Transformational Leadership

Here at the International Fundraising consultancy (IFC) we believe that fundraising is a passionate, caring and critically important profession that has a love for building a better world; but it requires excellence in leadership to transform fundraising departments to allow them to transform charities and other social organisations across the world.

Transformational leadership is not merely transactional management, which concentrates on getting individual jobs done, motivates staff (if at all) by reward & punishment, maintains the status quo (however ineffective) and rocks no boats.

Nor is it the strong person leadership we sometimes turn to in times of need; who full of self-confidence (and not a little hubris) unite people against a common enemy and takes hard, often harsh, decisions. These people can be called on to meet the big needs of nations – such as in wartime – but they don’t like the light of day, and can turn into dictators: killing journalists, stifling the press and locking up the opposition. These people eventually fall when they fail, or when the people finally rise and overthrow them.

Instead transformational leaders are followed by those they lead, who in turn often become transformational leaders: They set the far horizons where they are leading the organization (or department), show the steps they will take to get there, over-communicate so people all get the message and know where the organization is on the proposed path.

Years ago, Plutarch said that people are social animals and they will observe and imitate you. Recently General Stanley McChrystal wrote, in ‘Leaders: Myth and Reality’, that’s how you behave, how you treat others, how you cope with pressure and whether you follow through on your promises will be imitated by the people you lead.’

At IFC we run a free business breakfast for the leaders of fundraising departments and one of their key concerns is the number of fundraisers who they nurture but who then go on the better jobs. In James Comey’s recent book, he mentions in passing that the FBI he led had a very low level of people leaving. On the face of it this is strange, FBI work is dangerous, the staff are often away from their families for long periods, there is little chance to shine in the media and the pay is not that hot. On the other hand; they are devoted to the principles of the organization, proud of its achievements, keenly aware of the good it does and led by leaders they respect. Perhaps some of this motivational leadership needs to be used to inspire and motivate charity staff – the causes are quite awesome enough – perhaps we lack the leadership. But let me quickly say, that transformational leaders are not born, that spirited leadership can be learned and practiced to build real teams that perform far above the sum of their individual actions.

“My mom always told me to use my brain, but to make sure it’s linked to my heart.” ~ Angelique Kidjo, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, singer and songwriter

So, then let’s look briefly at the bones of transformational leadership:

  • Set the long-term agenda and its moral base.
  • Inspire and motivate people to work towards that goal through a series of clear objectives.
  • Be the change you wish to see in others. Certainly, be ‘authentic’, but in this case that authenticity must involve following the precepts you have set down for others to follow and you should lead by example.
  • Work towards cooperation and harmony in the team and across the organisation.
  • Allow your staff to develop and be intellectually stimulated, so they can grow and become the leaders for tomorrow.
  • In today’s fast-moving environment, you will need to adapt to change and innovate.

You can find much more about transformational leadership on Wikipedia.

Lastly, as a leader in fundraising today you will need to develop diverse sources of funding, as new approaches open up and old ones begin to close down. Take your team on this journey and the results may well surprise you. It will be a challenging process not least in convincing others to give you the resource you need to transform the organisation but also in dealing head-on with the intractable human problems that others may well have left in their wake.

This all takes time, but as President Obama said. “Out of this long process a brighter day will come.”