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February 21, 2017

Becoming a Generalist

When you step up to lead a team that includes fundraisers from different specialisms, you have to make a shift from being a specialist in your area of fundraising to becoming more of a generalist. Here are some tips...

Becoming a Generalist

When you step up to lead a team that includes fundraisers from different specialisms you have to make a shift from being a specialist in your area of fundraising to becoming more of a generalist.

Traditionally managers have the answers to their team's issues but you'll be managing people who know more about their area of fundraising than you do. You many not have faced the challenges that are specific to their role.

For example as a Corporate Fundraising Manager who steps up to lead a Corporate, Trusts and Statutory team you'll find yourself dealing with the political landscape, onerous reporting and a lot of detail rather than the pitches and partnerships that you've been good at. So how do you add value in that situation? How do you even know if the person you're managing is good at their job? How do you manage and motivate people who may have different communications styles or priorities to you? How do you establish credibility as their manager?

When you first became a line manager you learnt a new way of working. Now it's time to evolve again and become a generalist. Here are some of the factors involved in being a great generalist.

Build trust and mutual respect

Trust is key to your relationships with your direct reports and you gain trust through honesty and making sure your words and actions align. I have always found it helpful to be upfront about the extent of the knowledge and experience I have of their area and recognise their expertise. Starting from a place of mutual respect is also a good idea, i.e. you work from the assumption that they are great at their job and they work from the assumption that you are great at yours.

Set clear boundaries

Ultimately you are responsible for the performance of your team and so you will want to have some influence over their activity, even though you are still learning about it. Explain that you will be held accountable (so you're not going to be totally hands off) and are keen to understand as much as possible and to add value. Set clear boundaries about what you need to know and be involved in.

Understand what they need from you

When you're managing people who are themselves managers or heads of teams, their needs will be very different from junior team members from the same specialism as you. If they're performing well they may well resent you trying to 'manage' them. So find out what help they need from you and get really good at delivering that. It might be improving relationships with the programmes team, pushing through change internally or some of your time to attend key meetings but unless you ask then you won't know how best to support and lead them.

Be their champion

The best leaders and managers are champions of their team. They negotiate internally, they fully support their team members, they ensure that those doing the work are given the credit and they help raise the profile of those who work for them.

Agree objectives and KPIs

Make sure that, even if you don't yet understand all if the detail, that you know exactly what you expect of your direct reports and so do they. An objective setting session will also help you to understand what the variables that can and cannot be controlled are for each income stream and how to identify good and poor performance.

Take a coaching approach

A coaching approach can be a great way to approach managing specialists. It assumes that people have the ability to come up with their own great solutions if you ask the right questions and provide them with the support and confidence to do so. It's empowering for the person being coached and means you don't always have to have all the answers.

Get great at internal negotiation

The higher you rise in an organisation, the more important this becomes. Being able to influence change in other teams or departments is crucial to success if you're going to help your team perform at their best.

Be aware of your bias

In all likelihood your specialism involves approaching tasks in a certain way. Some income streams require huge attention to detail, others need visionary big picture thinking. In some areas, being brilliant with words is crucial, in others it's all about the numbers. You are likely to have different strengths and aptitudes to those you manage and it's important that, as well as bringing your perspective, you learn to think like they do and understand why they approach things in the way they do.

Learn and fill in the gaps in your knowledge

Learn as much as you can about the income streams that you are now responsible for. Identify what they need from the organisation to be successful. Attend events and read relevant blogs. The more you know, the more you will be able to support your team to perform well.

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.


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