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On Leadership with Lisa Grider

Interview with Lisa Grider, Director, Institutional Advancement, Newark Academy

According to Lisa Grider, one of the key characteristics of an effective leader is knowing what you are not good at. That may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about leadership qualities, but indeed studies on leadership reveal that the most effective leaders are, after all human and all humans have strengths and weaknesses. Citing the book “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow,” Lisa agrees with the observation that,

“The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team. While the best leaders are not well rounded, the best teams are. Strong, cohesive teams have a representation of strengths in each of these four domains: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.”

Self-awareness, Lisa explains, is increasingly more essential in the workplace at a time when teams are now recognized as the backbone of the most successful organizations. Great leaders are also confident. But it is confidence blended with being open to other people’s ideas and understanding that there is never just one right way to get something done. Aspiring leaders need to work on self-awareness. To do this, Lisa suggests, you must ask for feedback, not just on your job performance, but about how you interact with others. Learn to read other’s reactions and non-verbal messages. When an interaction doesn’t end with the intended result, ask yourself how you participated in that and what adjustments might be appropriate.

Leaders, Lisa observes, need to have an ability to inspire others. Having vision and engaging people in that vision is key. Again, this is one of the central themes and areas of research in “Strengths Based Leadership,” where the authors put it this way:

“The most effective leaders understand their followers' needs. People follow leaders for very specific reasons. When we asked thousands of followers, they were able to describe exactly what they need from a leader with remarkable clarity: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.”

Being resilient, particularly in the area of fundraising, is important too. The nature of fundraising is that it cycles between highs (making a goal) and lows (failing to land a big gift). Leaders can’t afford to let themselves get emotionally caught up in the cycles. Strategies for dealing with disappointment, for example, are important for leaders to develop.

Someone who aspires to a leadership role should learn to “manage up” in Lisa’s opinion. This can be with your supervisor, institutional leadership, volunteer leadership, the board chairman. Learning how and being willing to meet their needs, to “issue spot,” meaning to anticipate a challenge or a problem and proactively make recommendations, are skills as aspiring leader might want to cultivate in herself. Also, being flexible, a willingness to step outside your role if there is a need, to step up and volunteer to fill a gap or support a team member—those are excellent strategies for an aspiring leader.

Something Lisa has found to be effective is a willingness for the leader (in this case, herself) to take risks with new ideas, and should an idea fail or falter demonstrates that there is no shame in that. Not everything you try is going to be a homerun. Learning that empowers others to try new things and practice some risk-taking.

Risk taking can be taught through strategies such as rotating assignments within the team. In Lisa’s office, she assigns a different person to chair staff meetings on an annual basis. She knows that most people aspire to move on at some point, so running a staff meeting is a good and very portable skill. Expecting people to stretch also gives the supervisor a chance to do some coaching and mentoring, further preparing staff to step into a new job. Beginning or mid-career professionals who aspire to a vice president level role or higher should develop self-awareness about what aspects of their job they most enjoy, as well as what they most dislike. This sort of awareness can help determine what kind of a role you might be best suited for in the long term.

Finally, Lisa advises staying current with your profession and your peers by taking advantage of resources like CASE and CAIS-NAIS, going to conferences, taking adjunct programming offered through professional associations, and doing lots of reading all help keep your chosen profession interesting and fresh. Any job gets repetitive with time. It’s important to step outside the office to hear what new ideas are out there, what others are thinking and doing. Not only will you be inspired, but your team will be inspired by you.


Over the past 30 years, Lisa has served a wide-range of educational institutions including universities, academic medical centers and independent schools. Since 2008 she has served as the Director of Institutional Advancement at Newark Academy, one of the nation’s oldest independent day schools. In her role, Lisa oversees alumni relations, marketing, communications and fundraising and has helped NA move to a $1 million-plus annual giving program, increased alumni participation in annual giving and is guiding the Academy’s largest ever, $30 million comprehensive campaign.

Prior to joining Newark Academy, Lisa served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Graham-Pelton Consulting, Inc. As part of Graham-Pelton’s leadership team, Lisa was involved in expanding the firm to a national scope in all nonprofit sectors. Lisa also managed her own portfolio of clients while at Graham-Pelton including The West Point Association of Graduates (United States Military Academy), Gilmour Academy, Kent Place School, Manhattanville College, Marymount University, Concord Hill School and the Marine Corps University Foundation.

Lisa began her career in media and public relations for intercollegiate athletics, working in the Southwest Conference office, Texas Christian University and as Assistant Commissioner of the Southland Conference. In 1990 she joined the Office of Public Affairs at Baylor University Medical Center. Upon relocating to New Jersey in 1993, Lisa served for six years as the Assistant Vice President for Alumni and University Relations at Seton Hall University.

Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University and a master’s degree from Texas Christian University. She serves as a member of the Advancement Steering Committee for the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS) and is a member of the District II Board of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)

Lisa resides in Essex Fells, New Jersey with her husband Mitch Lawrence, a national sports columnist.


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