“Ask yourself, am I being the kind of leader that I would want to follow?” asks Dick Vollet, President and CEO of St. Paul’s Foundation. According to Dick, that’s the quickest way to gauge whether you’re on the path to being a successful leader in any field.
Dick's own journey to a CEO position provided him with insight into what's required of a good leader in philanthropy. Whether you’re already eyeing the C suite or just beginning your career in healthcare philanthropy, his advice is helpful to improve your leadership skills.
- Don’t solve the problem immediately: It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not. Good senior leaders find a way to solve the problems that keep them up at night, but they do not jump to solutions right away. Find unbiased colleagues to review your solutions and offer concrete feedback and criticism. Only act after the solution has been evaluated.
- Exercise: When you read a “day in the life” profile of a successful executive in a business magazine, they usually have something in common: waking up early. But why? They’re making time to exercise. Exercise keeps you focused and energized.
- Learn to live with loneliness: The CEO position “is a very lonely place,” according to Dick If you’re aiming for the top spot, you need to make sure you can rely on yourself.
- Do what you say you’re going to do: Following up is perhaps the most fundamental characteristic of a leader. You erode others’ trust in you when you don’t deliver, especially in a leadership role. Even if you have to stick around longer in a role than you planned to, make sure the project you promised is completed before you leave.
- Don’t invest in technology unless you’re going to use it: Most people invest too little in technology—but the most frustrating thing is to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology and then not use it. Technology is only as good as your usage of it.
- Remember to say thank you: How you thank a donor and how you steward a gift in the system is just as important as acquiring that gift in the first place.
- Build sustainable revenue: It sounds like a no-brainer to anyone in the for-profit sector, but in the not for-profit sector, maintaining a stable revenue pipeline the biggest challenge that CEOs face today.
- Assemble a team of people who don’t think like you: Most good leaders will assemble a team of varying skill sets. The best leaders will find team members who have abilities they themselves lack.
- Lead by example: Don't expect anyone on your team to do anything you wouldn't do. If that means you have to show up early to an event and help set up signage, then that’s what you have to do.
- Be ready to help: People who are willing to give of themselves are inspirational. When someone reaches out to you for help, always try to be available.