Lifelong strategies to grow your leadership skills

publication date: Nov 18, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Achievement in your current role, no matter how much you excel, is just the beginning of becoming a leader, says SickKids Foundation CEO Ted Garrard. Professionals who aspire to leadership roles need to do much more than just beat their fundraising targets.

Garrard's thought a lot about what makes a leader. He's made the leap to leadership himself and mentors other leaders. His own commitment to growth led him to co-create D3 - Debate, Debunk, Delight, AFP Toronto's September event for charity CEOs. That gives you a hint of his first principle of leadership - the learning is never over, no matter how high you rise.Ted Garrard at D3

Start leadership learning early

Start learning in your first position. "If someone wants to promote themselves into a leadership role," Garrard advises, "they should learn all they can about their organization beyond their own job."

Ask lots of questions, he recommends. Find collaborative opportunities within the organization that will teach you about its other aspects - and don't limit your explorations to the fundraising function. "As I think of promoting," he reveals, "I look at the extent to which candidates tried to learn beyond the portfolio they're responsible for."

Take advantage of formal professional development opportunities through organizations such as AFP and AHP. Look beyond sector organizations to acquire the other skills you'll need, whether time management, productivity planning or public speaking.

People skills

The next must-have on Garrard's leadership list is the extent to which an individual relates well to people. In leadership roles, he explains, the demands to collaborate, communicate and relate become even more important. Those skill sets will make you comfortable with a great variety of stakeholders, an essential leadership quality in our sector.

Though we often think that people skills are an innate gift, Garrard says they can be learned. "Part of that comes from watching, observing others, and being open to that kind of feedback," he counsels. "If we're doing our job as leaders, we're providing that to our staff."

At his charity, that means formal sessions with outside experts on communication skills and collaboration. If your organization doesn't offer that, look for independent programs and seek individual mentoring. You won't go far without the learned gift of relating.

Show you believe!

Garrard gives a lot of weight to your contributions apart from work. That means volunteering with other charities and sector professional organizations. A track record of achievement in such roles demonstrates that you're a serious professional with a good sector network and a strong commitment to giving back.

You'll reap another benefit too. Serving on the other side of the staff/volunteer fence gives you insight into what volunteers need from staff to fulfil their responsibilities effectively. You can take that back into your workplace to better support your own volunteers.

Helping and being helped

Success as a leader often depends on your ability to articulate passion for your mission and win people over, Garrard reflects. Work on both your written and oral communication skills. Mentors can be especially helpful here, offering frank, friendly feedback as you reflect on successes and mistakes.

"I was lucky to have fantastic mentors in and beyond my sector," he recalls. "Not all learning comes from organized activities and professional development sessions. Identify what will improve you - then find mentors. People are pleased to be asked. I've taken the time to mentor many people, and I applaud them for asking for it. Many have gone on to do great things."

If you ask Garrard how he nurtures his talents now, he readily credits the support of others across the country. He participates in formal networks such as the National Council of Foundation Executives and a forum for top North American children's hospitals.

Creating what's needed

And when he can't find what he needs next - well, being a leader, he creates it. That's how he became involved in D3, a day-long conference that drew 150 Canadian charity CEOs to hear "provocative speakers that helped us look differently at what we do."

"Time challenges are the biggest reason that some executives don't engage with others. But leaders have to take ownership of getting together and offering value," he comments.

Garrard challenges today's leaders to tackle the impending leadership gap resulting from mass retirements among aging Boomers. While many in the sector fret, he prefers to emphasize that he sees many very talented younger people. But a short-term focus on raising money and building donor relationships could leave us high and dry in a few years, he warns. "We fail as leaders today if we don't do all we can to develop the leaders of tomorrow."

Photo: AFP Greater Toronto Chapter

For more information, contact Ted Garrard.

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