Can development professionals get by with just one management style?

At a workshop I attended the other day, participants were asked to describe their management style. Are you consensus-driven or top-down, permissive or autocratic? The way the question was posed implies that management flows in just one direction, from manager to employee.  But most development professionals know they need to engage people across the entire organization and at every level.  So don’t we need different styles depending on whom and what we’re managing?

The plain fact is we don’t manage associates the same way we manage directors. And we don’t manage board chairs the same way we manage interns.  Different positions require different approaches.  So before we talk about ‘style,’ let me propose thinking about ‘direction’ -- up, down, and sideways -- and suggest developing a separate management approach for each.

Let’s start with managing ‘up’ -- namely your boss. This is all about positioning yourself as an indispensable member of the team and getting your boss to do things for you.

No. 1: Be in synch with your boss. One way you can do this is by making her priorities your own. Make it a point to understand your boss’ short- and long-term goals.  What tasks need to be done right now? What impact does she want the organization to have five years down the road?  It might be growth or stability, or a combination of both. There's usually a policy agenda, but what’s driving the agenda -- fairness, equality, safety, accountability? Once you understand her priorities, keep them front and center – post them in your office and make sure your actions advance those priorities.  

No. 2: Another way to understand your boss is to watch for pressure points. Are there certain situations where you notice the tension-meter rising?  Perhaps a particular board member calls or a finance committee is coming up? If you watch and understanding these dynamics, you can adjust your interactions accordingly. You don't want to adding to the pressure. Be supportive and wait for the right moment. It will go a long way to helping you be successful.

No. 3: Remember your boss is a busy person. There are a lot of people competing for her attention. You need to develop strategies to ‘cut through the noise’ of her schedule. Face-time is critical for maintaining a good relationship, so establish a regular weekly meeting to go over projects, provide an update on fundraising, report on new trends, and talk about budget and personnel changes. Try to pick a time that’s unlikely to draw conflicts and cancellations, so early morning or late afternoon. It’s probably best to stay away from the busy hours of 10 am to 4 pm.  

No. 4: When you do have a meeting, make it both easy and rewarding.  Send an agenda in advance, cover the most pressing issues first, and wrap up on time. Your boss – and everyone else -- will dread meeting with you if you’re unprepared, disorganized, or drone on about old business.  And bring good news. No matter how bad it gets, find something positive to report about your department.  Direct mail down? Talk about online giving. Fewer donors? Talk about increased average gift. Turned down for a grant? Bring 10 more prospects. Also plan to use this time to get what you need to succeed in your job. Do you want your boss to make thank you calls to donors, meet with a program officer, approve a new staff position? Use every trick: cajole, compliment, and persist.

No. 5: Finally, when asked to do something, always say yes. Don’t try to rationalize saying no by claiming you have no time or you don’t have enough staff.  Your boss took those factors into consideration. She asked you for a reason; she thinks you’re the best person to do the job. So be happy she has confidence in your abilities and just say yes.  

There’s more to managing 'up' than we can cover in one blog, but these are good starters for making interactions with your boss go more smoothly. Next week, we’ll talk about managing ‘down’—that traditional understanding of management-- your direct reports.