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Leading with Heart

By CASE District I

Jackie NowellBy Jackie Nowell

I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, have no poker face, and can be “over” enthusiastic.  I’m not certain these are always compliments!  Nevertheless, we are who we are.

It’s no surprise that I was drawn to development in my career, as I thrive on building relationships.  And now finding myself in donor relations and engagement, it seems a perfect fit for my uber-enthusiasm and passion.  There is something so fulfilling in meeting a donor’s needs, beating expectations, providing a memorable experience, or turning around a negative situation.

I lead my team with the same enthusiasm, and believe that you can be an effective leader and colleague by being your authentic self.  The relationship building that we work so hard on in our industry is equally important with our teams.  I find that the strong bonds forged within help us all rise to the challenges of our work. 

For me, the best way to keep my team motivated and positive is genuinely showing I care.  I make a point to know their interests outside of work, to be aware of important life events, and to celebrate victories, big and small.  I make it a priority to eat lunch away from the desk, to build community and share stories.  I always make time for a pep talk, a vent session, to mentor, or to brainstorm a solution.  I insist that they use their vacation time.  I notice when they seem off or are having a hard time. It’s important to me that my team knows that we support one another and have each other’s backs.  I work hard to ensure they feel appreciated, respected, and trusted.

I’m also not afraid to let my team see my own humanity, whether I’m struggling with a project, not on my game, or just having a bad day.  We all experience these things, so why pretend I’m immune to them?  My hope is that seeing how I react during these times can be a lesson learned, or an opportunity to receive feedback as to what I can do better.  All of us can always learn more, grow, and become better versions of ourselves.

You may ask – what is the purpose of all this “leading with heart”?  Results. Unity. Hard work. Pride. Expectations met. Goals achieved.  My team knows I care deeply, but they also know my expectations are high and that our work is never done.  Being genuine and caring has built relationships of mutual trust and respect, and has built a team that delivers.  I’m rarely disappointed with the effort given and the end result.  And when feedback or criticism is needed, they are open and flexible.

As we know, most of us spend more time at work than with our own families.  Because of that, I want my team’s time at work to be meaningful, fulfilling, and fun.  What we do is important, but not important enough to not care about anything else or anyone else. It makes a real difference when people know you are truly invested in them and want them to enjoy their work.

Caring for and having interest in my team has allowed me to build a unit that is respected throughout our organization and can be counted on to get it done, whatever “it” may be.  They know how to balance diligence and fun, professionalism and silliness, hard work and play, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Everyone has their own leadership style, but leading with heart works for me – even if I’m sometimes “over” enthusiastic!

Jackie Nowell is Associate Vice President of Donor Relations and Engagement at University of Rhode Island

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