Time to Exercise My Manager Muscles

By Zachary S. Kester, JD, LLM, CFRM, at Charitable Allies

I recently sent out an email where I spoke about how my manager muscles were sore! I haven’t exercised those muscles very much in the past and after hiring our sixth staffer, those muscles needed to be stretched. I intend to be a good manager, so I’ve been reading up on resources for nonprofit management professional development. I asked for my subscribers’ professional development secrets and they didn’t disappoint! I didn’t intend to keep all of this great advice to myself, so the next time you find yourself needing to exercise your management muscles, take in this advice. You’re welcome.

“I meet with each member of my staff to discuss their personal needs and wants. I seek to provide assistance for each staff member. In one case, a direct report is now working on her master’s degree. I have sent others to classes for special training. I have also taken a group of major gift officers, for example, as my guest at an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) lunch on an educational topic relevant to them. I provide subscriptions to publications, mentors for various individuals and meetings (1:1 and group), social media opportunities plus arrange meetings with peers, just to determine ways to enhance personal and team performance.”

Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE

“Whether it is a big win or small win, a big fail or small fail, winning doesn’t assume a praise and focus on strength development, and a failure doesn’t assume a critique and focus on weakness development. In all things, winning or failing, we ask, “Could we have done this with more excellence?” Sometimes we win and say, “We could’ve done better,” and sometimes we lose and say, “We gave it all we had.” Therefore with our leadership and managers/executives, we celebrate excellence, not winning or losing.”

Chris Cartwright, Lead Pastor of The Kingdom Church

“INDI strive to teach our youth teams to strive to work together as a team to achieve goals larger than themselves. The best advice you can give your execs and managers is to both be a team player and teach others to be. Sounds trite and too obvious, right? Not so: Giving up personal goals or allowing the blending of one’s own idea by others into a compromise altered and molded to a morphed outcome by others (deliberate repeat) is one of the hardest skills adults acquire. It is far easier if the skill is brought into adulthood with the individual. It requires focusing on others needs beyond your own, sacrificing ideas or letting them go to a revision for the sake of the larger goals of the organization, and focusing on the needs of the organization rather than the needs of the individuals involved.

One only need observe how Congress functions, or how a local festival runs with success to realize the significance of teamwork. The age-old adage ‘two heads are better than one’ speaks deep truth at its core. This does not mean there is not a need for other leadership skills or utilizing them during the morphing of an idea, but rather that leader must adopt the team approach as a core value of how they function to achieve beyond expectations.

Networking is a close relative of teamwork and would be my next best advice. The broader and stronger your personal network, the faster and more efficiently you can manage a challenge of any variety.”

Denise Benczik, Indiana Destination Imagination Affiliate co-Director

“Remember that employees are your number one customer and the old adage is true, a happy employee makes happy customers/clients. When they feel cared for, they care more and you can get buy-in for whatever you ask them to do, within reason. Think of a boss or teacher you would have done anything for. It was likely not the work that inspired you, but the great example that person was in your life or career that motivated you to work those extra hours, run a personal errand, or stay after class to clean the classroom. Employees want to feel part of a team with a shared vision and mission, so be sure to spell that out clearly from the start. Don’t assume they will just catch it by osmosis.

