A Tale of Two Leaders

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A Tale of Two Leaders

by Allan Burrows, CapDev CEO

Key questions we pose with clients initiating an executive search are about leadership. “What are the key leadership traits?” or “How do you determine who makes a great manager?”

Early in my nonprofit career, I had two bosses that clearly defined for me what type of leader I aspired to be. Both were experienced and highly qualified for the job. Both brought success to the organization, yet the culture built by these two leaders could not have been more different. While I have read numerous books on the art of leadership and have participated in dozens of conferences and tests on leadership styles, these two bosses provided a firsthand lesson on how I wanted to grow as a leader. Using phrases from their respective management styles, I will call one the “I prefer” boss; the other I will call the “What if” boss.

The “I prefer…” Leader Type
The “I prefer” leaders are often confident, decisive and perceive themselves as having the fortitude to accept the consequences of their actions. Some of their typical characteristics:

  • They believe that a team can be great with their expert direction. When staff generate ideas or question direction, “I prefers” see that as a sign that their team lacks understanding and clarity.
  • They want compliance, not comradery; they know what’s best for the group without the need for group input. When ideas emerge, the “I prefers” often respond with, “Well, I prefer you do it this way…” or “Thanks, but I prefer….”
  • While decisive, the “I prefer” leaders are rarely inclusive, thus stifling creative energy and the chance for subordinates to grow.
  • “I prefer” leaders see results – done by staff the way the leaders prefer—as the proper way for staff to learn.

Results: The “I prefer” shuts down any collective creativity and staff growth.

The ”What if…” Leader Type
The “What if” leaders are equally perceived to be confident, bold and decisive. What distinguishes their leadership:

  • They offer encouragement to allow staff to share ideas and perspectives on pending projects.
  • They believe in their team and their intelligence.
  • “What if” leaders are confident that this diverse set of opinions will only strengthen the team and the results. When ideas from the team emerge, these leaders listen and then incorporate them with their thoughts to yield a “what if” statement, such as “Great idea! What if we took that idea and…” or “Nice! What if we do that but change this part and.…”
  • Even if “what if” leaders ultimately follow their ideas, the ‘what if’ allows no one to feel shut out and for all to feel part of the solution.

Results: Everyone feels a part of “what if” leadership! See the openness and embracing nature of the “what if” leader?

So, as you enter 2023, resolve yourself to be a “what if” leader! It will open creativity from your team and endless possibilities for your nonprofit! Now go and make 2023 a “what if” year!

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