leader by John Maxwell

If you take time to think about how you want to manage your different hats, you will find success for yourself, your team, and your organization.

Monisha Kapila profile photo-square

 

Monisha Kapila is the founder and CEO of ProInspire, a nonprofit developing the next generation of nonprofit leaders by expanding the talent pipeline, developing professionals, and increasing diversity. Monisha is passionate about helping organizations and individuals achieve their potential for social impact.

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