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Matt Kupec


Leadership Traps to Avoid

Leadership Traps to Avoid

Leadership is about taking action to bring about change.  It can be to produce better results.  It can be to change the culture or environment in your company.  It can be about establishing a core set of values.  It certainly is about getting your team to buy-in to the big picture of your company’s mission and goals.

These steps require actions of doing.   Just think about the core attributes of leadership – inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, leading by example, and celebrating success.  They all require an action to trigger better production, a better work culture, and a new and improved way of doing business.  And leadership is always about moving forward and never settling for the status quo.

But as a leader it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the journey.  We are all human and things happen.  As a leader we must try to anticipate the things that might happen that are not good and we must be ready to respond.   As a leader, we must try to implement actions that will help your team as best you can from avoiding making bad decisions and bad mistakes.

Think about the sports world.  How many times have you heard a football coach say “we must stay out of the bad play,” meaning avoid getting negative yards on a play that put the team in a more difficult position for a first down?  Or, the basketball coach lamenting the “unforced errors” committed by his team during a game in which they recklessly turn the ball over without interference from the defense?

Leadership is about driving forward.  Looking out over your shoulder, indecisiveness and waiting for things to happen can paralyze your company’s ability to make key decisions and improve the process.

But there are a few leadership traps that can create problems for your team.  Here are a few I have learned over the years.  If you can avoid traps you will be even more successful as a leader:

  • Don’t procrastinate. As a leader you team needs you to make quick decisions and not let matters go unresolved for too long.  You may need a little time to make that decision but make it in good time!  A lack of response will raise questions among your staff and hinder your efforts in being an effective leader.
  • Don’t over think things. Analytics, analytics, analytics.  We are in a time when we are such focused on metrics that we are getting paralyzed by analytics.  We all know the importance of using date to help inform decisions.  But at the end of the day it is a combination of analytics and good instincts that will help you make your decisions.  Don’t discount your judgement or some would say your “gut feelings.”  You earned this leadership role because you have exhibited excellent judgement and instincts in producing results.
  • Know when you need to pull back the reins. Leaders are typically hard charging and want big results fast!  As a leader you must challenge your team to challenge the process to improve better outcomes for the organization.  But as a leader you must also know when to take the foot off the gas and slow the pressure down a bit.  I liken it to the famous speech given by Coach Knute Rockne to his Notre Dame players at halftime of the 1928 Army game.  Rockne was trying to salvage his worst season as a coach and told the story of the tragic death of the greatest player ever at ND, George Gipp.  Rockne charged his team to really lay it on the line and “win one for the Gipper.”  Notre Dame went out and won the game.  But Coach Rockne, or any coach for that matter, can’t use that same motivational speech every week because it would become old, lose its luster, and the players wouldn’t respond as they did against Army.  The same goes for your leadership style.  Push, but if you keep pushing too hard all the time you will lose your team!  Know when to go fast and know when to recognize that your team may need you to pull back the reins.
  • Don’t rest on your laurels. Be careful not to get caught up in your success.  Don’t become complacent and get overly impressed with your leadership ability.  Stay hungry and stay focused.  A good leader knows that success must be recognized and celebrated but you must move on and keep everybody focused on the pursuit of continuous improvement.
  • Ignoring or overlooking potential problems. When problems arise, deal with them.  Even in a great work environment issues and problems will surface.  Don’t ignore the problems thinking they will go away.  A great leader must address the issue immediately and take the necessary actions to remedy the situation.  Ignoring or overlooking problems can eventually spread and hurt the culture you have worked hard to establish.  Follow these tips and you will avoid potential traps as a leader!!

About the Author (

Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience.  He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership.  He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.

Tips for a Successful Start as a New Leader

Tips for a Successful Start as a New Leader

You have just been hired as the new vice president for development at the state’s leading public university.  You have earned this job from a national search with hundreds over very qualified candidates because of your expertise, experience and success.

