At many stages in our careers, especially as we move into leadership roles, we often wish for a crystal ball to tell us what lies ahead. In reality, we don’t need the crystal ball. If we carefully observe the actions of other leaders around us and note the reactions of their team members, we can design our own blueprint for the type of leader we wish to be.

We recently had the opportunity to interview an individual who has held many leadership positions during his career, including that of chief development officer (CDO). From his comments, we gleaned three pieces of advice for young leaders that are better than any crystal ball.

1. Create your own personal mission statement

“I identified that my mission in life is to see the needs and resources, and bring them together, so that people are helped and communities are served.”


Just as organizations have a mission statement, you should have one, too. A mission statement serves as your compass on your journey through the decision-making process. It can be as simple as the one shared above. Or it can be more complex to take into account the types of organizations for which you wish to work or the specific areas in which you desire to make an impact. As a leader, you have the opportunity to influence and contribute to the mission and vision strategy of the organization. Creating your own mission statement first ensures that you have a solid platform on which to stand as you help chart the course of your organization.

2. Treat your team members as you would your donors

Whether you are managing up or down, you must build strong, trust-based relationships to have an effective team. One way to develop trust is to put the other person first—it’s not about you.

In managing up, the path you chart is clear: Your role is to support the CEO, executive suite, and the organization in achieving their goals and mission. Trust develops as the others see your commitment to the organization’s mission.

In managing members of your team, you can build trust by listening to them, implementing their ideas when appropriate, and empowering them to take risks.

“My role was to help support the people that were involved to make the decisions that would get us to the right place.”


3. Look to role models—both positive and negative

Observe other leaders around you. What works for them? What do you find inspiring? What comes off as demotivating? Borrowing what works from successful leaders and eschewing what doesn’t can be an effective strategy in shaping your own leadership style. Just be sure to shape those strategies as your own. “Focusing on the things that you see in leaders that you don’t want to be can be one of the strongest ways to inform your own leadership style,” the CDO we interviewed states.

To illustrate, he pointed out that as he was coming up the ranks, he observed a leader who always ate lunch alone. In his mind, this leader was failing to capitalize on the perfect time to build relationships. Another leader he worked with took professional relationships too far into personal friendships, making it difficult to challenge or push on things that needed to be done.

“I determined that I needed to have a carefully drawn line that wouldn’t cross over into friendship, but then I failed to be compassionate enough with my team in trying to keep that line clear. I learned that, as a leader, you do need to more deeply develop relationships, still being careful that those relationships are professional and not personal.”


Taking time to create your own personal mission statement to chart your professional course, remembering that it’s “not about you,” and carefully observing leaders of all stripes will help build your leadership skills—all without a crystal ball.


Toss that crystal ball over your shoulder and predict you own success by attending Elevate: Coaching Essentials for Managers—a virtual learning experience designed specifically for leaders of front-line fundraising teams.

Elevate: Coaching Essentials for Managers