Develop Your Own Unique Nonprofit Leadership Style

by | Nov 1, 2017 | Announcements

Have you ever analyzed your leadership style? Each person has an approach to leading that feels right. But is your natural way of leading producing the best results for you?

After years of studying the history of leadership and the various leadership Develop Your Own Unique Nonprofit Leadership Style modalities, I wanted to know the answer to that question for myself. My conclusion surprised me. I’d like to share some revelations about how you can create the best version of yourself by intentionally crafting your own unique style of leadership.

Leadership styles run the gamut from autocratic, top down versions at one end to charismatic, visionary folks at the other end. But I found a distinctive combination of attributes that work well for me. I invite you to choose your own blend of leadership methods that work for you. Here are a few to consider.

Transformational leaders bring out the best in everyone.

Leadership does not reside exclusively in an individual but, rather, in the relationship between individuals, and it is oriented to social vision and change, not organizational goals. This model focuses on changing the human condition. Transformational leadership results in enabling followers to rise to a higher level of performance than anyone thought possible. In the process, the leader is also elevated to a higher level.

As the name suggests, this style actually transforms the individual which, in turn, transforms a team or an organization to a higher level of functionality. Transformational leaders focus their attention on the strengths of their followers. They fan the flames of potential in each person resulting in a new, vibrant version of each person.

Transactional leaders can bring a sense of stability.

This type of leadership refers to the exchange relationship between leader and follower to meet their own self-interests. It often takes the form of contingent reward whereby the leader clarifies for the follower what needs to be done to achieve a reward. Alternately, the transactional leader may monitor the follower’s performance and take corrective action if the follower fails to meet certain standards.

Some people prefer a transactional leader because expectations are clear and performance is either rewarded or corrected. Either way employees know exactly where they stand. Transactional leadership is a barter—an exchange of specific wants between leader and follower. This is very different from the goal of self-actualization which the transformational leader inspires.

Both styles have their merit.

Most leaders feel naturally drawn more to one of these modalities than the other. Each of these styles can appear independently of each other. However, the best leaders typically display both transformational and transactional leadership. Finding the right combination for yourself is critical to being an effective leader.

Actually, you may find yourself choosing a different style depending upon the situation. The best leaders are able to toggle between various leadership approaches depending on the needs of their followers. This is often referred to as situational leadership. You may find, for example, that your optimal style of supervision changes as the level of the follower’s maturity increases or decreases. You may lead differently in response to diverse settings or organizational cultures.

Be a servant first.

Perhaps the most powerful leadership style is servant leadership. First described by Robert Greenleaf in 1977, this approach says the best leaders are servants first. These leaders achieve their lofty goals by building others up, by believing in human possibilities, and by inspiring others to believe in their own capacity for achievement. Some believe that the only truly viable institutions in the future will be those that are predominantly servant-led.

This style requires a tolerance of imperfection. If a leader sees a glimmer of potential in a follower, s/he can lift the person up to grow taller than they would otherwise be. Greenleaf explains that, “People grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are, even though their performance may be judged critically in terms of what they are capable of doing. Leaders who empathize and who fully accept those who go with them on this basis are more likely to be trusted.”

Frances Hesselbein’s long tenure as a nonprofit leader inspires many.

Hesselbein says leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it. For ten years, she was CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA; then she founded the Peter Drucker Foundation. Over the years she has continued to wave the flag of leadership. She emphasizes that good leadership always starts with mission, values, and vision. Leaders must begin by examining what matters most to them, what values they are passionate about, and what they hold dear. Then they must continuously check their actions to make sure they are in line with their values.

Hesselbein is convinced that, “The future calls for leaders with a moral compass that works full time, leaders who are healers and unifiers, who embody the mission and live the values, who keep the faith.” Born in 1916, she is 101 years old and still bringing her message of leadership with integrity to the world.

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality.

A discussion about leadership is never complete without a look at Jim Collins’ popular work, Good to Great. He identifies five levels of leadership, each more effective than the next. The highest level, Level 5 leaders, “Build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Collins points out that it’s not that Level 5 leaders don’t have an ego. In fact, they are very ambitious, but their ambition is primarily for their organization, not themselves.

Heading up a nonprofit presents unique leadership challenges. These leaders cannot use the type of executive style one would use in a for profit business, where the boss has the power to make decisions unilaterally. To be effective in a nonprofit, leaders must learn to use a legislative approach. Collins explains that, “With this style of leadership, no individual leader—not even the chief executive—has enough structural power to make the most important decisions alone. Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen.”

Your turn to design your best model of leadership.

Now it’s up to you. I invite you to spend some time studying the various aspects and styles of leadership. Give some thought to which approaches come naturally to you. Evaluate how effective you feel as a leader. And then consider adding to or changing aspects of your leadership style to create just the right version for yourself.

If you would like help developing your own style of leadership, I invite you to contact me at Nonprofit Kinect where we provide tailored executive coaching to help you achieve your highest leadership goals.