  1. Work side by side with each person in each department for a day, or a half day, to really learn and appreciate what they do. This will go miles toward mutual respect they feel and genuine appreciation on your part. Try not to question why they are doing things the way they are initially, but ask questions about the procedures and what they might need to make their job go smoother. Get to know the process and the person. What do they like to do on their off time; how about their family?
  2. When you have meetings, listen to everyone. Ask, what do you each think about this idea? Thank each one for their suggestions. Write them down. Say things like, “that is an interesting idea, I don’t think we have thought of that before, that is a new twist on something we were considering…”, so they know you heard them. You may find some really great ideas of the many you hear and you can give kudos to the team member who offered the suggestion at the next meeting when you announce how the idea will be implemented. Even if it is not fully embraced, you can give credit to the team member who sewed the original seed which prompted the resulting action. People love to know they are valued and appreciated.
  3. Ask for input on how to show appreciation based on the individual. You can do this by multiple choice. As you get to know your team, you will gain a sense of what makes each member feel valued. It may be kudos in front of the group; it may not. It may be an excellence award to honor success, like a member of the month parking spot close to the building. Ask if they would prefer a team lunch for their birthday or an afternoon off to have a pedicure or take a hike, and give them that. Calendar everyone’s birthday and work anniversary and ask what their favorite dessert is and have that ready for them on their special day and calendar it. Gather the team to sing. It is cheesy but nice. If someone says they really hate that, skip it, really.
  4. Shoot for the mentor/coach management style, rather than a list maker/taskmaster style, and you can’t miss.
  5. Ravi Zacharias says, “Love your people. If you do this, they will love your clients and each other. Just be just by being enthusiastic self, they will follow suit. Positive attitudes are contagious.”
    I am sure you can find lots of books to read like, John Maxwell’s Going from Good to Great is a classic.

Kaydee Wilson, Administrative Assistant,

“As a noncommissioned officer in the Army, our job basically boiled down to providing three things – purpose, direction, and motivation.

It’s not always as easy to do, but the Army does a good job of developing that in general. I can say from experience there are a handful of things I make sure to do. First, I motivate by providing ownership. I don’t like to manage projects, I like to give guidance, and paint a picture of what the end result should look like then walk away. The important part is to check in, not to correct or adjust, but to offer help and collaboration.

Something else I like to do is actually start the projects myself and ask for feedback for teammates. We don’t always know where to start on large projects, myself included. So when I jump in and show initiative, there’s an aspect of leading by example that is noticed by teammates.

I final quick note, I always use “we” instead of “I” and I make sure to do some of the actual work myself, sometimes, even asking if there are smaller tasks in a project I can take in order to help teammates do the actual management. I find my peers and subordinates alike appreciate that type of engagement and it gives me a point of observation where I can give targeted feedback.”

Tom Smoot Jr, Chief Executive, Lift and Shift Foundation

“We have an amazing consultant/ contractor at Charitable Advisors named Erin Slater. She is a iPEC coach which is, what I believe to be, an amazing method of inspiring your staff to help them increase their ambition and ability. This method is based on Bruce Schneider’s book called Energy Leadership. I would highly recommend reading it. Here is Erin’s info:

Erin Slater, Certified Professional Coach and Consultant
317-679-7753 |

Here is an observation of something that Bryan has done well. I am the operations person. Every week Bryan and I have a one-hour conversation. This allows me to ask clarifying questions on current projects and prioritize. We try not to miss this weekly meeting. When we do, it seems like everything falls apart. This also prevents me from constantly interrupting him with emails, texts and phone calls throughout the week. Of course, occasionally there’s an urgent matter which I have to reach out to him. As a general rule, I try to eliminate distracting him beyond our meeting knowing he has his consulting work to focus on.”

Julie Struble, Operations Director, Charitable Advisors

I have two book recommendations for new managers.

  • A Leader’s Heart by John Maxwell…it’s a daily devotional with great leadership principles that are based in the bible.
  • The Way of the Shepherd by Dr. Kevin Leman…this one is a MUST READ!”

Jenna Ott, Executive Director, Community Foundation of Noble County

A sincere thank you to everyone who graciously responded with this great advice. I have already started implementing these suggestions while exercising my manager muscles!

About Charitable Allies

With highly experienced legal, accounting and training personnel, Charitable Allies provides all manner of legal and educational services for boards, officers management and staff of myriad charities throughout the sector. From basic one-time questions about a single matter to training for boards and officers to complex reorganization or merger of activities, Charitable Allies is your go-to cost-effective provider of legal services to nonprofit organizations.