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Making leadership a group effort can strengthen nonprofits.

By Jessica Katz Jameson

If you aim to improve your leadership, you may be overwhelmed by the number of leadership styles that experts claim are needed for an effective nonprofit enterprise.

Are you a visionary leader? A servant leader? Charismatic leader? Entrepreneurial leader? Transformational leader? Have no idea?

Relax. While research supports the benefits of all these leadership styles, the good news is that no one person is expected to have it all.

Thinking about leadership as a group effort makes it less awe-inspiring than it sounds.

What does “leadership” mean?

The charismatic leader with endless energy, an entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to inspire the masses with his or her vision is largely mythical. While history may reveal a few of those leaders, they are rare.

The most successful nonprofit organizations stand out because they have a variety of people — board members, staff, volunteers — whose talents combine to provide all the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to achieve their goals. Rather than relying on one “super” individual, nonprofits should count on all their members to assume different leadership roles in the organization.

This is where the variety of leadership styles comes in. Some leaders have a vision, communicate that vision to others, and inspire them to embrace it.

But we aren’t all focused on the big picture and can’t all be charismatic. Fortunately, others are needed to take care of the details that keep the engine churning.

Servant leaders may put the needs of the cause before their own and quietly lead the organization toward its mission.

Transformational leaders supply members with the tools they need to get the job done. They orient and train new staff or volunteers, and they know what needs to be done when, and how to delegate tasks. They focus on educating and empowering others and enable members to pick up the torch and pass it on to newcomers.

Entrepreneurial leaders will rise to the occasion when innovative ideas or adaptation to a changing environment is needed.

Chances are good you’ve already got people in your organization with each of these abilities. Making leadership a group effort will strengthen your organization.


Jessica Katz Jameson is assistant professor of communication at N.C. State University and is affiliated with the NCSU Institute for Nonprofits.

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