You have prepared for this moment for a long time.  You have been very successful in the jobs you have held.  You have attended many conferences to continue to learn more about your trade.  You have a great network of colleagues around the country who you can seek out for advice and counsel

You are ready to begin this new journey and be the incredible leader that you know you are capable of being.  You are coming to a place that has been lackluster in its performance and the President and Board want you to be a “change agent” and build a culture that will lead to the creation of “best-in” class fundraising operation.

How do you make sure you get off to a great start?  Here are a few tips for you consider in your start as the new leader of your fundraising organization.  Trust me, I have begun the same journey on five occasions and the lessons I have learned will help you start on the road to success and avoid making early mistakes:

  • Listen and learn. Great leaders are exceptional listeners.  Don’t try to come in and impress everybody with your knowledge.  Let it come to you.  One of my favorite expressions is that you “command respect, you don’t demand it.”  Ask questions, get to know the culture and the environment, and get to know your colleagues and team members.
  • Communicate. Be known as a great communicator.  Set-up individual meetings with your team members.  Set up group meetings.  Be known as a leader who communicates well and keeps your team well informed.  Ask the team members for their input and recommendations for improvements within the operation
  • Establish a 90 Day Plan. Don’t try to come in and change the world in the first few months.  It’s exhausting and counterproductive.  Try to establish some reasonable goals for your first 90 days.  You are in this for the long haul and this is a marathon.  You want results and you want them pretty quickly but don’t force things.  Articulate your short term goals and make sure you are working towards achieving them.  This really helps manage expectations.
  • Look for An Early Success. At the same time, though, if you can have an early victory that will help establish yourself as a person who brings results.  And the more you can generate results, the more successful you will be!  Producing an early success is not a necessity but it you can produce a success story, something to showcase to your team and the Board, it will help reinforce to the organization that they made the right hire in you.
  • Meet the Game Changers. Relationships – internally and externally – will be a key part of your success.  You need to build a strong foundation with the people who will be key partners in journey as a leader at this organization.  Establish a rapport and make it a priority to grow these relationships.
  • Manage Up. This is an overlooked tactic in establishing a good start at your new organization.  You need a good relationship with your boss.  Get to know what your boss’ work style, how often does your boss want to meet, and what does your boss expect in your work performance.  You report to the boss and you need to make sure you are operating in a manner that your boss appreciates.  A good working relationship with your boss will make your life so much easier!
  • Make sure you breathe.  You will be in a hurry to get everything done immediately.  Everybody will want your time.  Everybody will want to meet you and talk with you.  Take some time to think, reflect and make decisions.  Block time on your calendar just for you!  And remember that you won’t be able to accomplish everything for everybody in the first ninety days.  Follow these tips and you will get off to a remarkable start as the new leader!!

About the Author 

Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience.  He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership.  He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.

Non-Positional Leadership: A Different Approach

Non-Positional Leadership: A Different Approach

Non-Positional Leadership refers to any leadership initiative taken outside of any traditional leadership role (such as boss, manager, etc.). Have you ever taken responsibility of a situation when you weren’t technically named the leader? You could have taken a non-positional leadership role in this scenario. These positions of leadership that happen at any stage of the workplace hierarchy are crucial for an organization to run smoothly. Non-positional leadership takes the form of small actions from anyone in order to reach one shared mission or goal. Defined as a positive impact from anyone, this approach to leadership includes everyone and makes everyone accountable in the success or failures of an organization.

Non-positional leadership awards everyone the opportunity to be an important contributing member to an organization. When this happens, a company can thrive on new ideas, distributed work loads, and more. This form of leadership focuses on developing skills and relationships between people rather than focusing on the ladder on which the organization is built, which often distinguishes between leaders and followers with titles like “boss”, “manager”, and “CEO”. While these titles are important for organization within a group, they often conflate the ideas of responsibility with the title you are awarded. When everyone in an organization takes responsibility and acts as a leader through everyday actions, there will be greater success in the long run.

