I visit with many college and university presidents, nonprofit executives, and other leaders.
When I ask, “so, how are things right now?” I often get one of two types of answers:
- A reflective, introspective response focused on what is happening within the institution. How things are progressing with the leadership team, for instance. Or, how things are progressing with the campaign. Which strategies being implemented by the leader are working. Which strategies are not. Where they see promise and where they are feeling pain. Or,
- A reactive, extrinsic response focused on what is happening outside of the institution. The terrible news of the day in a place far away, for instance (and how that could possibly be a problem at some point for the institution). The trends in the marketplace and industry. The cultural trends of our broader world.
In most every instance, the leaders who start first by responding to my open-ended, introductory question with a more introspective response (Response #1), tend to be more optimistic than the leaders who start by commenting on the broader environment. Response #1 leaders are not always optimistic, of course. Everything isn’t always perfect from their perch. But, they tend to be more optimistic than Response #2 leaders.
- Response #1 leaders are not necessarily better or more effective leaders. In fact, we surely can “navel-gaze” too much. “Paralysis by analysis,” as the old saying goes.
- Response #1 leaders also tend to bring a lightness and hopefulness to their teams that Response #2 leaders do not bring.
Effective fundraising begins with hope. Fundamentally and simply, this hope is the belief that tomorrow can be better than today.
When leaders allow the outside world to burden them fully with its problems – when what is happening “out there,” distracts them from what they can be doing “in here” – you can sense their belief in this fundamental hope diminishing. The outside world is almost always negative, dangerous, and unfavorable.
Yes, we all live in the world and must operate within its various and complex constraints.
But, where leaders choose to place their focus determines how much hope they will offer others – and themselves.