Don’t take a generic approach to leadership

Effective leadership is a critical component of every organization. Staff need someone to guide them on a path to success. Leadership should never be a crusade for power. Instead, leadership should focus on the practice of purposefully supporting staff.

Leadership is a multivalent concept, not as easily defined as it is in literature and popular culture. Some misunderstand leadership to mean everyone has to agree with you to be effective. There shouldn’t be a generic approach to leadership. Instead, we must become conscious of how the practices of leadership we are cultivating in others reflect the broader ethos of our work.

One size doesn’t fit all

The perception is that generic attributes are easily defined in leaders. To accurately describe effective leaders as self-aware and emotionally intelligent depends upon an understanding of our leadership identity. Measuring and identifying leadership traits without understanding the broader ethos of our work is flawed methodology.

This is because there are different kinds of leaders. Some might lead in projects and others may lead within a managerial position. Introverted people can be great leaders. Their practice may be much different than extroverts, but effective nonetheless. There is a common misnomer that we can identify those who lead well in projects as good managers of people. Too often we prematurely assign job titles to someone who led in one capacity.

People often view leadership as scalable and quickly assign a new title because an employee led a project well. Then they are perplexed when that person fails. Failure happens when someone is promoted beyond their leadership capabilities, not necessarily beyond their skill set. Leadership can’t be focused on titles.

It is disingenuous to bring people into perceived leadership roles because of one success. Leadership is a longstanding practice, not a reward. We must recognize that people have different strengths and inspire them to nurture those strengths, especially following a success. Nurturing great leaders isn’t assigning tasks for employees to prove themselves. Instead, it is about creating shared leadership.

No shortcuts

Sharing leadership is much more complex than delegating tasks. It is about trust. There are no shortcuts to an equitable amount of trust. Trust must be given from day one with the understanding that it must be maintained.

The responsibility to maintain trust doesn’t belong to the staff alone. As a leader, you must build relationships by engaging with staff and being present. Are we actively listening and understanding what is important to them? Do we know the challenges they face? No matter what we do as leaders, we need to approach it with the human element in mind. We need to get to know our people and those we serve. Too often we sit behind a desk looking at the numbers and forget who is actually doing the job.

To be effective, we must align our leadership ethos with a more altruistic mentality, acknowledging how different leadership practices create different results, building a foundation of shared leadership and trust along the way.


Michael P. Robb is the Executive Director of Alliance for Nonprofit Resources. Mike is also the executive director of the Center for Community Resources and Nonprofit Development Corporation. His forward thinking and innovative mindset has led CCR from nearly closing its doors to operating with a $10 million budget, as well as opening several satellite locations. Total combined revenue for all three organizations is $23 million. Mike currently oversees more than 60 programs, which are available to over 180,000 residents in the region.