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Leadership Monday: Wise Leaders Know What They Don’t Know

Yes, wise leaders are aware of the fact that they can’t be the experts in all areas and departments reporting back to them — and they’re comfortable with that reality. What this implies, of course, is that you hire the best people, especially in areas where your knowledge may be less than 100%.

Here’s a personal example: just a couple of years ago, I was helping a nonprofit client fill a position. The organization was looking for someone from the nonprofit world with a strong operations, business development, and support skills background. I spoke with a number of candidates who had the requisite skills. I also spoke to an applicant who lacked experience in the nonprofit world, but had what I considered innovative ideas about using social media and blogging as a way of supporting the nonprofit’s annual fund efforts. The end result was that the “inexperienced” individual was hired over the more conventional candidates (much to the eventual satisfaction of the organization). Fast forward two years and this individual has now implemented social media strategies and helped to launch an electronic fundraising campaign as a way of augmenting their direct mail efforts.

Because of today’s challenging and very competitive fundraising climate, the level of complexity and number of details to be managed far exceeds any one person’s ability to be an expert in all areas of an integrated fundraising department. This also applies to department heads directly under the executive director, for example.

Is it important for various leaders to have ownership of their specific areas? Yes, it is. But it’s also critically important that these leaders have interest in the function and integration of other areas of the advancement office. To be a nonprofit that focuses on continuous improvement and learning, experts need to be students of other experts. To put this another way, leaders aspiring to be experts need to study others who are leaders and experts in several fields. There’s no shame in that because a genuine desire to learn, along with a little humility, makes for a strong leadership team as well as solid results.

Successful, leaders guide strong team members toward a purpose larger than themselves. Team members are respected for their expertise and are called to stretch beyond their experience to enhance their program.


  1. You should be stimulated, not threatened, by someone with greater skills and knowledge than you-and what that might mean for your personal and professional growth.

  2. Know your work objectives and hire the strongest people you can to assist you in reaching your objectives.

  3. Understand that your success is dependent on the success of your team–hire the best and brightest that you possibly can.

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