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Are You Managing?
Are You Managing?

What to do, what not to do, and how to know the difference

By Toni Coleman



Promoting superstar talent to management positions sounds logical. But a master fundraiser, visionary communicator, or alumni relations genius won't necessarily possess the skills to lead and inspire a team.

"If you're a new manager with a fundraiser's toolkit, and an employee comes into your office crying, you won't know what to do," says Peter Hayashida, vice chancellor of advancement at the University of California, Riverside. "You need a different set of tools. We don't have a systematic way of training people to be managers, so they learn by trial and error. But trial and error is hard on morale."

Just 30 percent of U.S. workers are "involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace," according to Gallup research. Unmotivated bosses could be part of the problem: Fifty-one percent of U.S. managers are not engaged, and 14 percent are actively disengaged, which costs the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.

Bad managers could also be fueling turnover: One in 2 employees reported leaving their job to get away from their manager, according to a Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults.

The advancement office at one Northeastern college experienced a 50 percent turnover rate over two years because of a manager who constantly delivered negative feedback to employees—in front of the entire staff.

"We are still recovering two years after he left and struggling to rebuild what he destroyed," a staff member says. "The reputation of a bad manager prevents qualified people from seeing themselves here and wanting to join the organization."

Not all managers are destined to be the advancement version of Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada. Here's how managers—and the people who hire them—can improve.

Recognize common mistakes

Micromanaging is a frequent trap for new bosses, especially among fundraisers turned managers, says Tom Herbert, vice president of advancement at Miami University of Ohio and executive director of its foundation. "Successful fundraisers are good at details. You know your prospects' birthday, you know what they like to talk about—that translates into success." 

But those highly detailed tendencies can backfire. "That heavy-handed micromanaging sends a signal that you don't trust your staff's judgment," Herbert says. "It takes away their self-esteem and initiative. They'll say, ‘I don't need to work up a strategy because my boss will anyway.' Those things lead to turnover."

Another problem? New managers tend to focus on immediate changes rather than long-term plans, says Ivan Adames, executive director of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University in Illinois. Adames recalls a manager revamping the department's structure and reporting lines before consulting human resources. "Some staffers were now reporting to folks in a lower job-grade, which is a no-no under university policies," he says. 

Many missteps stem from new managers not understanding their roles. Managers have competing priorities: managing the expectations of higher-ups, budgeting, hitting performance targets, working across departments. But successful managers are defined by their interpersonal skills—"how we motivate, coach, influence, champion, support, communicate, inspire, and celebrate staff," Adames says. 

"When you move into leadership," Adames adds, "you have to be an advocate for your team. You need to model behaviors and excellence." Communication should not be directive-driven, as in the military, but should involve staff in problem-solving.

A good manager pushes you to be your best, guides you, gives you more responsibility, and allows you to fail with some risk management, says Adriana Bitoun, assistant vice president of advancement services at Western Kentucky University. She did not receive training when she rose to management, but she learned hard lessons from a difficult boss at a past job. The manager always managed to find flaws with Bitoun's work.

"It was never right. My boss wanted subordinates to feel incompetent so she could take credit for the department's success," Bitoun says, adding that she wasn't allowed to talk to other VPs without permission. "A lot of people left."

Seek training

How can new managers avoid damaging their department? "Being successful requires a combination of skills acquisition and self-discovery," says Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

Start by developing "a management style that fits your personality," he says. Are you a task-oriented manager who loves assigning duties to different people? Are you more of a convener, whose role is to coach team members and remove obstacles to the goals they set? "Both of those can be successful," Pasic says, "but you have to know your strengths."

Other tips for new managers:

Develop self-awareness. This means being conscious of how others perceive you. "This is important as a manager, because how you project yourself and interact with those you supervise affects their state of mind and how they perform. Developing self-awareness happens through reflection. Take a step back before acting or reacting to situations," says Herbert, who, along with Adames, will be a faculty member at CASE's upcoming Management Institute.

"Find that leadership sensei—a person who can provide feedback and talk through challenging personnel issues," says Adames, who worked with an executive coach when he joined Northwestern. (See "Executive Decisions" on the opposite page for more on coaching.)

Get to know your staff, says Linda Durant, senior vice president for university advancement at Pennsylvania's Widener University. "What are their work and communication styles? Do they need guidance? What's their personality? Do they like to work alone?" Such information will help you assign tasks to the right people.

"When I was a new manager," Durant says, "I sent a survey to every employee and then had a follow-up meeting with each of them to discuss it and what their needs and thoughts were about their work."

Never stop learning. Take a managerial or leadership development course at your institution or local community college. This will help with areas such as time management, project management, and conflict resolution. "Folks should set aside 15 to 20 minutes of their workweek for their own professional development," Adames says. This can be as simple as reading the Harvard Business Review or viewing a TED Talk on leadership.

Solicit honest feedback. Ask your co-workers, your team, your supervisors, your campus colleagues: How am I doing? How can I better support you? What can I do better? New managers often erroneously believe that they should have all the answers. "Don't be afraid to ask for help or admit when you're wrong," UC Riverside's Hayashida says.

Hire right

To avoid having the next Cruella De Vil in your office, in addition to providing training, groom managers and be more diligent about hiring management material.

"Taking people from what they know and love and hoping they are successful" at management doesn't work, Hayashida says. "I've been most frustrated when there's a problem in the office, and the manager won't confront it. Great fundraisers are not necessarily suited to be managers. When tensions flare, they hit the road and raise money."

Simply promoting people to management is a "flawed strategy with serious consequences for an organization's engagement, financial performance, and long-term sustainability," according to the State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, a Gallup report based on four decades of research and a study of 2.5 million manager-led teams.

Advancement leaders should recruit managers based on their ability to coach and mentor, to set and achieve goals, and to handle difficult situations, like disciplinary conversations and employee conflict, Hayashida says.

In recruiting managers, Gallup suggests looking for a natural talent to motivate others, overcome adversity, make difficult decisions, and build relationships.

Of course, great management potential could already be on staff. Durant eases aspirants into management. She recently gave one fundraiser a single employee to manage; a few members of the leadership team will then mentor the new manager. "I see potential there, and I'm willing to work with him," Durant says.

Hayashida cultivates managers through various informal leadership development initiatives. In one program, up to 10 potential leaders in the UC Riverside advancement shop meet for breakfast and discuss different issues. "It gives me a chance to watch them," Hayashida says. "They present one or two articles for discussion. I like to see how they facilitate discussion, how they organize, how they encourage people to talk."

Durant will take a chance on someone without advancement experience, as long as he or she has transferable management experience. Someone with a background in student affairs—managing student organizations and volunteers—might be a good fit.

However you identify candidates, be sure to ask the right questions:

  • What do you think about management? What makes you feel effective as a manager? 
  • Name four people whose career you influenced. Hayashida counts this among the best questions to determine emotional intelligence. "If they name people who are junior, they're more likely to be a coach," Hayashida says. He follows up with, "How did you help them? How did you grow? What did you learn?"
  • Why do your teammates follow you? What do they like most about working with you? 
  • How have you addressed a difficult situation concerning a staff member? What happened, and how did you respond? "It's important to assess a candidate's ability to deal with conflict," says Shanna Hocking, senior director of major and planned gifts at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's our responsibility to care about how managers manage."
About the Author Toni Coleman

Toni Coleman is the interim editor in chief of Currents.




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