When a title is conflated with what it really means to be a leader, there can be separation between action and word. The people who hold the title of a leader simply hold this title. There are connotations behind the word “leader” that imply a stance of power within an organization. If you strip away the title, the important part left to being a leader are the steps and actions you take to be an example, take initiative, etc. While a great leader should do all these things, it is not only up to a “leader” to lead. Being and individual in a position of power does not automatically qualify them as a leader.  

Anyone can be a leader, and should be. To lead is to influence people, which can come from anywhere. If you go to work every day and offer new ideas, get your work done, or volunteer for work outside of your day-to-day tasks, you are being a leader. While taking on a leadership role, you are also influencing other people to be leaders as well, which happens more naturally when relationships (not often seen within an organization’s hierarchy) can be created. In fact, there are arguments that fostering new leadership can be hindered if you lead from a position of power.

Taking action as a leader betters the organization, those around you, and most importantly, yourself.


Highly successful leader in securing philanthropy and private equity

Matt Kupec:

  • Fundraising professional with 30+ years of senior management experience at major organizations
  • Significant track record of increasing philanthropic support
  • Built best-in-class, nationally recognized operations
  • Nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership

Who is Matt Kupec?

Matt Kupec has led major fundraising operations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY), the Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute (Tampa, FL) and NY-based non-profit HelpMeSee.

The key to Matt’s success in leading the teams of these very major and complex organizations is that he fully understands the importance of collaboration and collegiately in building a team fundraising approach in an organization.

During his tenure leading the fundraising teams at these important organizations, Matt Kupec has managed thousands of team and staff members.  Leadership is about getting the individuals to join together under a shared vision, with a common set of goals and objectives, creating an office environment of collegiately and collaboration, and pushing all to reach new heights.  This has been the trademark of Matt’s successful leadership.

The creation of the “total team fundraising approach” has manifested itself in the record breaking results that have been recorded.  At UNC, cash flow grew from $62M to $300M during Matt Kupec’s tenure. UNC was the recipient of 12 Council for the Support & Advancement of Education (CASE) Outstanding Fundraising Performance awards, the most received of any University during that time.  At Moffitt, fundraising skyrocketed from $13 million to $37 million in one year, a remarkable 250% increase in just the first twelve months!

Matt has always been a leader throughout his life.  Born and raised in Syosset, NY on Long Island as the middle child of seven children of Bill and Helen Kupec, Matt, enjoyed a prolific high school career as an outstanding student-athlete.  A three sport star – football, basketball and baseball – Matt Kupec earned many honors and awards including prep All-American in football where he led his Syosset HS football squad to an undefeated season and #1 ranking as the top High School team in the entire New York state.

With many full scholarship offers to choose from following his successful football career, Matt chose to accept a full scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because of its high academic standing and strong football program.  

At UNC, Matt Kupecwas the starting quarterback for four years and led the Tar Heels to bowl games in three of the four seasons.   He was named Most Valuable Player in the Liberty and Gator Bowls.

Matt set 19 season and career passing records while a UNC quarterback.  In fact, two of those records – most consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass and most wins as a starting quarterback – remain standing nearly 40 years after his playing career.  Matt Kupec earned a reputation for being a “winner” during his UNC career.

All of these experiences – large family, three-sport athlete who was the pitcher in baseball, the point guard in basketball and the quarterback in football – have contributed to Matt’s passion for building the team approach to fundraising.  One of Matt’s favorite expressions deals with leadership and the importance of building team, “if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, we must go together.”

Those words have inspired and motivated countless number of staff members who have worked for Matt Kupec and helped to bring the results that have positively impacted the lives of thousands of students, faculty and patients across this country to work for a better society.

Check out Matt Kupec’s latest post!

Leadership Traps to Avoid

Leadership Traps to Avoid

Leadership is about taking action to bring about change.  It can be to produce better results.  It can be to change the culture or environment in your company.  It can be about establishing a core set of values.  It certainly is about getting your team to buy-in to...