Anyone who has ever held a management position knows how hard it is to keep people happy, productive, and engaged.
It’s a tall order. We need to be inspiring leaders. We need to be clear and decisive managers. We also need to ensure our people are striving to reach their absolute best — all while meeting (or exceeding) the goals set for us by our Heads and Boards.
We are expected to build a rapport with our staff based on trust and respect. We are expected to utilize a deft, light touch, so they feel neither micromanaged, nor left adrift. Whew.
Sometimes it seems impossible, doesn’t it? Like there’s no way to “do it right.”
There are roughly one million books on leadership and team management out there. Some of them are actually worth reading. And almost all of them, I suspect, will be able to offer more advice than I could in a single blog post.
So what I want to do, instead, is focus in on something very specific:
The things you can do today to make your team feel appreciated.
After all, there’s a lot of power in feeling appreciated, isn’t there?
Let’s take for granted that your dedicated advancement staff works their butts off. And let’s also take for granted that they work with limited resources, and typically some pretty long hours, too.
It’s my personal opinion that that particular trifecta (hard work + long hours + limited resources) can lead to stress, dissatisfaction, and poor morale. But not if you can show them how valuable they are to you and to your school.
It’s actually pretty easy to avoid.
I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now. And during that time, I’ve made it my mission to make sure that I practice a daily ritual of gratitude and appreciation.
It’s just like anything else. You work out regularly? You pay your credit card bill on time? You can do this, too. It just takes a commitment to do it. So let’s start with that.
Commit to daily appreciation. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Now, with that in mind, write down whichever of the following ideas you gravitate to the most and post them to your computer monitor. Gratitude begins today!
Tip #1: Learn How Your Team Feels Rewarded
This might strike some as a surprise, but – guess what? – not everyone feels rewarded by the same things.
For some folks, the reward of the job is the money that comes with it. They feel accomplished simply by seeing those zeroes on their paycheck.
For others, it’s a title and responsibility. They feel a rush every time their title gets bumped up and more duties are assigned to them.
And let’s not forget the folks who want to be in the room where the decisions are made. Or the folks who thrive when they receive specific, verbal praise and acknowledgment.
Coming to terms with the fact that each of the people on your team has a different need is the first step. And the most effective, and frankly, respectful way to learn what that is — is to ask.
That’s right: ask. “What makes you feel appreciated and respected?” You’ll be surprised by what you hear.
Tip #2: Schedule Check-in Conversations
“Oh, this I’ve got down. I have an annual evaluation on the calendar already!”
Again, we’re talking about regular practices, right? Your team needs you to check in frequently. Find a few minutes to speak to each person individually. It can be informal if that fits the culture of your school or office. Or whenever your instincts tell you someone needs your attention.
Start with a question like “What’s the most pressing thing on your mind?” See what they’re prioritizing. Or struggling with. It’s okay if the answer isn’t the job. All information about their lives is useful and allows you to be a more compassionate leader.
Demonstrate how much you value this process and your staff. Dare to have candid conversations about how things are really going.
Tip #3: Share the Credit
Keep track of the moments when your team surpasses expectations. Maybe it was the brilliant solution to a nagging problem. Or a spontaneous act of stewardship to a donor. Or the skillful way someone defused a stressful moment. Track and share it with your Head. And your Board.
Consider a quick e-mail of gratitude to the team, and copy your Head of School. Or send one directly to your Head, bragging on a staff member. The tone of it should be informal and sweet: “I was blown away by this, and I knew you would be, too!”
Each of these will go a long way, and I guarantee your team won’t get tired of it as long as it’s specific and genuine. As Director (or Head) you get the majority of praise when things go well. Performing this daily activity ensures that your team feels seen.
Tip #4: Share the Spotlight
Look at your calendar. Do you have presentations on the horizon?
Of course you do. Think of opportunities to allow each and every one of your team members to speak up during these presentations — to take ownership of some aspect of it.
I’m well aware that not every one of your team members is going to be excited at the prospect of public speaking. In fact, it might be terrifying to them. But let’s be real: public speaking is a career advancing skill, and part of your job is to help your people develop professionally.
If it truly terrifies them, stand up there with them. You’re in this together, right?
This might feel like added complexity when you already have low bandwidth, but I assure you that it will pay off in time. Everyone in the organization will see the strengths each member of your staff brings to the work. They will know them. And your team will appreciate you for having faith in their abilities and for letting them present their own good ideas.
Tip #5: Advocate Like Heck for Your People
Advocating is a daily ritual.
Let’s start with this: insist that they are fairly paid. That’s the low bar. Benchmark peer schools to know what those ranges are. (You don’t want to get caught in a situation where your staff knows how uncompetitive their wages are, but you don’t.)
Now let’s bump it up a notch. Develop the habit of encouraging each staff member to seek out professional development opportunities that excite him/her and that add value to the program. Treat them like the professionals you want and need them to be.
This isn’t about finding defects and correcting them. It’s about seeing what they’re already good at and polishing it.
I could go on for ten more posts about great advocacy. I’ve barely scratched the surface here with these five tips.
At the end of the day, these aren’t optional. You aren’t going for extra credit. Practicing daily gratitude is the right thing to do for your people, your program, and your donors.
And lest I close out without practicing what I preach: I must thank the wonderful women you see in the picture that opens this post. That’s me on the far left, three outstanding volunteers, and a super-star former staff member, Lauren Davis.
These women, along with so many other pros I’ve worked with at different schools, are far more than simply former colleagues and volunteers; they’re now friends. They made everything we accomplished sweeter. And they had my back because they knew I had theirs.
And so, in closing, what else can I say? I thank you!
My name is Barbara Barron, and I’m writing this blog to share advice on a profession that I adore.
I’ve been working in the field of Independent School Advancement for nearly 20 years. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of creating and implementing successful Strategic Fundraising Plans for so many incredible schools. I’ve had the privilege of seeing real growth at The Carey School, Marin Primary & Middle School, Woodside Priory, Crystal Springs, Sage Ridge and others. (Maybe we’ve met!)
Nothing makes me happier than seeing a struggling school start to thrive. My hope is that you’re here to make a positive change as well. I hope my advice can be a part of that change.
Shoot me an e-mail if you want to swap tips, or share your voice here.
Let’s do this, together.