CDE project 17 sec­tion 3.2: inside-out leadership

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 22, 2017

Inside-out leadership - change yourself first

One of us once attended an outstanding training programme given by leadership expert Penny Ferguson. On Day 1, she listened to the way we interacted in a group discussion and then demonstrated how every one of us, even the most experienced managers, were making inadvertent mistakes in how we interacted with others. We also learned that with some small tweaks to the way you communicate, coupled with a switch in focus from managing to leading, you can make a big difference in how your colleagues feel about their own abilities.

One of the concepts Penny helps people learn is Inside-Out Leadership. There is a gap of at least two weeks between the sessions. When people come back for the final day of the course, they talk about what has changed for them. In describing their new mindset, common answers are ‘more open, more tolerant, appreciative, receptive and authentic’. In terms of what they’ve been doing differently, their answers include ‘truly listening, keeping my mouth shut and asking for their ideas, asking questions to get others to take responsibility’. 

Participants are asked what results they have had in the last two weeks. When the group reported the results since we had shifted our mind-set, every single person described external effects, such as ‘improved motivation from my team’, ‘everyone’s been more proactive’ and ‘improved relationships in the team’. 

As we sat and listened to everyone else’s improvements in both relationships and results, we realised that though our colleagues had been operating at a higher and more productive level, none of us had told our colleagues to behave differently. What we had done was focus on changing ourselves, and in doing so people and relationships had changed around us. At this point, we properly understood what Penny meant about great leadership being inside-out. As Penny summarises:

It is not about changing others – it is about changing self.

We have found that most managers set about trying to improve their team’s performance by trying to better manage people’s behaviours, but what a great leader does is to start with themselves. They understand that the decision to trust, believe in and empower results in subtle but powerful differences in the signals you send. These shifts lead to results on the outside - your team developing greater confidence to think for themselves and proactively do the right thing. 

Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration – of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. 

It is an attitude, not a routine.

Lance Secretan, Industry Week, 10 December 1998.

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About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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