Early in our advancement careers, we become valued individual contributors in major gifts, stewardship, annual giving, volunteer management, etc. And if we are really good at our work, we wake up one day and find out we have been promoted to management. In many cases, the hiring managers, who themselves received no management training, somehow think you will know more about management than they did. Seldom does this promotion come with a corresponding investment in management training.

For an industry with high turnover, it seems incongruent that we do not commit to training new managers. You do not need to look far to find studies pointing to how poor management is the top reason for staff turnover. The friction, communication breakdowns, and daily brush fires are exhausting. The constant stress leads to an unproductive and unhealthy environment where staff lose trust in the leadership and become unengaged and burned out.

My words can highlight the problem and point to the problem; however, I also want to be part of the solution. After many years of managing people, there are a few things I have done that have made me a better and more effective manager than writing out my management philosophy.

Why does having a philosophy work?

We all need to be grounded in who we are as leaders. It serves as your moral compass about how you will lead and inspire your team. The more consistently you apply these principles the greater likelihood you will build a team that will thrive and perform beyond your expectations.  In my mind, there are at least 5 benefits of having a management philosophy. These include:

  • Feeling more confident about your management style
  • Making better hiring decisions
  • Offering your team more clarity about your expectations
  • Performing at a higher level with an engaged and inspired team
  • Retaining more of your staff

Creating a management philosophy is not hard to do. It simply requires you to write down those thoughts that you have had in your head all these years. Simply, how you conduct yourself every day as a leader and manager? In nearly every interview I conduct, I ask about management style. Rarely do I get a complete and thoughtful response. The answers are often parts of a philosophy: “not a micromanager,” “treat people the way I want to be treated,” and “want to develop my staff and give them professional growth.” The candidates who take it a step further and articulate a clear set of management principles move forward more often in my searches because I have a higher degree of confidence they will consistently apply these values in managing their team.

My dad’s educational philosophy

I wrote my philosophy 25 years ago and modeled it after my father’s educational philosophy. He taught and coached in the public school system for 30+ years. His guiding principles allowed him to become one of the most admired and respected teachers in his school district. His educational philosophy included four guiding principles:

  1. The most important goal of teaching is to change negative attitudes into positive ones, by helping students believe in themselves first and then to acquire trust and respect in others.
  2. One’s best effort should be put forth at all times. You only get out of life what you put into it.\
  3. Discipline should be fair and consistent; young people benefit from this kind of common sense and caring treatment.
  4. I hold a basic belief that school problems can be and are solved when those in authority resist “passing the buck” of responsibility.
My management philosophy

He also raised five sons who grew into responsible and capable adults. As a parent, I often lean on his philosophy to encourage my kids to be at their best. This framework gave him his moral compass to how he taught and parented. As leaders, we must do the same for our teams. Echoing my Dad’s humanistic approach, my first management philosophy included four guiding principles:

  1. Care and serve people
  2. Commit to quality and being the best in your niche
  3. Build a community of lifelong learners
  4. Model and set standards for others to follow

My management philosophy evolved over the years and now has seven principles:

  1. Build trust, have integrity and demonstrate competence
  2. Engage all stakeholders in setting ambitious goals
  3. Manage with empathy and accountability
  4. Position each team member to be successful
  5. Create a positive and encouraging environment
  6. Treat each individual with respect and humility
  7. Commit to growing the skill set of every team member
Craft your management philosophy

These are just two examples to guide you. As you write your own or refine what you have, think about what is important to you: what leaders have inspired you and why; what values and behaviors are important for your team to exhibit; how will you create an engaging and productive work environment; how will people be measured; and how do you want to be viewed as a leader? These are a few questions to guide you in developing your management philosophy.

If you have a management philosophy or just completed this exercise, I hope you will share yours with others on this thread. Also, share with me how we might help our field do a better job of training managers.

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