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What Helps Define a True Leader? Emotional Intelligence is a Big Part of It!



As you move through your development career, there are many wonderful examples of people who have true emotional intelligence. And, unfortunately, those who do not. Contrast these examples:


One remarkable donor, very generous with his funding and with his interest, asked me to help arrange a communications intervention for one of the Ph.D.s he was supporting. It seemed that the director wanted to say goodbye to this young man who was in a pivotal position because he was not a good communicator. For the donor, this was just not acceptable until the organization could help this individual develop that strength. I never forgot this. This gentleman showed such tender concern for the Ph.D. who was not being supported inside the organization, but was being supported by a special individual from the outside.


I always have contrasted that with a key physician with whom my team worked. I knew he was upset about an issue that had occurred with a donor. When I met with the physician I acknowledged immediately that he was upset and I explained what had happened. The physician denied that he was upset, though everything in his body language said otherwise. He accepted my explanation, the plan to resolve it and thanked me for coming to his office so quickly after the incident. Before I was back at my own office he had called my supervisor to complain about what had happened with the donor, complain about me, the team and the solution that I had offered. While he was not happy with the situation, he couldn't have this conversation directly with me or be emotionally honest. I never forgot this either.


Emotional intelligence. Every really good leader has it. In fact Talent Smart has noted that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence, 58% of job performance is related to it and those with high emotional intelligence make more money than others.


So what is it? It is a concept made up of self awareness and understanding, self regulation, empathy, motivation and social skills. While cognitive intelligence is tied to understanding specific information, solving problems and making decisions, emotional intelligence is related to understanding people's needs and feelings for one's self and others.


In development, this is an important characteristic that makes a critical difference for those working with major donors, as well as those in a supervisory role. How can one recruit for this trait? Here are some questions that could help identify candidates who are well poised for success. The questions have been developed by many individuals, primarily by Laura Fries, a contributing writer giving expert advice to The Business Journals and adapted for development officers and administrative leaders:

  • Tell me about a donor with whom you worked on a regular basis who you find difficult to get along with. What have you done to build a stronger relationship? What was the result?

  • Tell me about a time when you rejected one of your team member's ideas or opinions about a project in which a donor was interested––what happened?

  • Tell me about a time when someone felt that you were being unfair with a development team member––what did you do?

  • Describe a situation when you had misplaced optimism in the donor and your ability to secure a contribution. How did you proceed?

  • Tell me about a time when you found it necessary to bend the rules...what did you do? Was it for one of your staff members? A key organizational leader? A donor? Why did you do it? How did you feel about it?

  • Describe the most difficult boss you ever had. How did you find common ground? What did you learn from the boss? How has that knowledge furthered your career?

  • Give me an example of a time when you failed to establish and maintain a relationship with a key donor. What happened?

  • Tell me your favorite story about a donor and what happened. Why is it important for you?

  • Talk about a time when you had to deal with an irate donor or organizational leader. How would you evaluate your performance?

  • Tell me how you chose to say goodbye to a major gifts officer who regularly under-performed? How did you feel? How did they feel? What did you tell the other staff?

  • When you last missed an annual performance goal, how did you explain that to the board members? To your direct supervisor? To what did you attribute this "miss?"

All of these questions are designed to determine who is going to be a good/great development officer. Be sure to watch for body language that may not be consistent with the answers being given. Be sure to ask other questions that are designed to ensure you understand the impact that his/her work has made on the office––determining the effectiveness in raising funds or supervising the development team members.


If you could change the dynamic in your office so that revenues could be increased by 10% or more by hiring motivated, mature candidates, wouldn't you seek that chance? That's where emotional intelligence becomes very important in the development world. It creates a sustainable advantage for your institution every single day.

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