Part of a series: The Role of Money, Position & Power in Major Gifts
He was used to power and powerful people. He called me from New York to talk about the position we had open, and the conversation took a twist that he did not expect.
This was back in the days when I was the co-owner and manager of one the largest direct marketing agencies in the United States. My business partner and I had started the agency with a very focused mission statement and a distinct set of operating values.
We weren’t going to hire just anyone, no matter how talented they were. We were hiring people who first passed an “attitude” test, and then we looked at aptitude – i.e., what they were good at.
We were on the hunt for a really good person. I had engaged a search firm, and we had placed ads describing the position in most of the major industry papers.
And that’s how it came to be that this gentleman – a very very talented man from New York – called me. He had seen the ad, he said, and had decided to get in touch directly because he felt he fit the qualifications for the job exactly. He had decided to bypass the process we had set up for vetting people because, well, this would just save time and he was certain that once we saw what he brought to the table we would be convinced that he was our man.
He had emailed me his resume, and I had to admit it was impressive. This was, indeed, a very talented guy. So I asked him some basic questions. And then gave him my “attitude” test. Here is what I said:
“Paul (not his real name), I am genuinely impressed with your work history and your talent. You have a remarkable track record of achievement and success. Here’s is what I would like to do. I would like for you to come to Seattle, at our expense, and meet with our head of client services. I would like to see what HE thinks about how you would fit in.”
Paul responded: “That would be great. Would I also be meeting with you and Tim (the other owner)?”
“No,” I said. “I would like for our head of client services to see what he thinks about how you would fit in first.”
“Well, I don’t think that would be worth the trip.” Paul said. “I do believe I will fit in just fine. And, as you can see by my resume, I will be able to contribute a lot to your company. I think it would be good for us to meet as well.”
I declined the idea and redirected again. We got into a courteous tug of wills and words on whether he would meet with me and the other owner.
Little did Paul know that he had failed the attitude test. So I said: “You know, Paul, I have changed my mind about bringing you out to Seattle. I actually don’t think you would fit in. But I appreciate your contacting us and wish you well on your job search.” And I got off the call.
The thing Paul did not know is that for these kinds of positions, when I sensed an orientation towards power and self, I always did it this way. I would always suggest that the person come and meet with a senior manager and not me. And if they came and did the interview as I suggested and IF the manager thought the person would fit in, THEN I would also meet with them. This last part was the part that remained hidden in our process. I wanted to see how the person would react to his inability to access power.
Here’s why this was important to me. We had set up a culture that was oriented towards reaching client objectives (focus on others). We had, explicitly, set up a system where we valued the team (focus on others). We actually had a values statement that said: “we value a focus on getting things done vs. a focus on position and power.”
This man, with his “me energy” would upset the very delicate ecosystem we had created. We couldn’t have that. And I wasn’t about to let it happen. I had already weeded out other employees and prospective employees who were too self-oriented. I couldn’t let this man get into the environment.
Now I want to be clear about one thing. I am not about hiring weak “yes” people who are cowering, self-deprecating types who will do anything the boss says. It’s actually the opposite. I want strong, independent, powerful people around me, men and women who will contribute greatly to our collective efforts. I want opinionated people around who will tell the truth, debate the point, will not shy away from conflict and will courageously and boldly lead.
But these people must be others-oriented and use their power to build the client, the group and the team. That is the difference.
I have concluded that a desperate and often frantic grab for power is a clear sign that the person is afraid that others will manage and control them. So to avoid that scenario, they must control and manage everyone and everything around them.
I know about this firsthand, because I have struggled with these same fears. My early childhood was filled with other people using their power to hurt me. I have had to learn, through many hours of counseling and the good guidance of close friends, that misusing power because of fear is unproductive, impractical and hurtful.
So what does all this mean to you in your major gift journey? Here are a few observations:
- YOU are a powerful person. Yes you are! You might not feel like it, but that may be because you have allowed others to make you small. Get on a journey to come into your power.
- Use your power to honor, respect, help and lift up others. These “others” are your spouse, significant other, fellow team members, your boss, your kids, your donors, the service people in your life, people on the street – every human being you run into. And all the animals in your life as well. And the earth. If you are using your power to abuse others, animals, things and the earth, then you are on the wrong track. Get help to change your course.
- Pay particular attention to using your power correctly with donors. You have information, you have the ability to answer concerns and complaints, you are able to control how quick a donor is thanked, you can match the donor’s interests and passions to a project that will bring them joy, you are in control of the communication stream to the donor and can turn the frequency and “volume” up or down on what the donor receives – you are in control of most of the relationship between your donor and the organization. Use this power wisely to lift the donor up and honor her.
- Value and preserve yourself and, from that place of power, focus on others. Learning to love yourself is no easy task. I have spent a lifetime learning it. And because I am human, I will always revert to my old ways of selfishness and power-grabbing if I don’t watch it. So I am constantly on alert. But I have discovered that there is a direct link between valuing and preserving myself and my ability to use my power to honor and lift up others. When my level of self-care is low, I tend to get more power-hungry and self-oriented. When it is high, I am able to focus more generously on others. So I have learned to stay in touch with that dial and take steps to correct my heart and mind when needed. I suggest you do the same.
In the introduction to this series on money, position and power, I asked you to make a list of what truly brings you happiness and fulfillment.
Hopefully, the main focus of your list is about others – serving them, lifting them up, building them, walking with them, encouraging them, helping them, etc. Hopefully, there isn’t an entry on your list that says something like “if I only had more money I would be happy” or “if only I had that position or more authority and power I would be happy.” If you have written something like that, I would ask you to re-read this series and ponder this question: does the pursuit of money, position and power fundamentally bring happiness and fulfillment?
I don’t think so.
That is the dilemma we all face in a society like ours, that is so oriented to the acquisition of money, position and power. How do you operate and properly move ahead in such an environment?
Through service to others – outrageous service to others.
Richard, I appreciate both you and Jeff’s honesty and insight.
This is critical insight. “Me energy” people can come across in an interview as enthusiastic go-getter “cowboys”, not afraid to ask and cold call. Short-term, they can be very attractive individuals, in many ways. Long-term, they can become problems: rogues, he said/she said, promise-them-the-moon types. Individuals like this–in the game for themselves only– can undermine the integrity of the team and compromise the institution in a heartbeat.
Excellent insights, Kathy! In fact, it is that attractiveness that gets them into a lot of places. And then the trouble starts. Thanks. Good input.