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Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got

My father, the Rev. Dr. John D. Erickson, was the CEO of two large organizations, one of which was an international non-profit. He mentored me, and gave me a lot of great advice on leadership and management – all of which I used and found invaluable. How lucky I was to have him help me!

The best leadership advice he gave me:  hire people smarter than you are, and then trust them to do their jobs. 

He also said my hires would reflect well on me as a leader. And that was very true.

This important advice stopped me from being a micro-manager, the worst kind of manager there is, because there was no way I could know or do everything.  Although I had to be a micro-manager to find out how bad it was…

Not long after I got my first Executive Director/CEO job, I hired a Development Director who came to me after 6 weeks and said she was going to quit because I wasn’t letting her do her job.

Luckily, I knew immediately what she meant (I had been a fundraiser so was sticking my nose into her business). I told her I’d change, and I did. I stopped telling her how she should do things. I stopped giving her my ideas. I stopped giving her a “to do” list. I started just listening to her ideas. I began asking her questions like “how can I help?” and “what do you need from me?” We began planning together for how to get the Board Development Committee up and running – with her taking the lead and me then working with the Board Chair to activate her as needed. We became partners, with clear roles. And we began to have fun.

That Development Director ended up staying for 6 years instead of 6 weeks. And she did amazing work simply because I got out of her way and let her use her fantastic skills and creativity.

I made sure she was visible to the Board and to donors, and that she and her team got the credit for their great work. Because that was a) the right thing to do, and b) motivating to her and her team.

My reward was simple: she and her team, and I with them, raised a LOT of money to expand our work and more effectively fulfill our mission. That motivated me so much.

I’m not completely altruistic, though. I like recognition, too. And I got it from my Board. They really liked that I led the organization to be able to do more, and that I had built a team that could achieve that much. That recognition motivated me to keep on with my leadership approach of empowering my staff leaders to do what they did so well.

My father’s advice was spot on, so I pass it on to other leaders.

One Response to Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got

  1. John

    Words and actions combined for success!

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