What does managing with excellence mean today? Twelve months ago, the world was a different place. Since then, external disruptions have forced organizations to change the ways they get work done and lead their people. Businesses and talent have responded with incredible resiliency, flexibility, and ingenuity and today the global workplace has adapted to a new normal.

As nonprofits continue to acclimate to the 2021 workplace, managers need to be on top of their game like never before. Engaging employees and inspiring change all while leading remotely is no small feat. In this article, I introduce two foundational building blocks of good management: self-awareness and strategic communication.

Improving Self-Awareness

In my experience, we over complicate management with complex initiatives and significant investments that yield little return. When I talk to leaders about how to develop their management style, I always begin with self-awareness. Why? Because for leaders to actually influence, motivate, or have any effect on other people, they must have a clear picture of what strengths and weaknesses they bring to the position. The following approach will help you to apply your strengths productively as a manager.

  1. Determine your strengths. The DiSC personality assessment is one tool for developing awareness, specifically in the context of leading others. DiSC identifies and clarifies strengths and opportunities around team interactions. This profile centers on four different behavioral traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. DiSC can help you understand how people who don’t naturally think and act like you process information and make decisions. It’s an excellent starting point for developing a self-aware leadership style.
  1. Reflect on what makes a good manager. When you invest time in building your self-awareness muscle, you also develop an informed mindset around aspirational leadership. After understanding who you are—including your natural strengths and opportunities for development—reflect on management examples from your past and current career. Who stands out as a positive leader, and why? Conversely, which managers did not deliver for you? Learn from these experiences. Identify which traits you wish to embody, and those that you deem ineffective for leadership.
  2. Create your personal management vision. Now that you are managing a team, your direct reports are having similarly positive or negative experiences of your leadership. Think through how you wish to behave in your role of newfound influence. Identify which traits you currently hold that serve your management vison well, and what qualities are in deficit that you’d like to acquire.

The practice of improving your self-awareness is in service of developing your personal management brand. As you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses and how to use them most effectively, you also better understand how to communicate more strategically.


Building Strategic Communication Skills

Strategic communication is the act of sharing ideas, processes, or information relevant to an organization’s strategic goals through advanced planning; it guides ongoing information transfer among stakeholders. Advanced planning is the key term here—what sets strategic communication apart from other forms of communication is the level of intentionality behind it.

One common scenario that requires strategic communication is any type of organizational change, such as the move from in-person to virtual work. During periods of change, the purpose of such communication is to encourage individuals to understand the rationale for change and embrace an open and positive state of mind so that the organization experiences sustainable results. Use strategic communication daily as a manager when engaging in difficult conversations and providing feedback.

  1. Navigating difficult conversations
    Navigating conflict is rarely easy for anyone and is especially difficult for nonprofit leaders who serve as ambassadors of their organizations’ mission, vision, and values. As a diplomat for your organization’s strategy, though, it is important for you to diligently prepare for both formal and informal strategic communication opportunities, especially in times of change.

    How can you, as a nonprofit manager, apply strategic communication—which requires advanced planning—in the moment? Practice. Unfortunately, you rarely have the luxury of preparation for many difficult conversations, but by practicing communication skills and key messaging ahead of time, you can be prepared for tough conversations as they unfold. This habit is essential for strategic communication success.

  1. Listening for feedback
    Listening to people is a vital component of strategic communication. The act of listening involves monitoring the environment to stay aware of what challenges people are facing, proactively seeking input for ideas the organization should consider, and acting on feedback from earlier communications. This is one of the most important communication skills to practice in preparation for difficult conversations. As you become a better listener, your employees will feel valued, and you can gain critical insight for your organization.

More Active Listening

Consider the following tips for more active listening.

  • Carefully listen with the goal of understanding the message, not just for your opportunity to respond.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, body language, and eye contact to understand the broader context of the message.
  • Although agreement is not necessary, listen without judgment and acknowledge that you have heard what is being said.
  • Most critically, respond to any feedback offered voluntarily; responding helps to build rapport, while not responding can eliminate trust.

Managing is never easy. Managing in the midst of a pandemic is uncharted territory for all of us. Set yourself up for success this year by learning more about these critical management best practices. Attend my Manager Bootcamp and improve the impact of your management style through a variety of interactive exercises and training. Learn more here.