The alarm shrilled, waking a less-than-well-rested Taylor. She had been up half the night examining one worry after another. In addition to Taylor’s routine anxieties about the health of her parents and raising well-rounded children, concerns about work had expanded to occupy several cars on the worry train chugging through her mind. She had recently been promoted to manage a team of gift officers and their support staff. The promotion had seemed like an important steppingstone in her career, but she was beginning to long for the days when she had the luxury of focusing only on her own work.

The year’s end loomed, and her team members were feeling the stress of achieving their annual goals. Several of them—team members that she considered very talented—were in danger of missing several key metrics. The year-end anxiety was only one piece of the fuel propelling Taylor’s personal worry train. Her team represented several generations and, at times, they struggled to see their colleagues’ viewpoints. Only yesterday, tempers flared over the best idea for their team holiday celebration, of all things. She was getting tired of feeling like a referee. And she was having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

The sad truth is that many advancement leaders have felt like Taylor at one point or another in their careers. They received a promotion because they were good at fundraising and found themselves thrust into a role that required them to be good at leadership. When they tried taking classes to beef up their leadership skills, they were disappointed to find that many traditional types of leadership training don’t translate neatly into the nuances of work in advancement.

The good news is that a more diverse workforce and more open workplace has engendered a new type of leadership, one that is less proscriptive—“do exactly as I say!”—to one that is more open. Even better, many of the qualities that good leaders must develop are the same ones that make advancement professionals effective at their work, qualities such as active listening and negotiating.

Taylor could use adaptive leadership to solve many problems, including her team’s year-end metric woes. An adaptive leader is sensitive to areas of conflict and asks the team to participate in helping to solve the problem. If her team has the luxury of creating their own metrics, they could work together to create metrics that are meaningful to their work. If they don’t have this luxury, the team can still work together to find better ways to meet their metrics. Either way, Taylor can draw on the same skills she uses to work with donors and internal stakeholders to ensure a contribution is meaningful to all. By taking the “team sport” approach, Taylor no longer must play the role of the hero who single-handedly solves all the team’s problems—or the enforcer who must constantly harangue her team to comply.

Generative leadership relies on active listening and good communication to build a cohesive team that is committed to continuous learning. These same skills Taylor already uses to help donors and subject matter experts achieve their philanthropic goals can help her team gain a greater understanding of how best to work together.

Taylor can assuage the generational differences bubbling up among her team through inclusive leadership. This type of leadership demonstrates respect for each team member by treating them in an empathetic, bias-free way—just as she does in working with donors.

Advancement leaders don’t need to be stuck on the worry train. By leveraging the skills they have honed in their work as fundraisers and applying them in new ways using creative types of leadership, they’ll put themselves on the tracks leading to success.


A new era of leadership is dawning—one that employs adaptive, generative, and inclusive methods. Participate in Elevate to learn how to leverage your skills for greater leadership success. The train is leaving the station—hop aboard!