Eric Barritt, Kristin Bertell, and Harvey Green discuss how they motivate their teams and where they look for motivation and inspiration as leaders.
What makes an advancement leader?
We posed this question to three partners and friends: Eric Barritt, Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Development Officer, University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine; Kristin Bertell, Chief Philanthropy Officer, City of Hope; and Harvey Green, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer, WellSpan Health.
As Eric, Kristin, and Harvey reflected on their successful careers leading advancement programs in healthcare and medicine, they offered wisdom steeped in their experience and in their awareness of how essential it is to continually grow and evolve as leaders.
Although they each followed different paths to nonprofit leadership positions, they all seek to embody a set of common values as leaders: being open-minded, curious, adaptable, and willing to be vulnerable.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity.
What are the traits or qualities that a fundraising leader needs in order to be successful right now? How are approaches to leadership evolving?
Kristin Bertell: I’ll start by giving you three adjectives: authenticity, compassion, and emotional intelligence. These qualities have had a real staying power among leaders today. The more controlling leadership styles that may have been in vogue in the past are no longer serving teams and organizations. In an industry like healthcare, where frontline fundraisers are going through the same stressors as frontline clinicians and researchers, it’s crucial that we as leaders see our team members as people and take care of the whole person rather than just the professional side of who they are.
Eric Barritt: It’s crucial to be able to listen well and to ask good questions that elicit detailed responses from donors, faculty, leaders, and others you either work with or work on behalf of. At the root of listening and asking questions are foundational qualities like empathy, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try new things. As a leader in this space, I see myself as a player/coach who mentors and provides direction and guidance but who is also willing to step into the game when asked to. Embracing this dual aspect of leadership is one way of leading through a positive culture in the office.
Harvey Green: As we shift more and more into this digital world of ours, I think a lot about how I can stay engaged and connected with my team. Being available and approachable is so important, whether you’re online or in the office. I prioritize being in the field with major gift officers and fundraisers on my team so that they can gain clarity on my style and my expectations and we can explore new approaches to the work together. A one-size-fits-all model of leadership doesn’t work: as a leader, being able to adapt to people and conditions is critical. I believe that adaptability helps to form strong connections between leaders and teams, which can help with staff retention in a competitive environment.
How else do you try to remain competitive in recruiting and retaining talent right now?
Harvey: By being open to candidates with transferrable skills rather than being dismissive of candidates who might not meet every last requirement for a position. When evaluating talent, I try to factor in someone’s potential for growing into the position—with the right guidance and mentorship, of course. And, again, that’s where leadership comes into play. There are a lot of skills and competencies that complement this profession; as leaders, we just need to be open to what those transferrable assets are and how they might apply to a particular role.
What advice would you offer rising professionals who aspire to be leaders in healthcare philanthropy?
Eric: The mission is very strong and important. Some weeks can be challenging, but you have the pleasure of raising money for research, patient care, and education (medical school, graduate school, residents, fellows, post docs) which all can have a profound impact on the future of human health. Some people have jobs that don’t have this type of impact or meaning, but we are able to have careers working to raise money to help advance human health, even if only in a small way.
Harvey: Deep down inside, I think we all have a certain amount of ambition for progressing in our careers or assuming leadership responsibilities. I applaud that ambition, especially because you need to be in a somewhat vulnerable space to bring it out into the open and give voice to it. No matter where you stand in an organization, it’s never too early to start planning your growth as a leader. I think every role should come with both a job description and, in parallel with the job description, a growth plan. If you don’t currently have a growth plan, advocate for having one. A good leader should align your skill set with your current position while also being supportive of the trajectory you seek to be on.
Kristin: Be curious about all the different components of a healthcare philanthropy program. Raise your hand and offer your gifts and talents in areas in which you might not consider yourself an expert. Ask to be on task forces, ask to be on teams that will give you an opportunity to see the field from different perspectives and stretch, learn, and grow. In this profession, there isn’t one path to the top—there are many paths. If you can gain exposure to different areas of expertise, then you’ll develop into a well-rounded, versatile professional who can pursue more than one avenue to a leadership position.
Should that curiosity continue as you progress through your career?
Kristin: Absolutely. I will tell you that I’m continuously having conversations with newer team members about digital strategy. This may not have been something I had deep knowledge of earlier in my career, but my attitude is to be open to learning new things and learning from colleagues. If you want your team to embrace changes that will advance your work, then as a leader you have to constantly feed and spark curiosity in yourself.
Where do you look for motivation and inspiration in your role as a leader?
Harvey: I get a lot out of mentoring folks who aspire to elevate themselves as leaders. In a sense, I’m being mentored by the mentee. There’s so much to learn. It’s almost like having a mirror held up to you. The experience reminds you of why you got into this business in the first place; it also sharpens your commitment to honing and refining the skill sets that were so critical to advancing your own career. I find it incredibly fulfilling and energizing for someone to take a keen interest in what you’re doing and to want to grow and thrive in this industry.
Kristin: It’s always about the mission. When you’re celebrating accomplishments or milestones with your team—those are days when inspiration is easy and close at hand. But during more difficult or more challenging periods, I have to remember what our mission is. I have to remember that our mission is serving a cause that is bigger than ourselves. Cancer doesn’t stop. A major source of my motivation derives from being aware of that and what our patients and their families are going through.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you received when you were developing your career?
Kristin: Be vulnerable. You don’t have to pretend like you know everything. People admire leaders—and follow leaders—who acknowledge that they need other people on their team. Being vulnerable isn’t just a matter of admitting where you have gaps or limitations in skills, experience, or expertise. It’s also a matter of creating space for others to step up and showcase their talents. People want to feel needed! And when I tap them and say, “Gosh I really need you to help me with this,” that motivates them to rise to the challenge. As a leader, you don’t have to know everything and have it all figured out. That’s what you have a team for.
Harvey: I’m a big Brené Brown fan. She talks about vulnerability being a strength. That requires a huge mental shift. You almost need to reprogram your brain to flip the script so that you can perceive asking questions or saying “I don’t know” as a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness. Others around you will respect you for acknowledging when you don’t have all the answers because that’s real and honest. It’s so much better than pretending you have everything figured out because, eventually, that will catch up with you. I take the idea of humble inquiry very seriously. As a leader, you’ve got to be grateful if people feel comfortable asking questions themselves. That means you’ve created an environment in which folks feel empowered to learn and express themselves.
Eric: I think about the long-term impact that our work can have (I have had some personal family experiences of losing loved ones that died far too young from diseases or are suffering from current conditions), and I am constantly impressed by the talent we have on our team. Our team continues to work incredibly hard and smart every day, and this motivates me. I also think about a sign that was at the day care my children attended: “Treat others the same way you want others to treat you.” When you follow this daily, it puts a lot of things in perspective in life.