Seven effective leadership styles, plus one to avoid.

Are you the dreamer, drummer, discusser, decider, director, delegator, or doer?

Portrait of Kevin Brown, Co-founder & CEO of Mighty Ally

Pop quiz: what is the most crucial variable in shaping a bold brand?


A solid leadership team is the base of our strategic planning model, upon which the rest of a social venture is built. Leadership drives alignment which drives brand. But in our findings, 80% of growth-stage NGOs and social enterprises are run by a first-time CEO — many missing a leadership team around them.

There’s no university degree for becoming the Executive Director of a social venture. And no textbook to guide us. But after working with more than 100 organizations in 30+ countries and contexts, we’ve spotted a pattern in leadership styles.

So we’ve classified and named seven styles we consider productive. And one that is detrimental. Which are you? And how do you better hone your talents for the greatest impact? Read on.

The seven effective leadership styles.


This is the visionary. Always innovating. Thinking about the future instead of the present. Developing new products and programs. Predicting market shifts, opportunities, and risks. And inspiring the team around an unknown tomorrow.


This promoter or champion spends most of the time out of the office, out on the road. Fundraising, advocating, storytelling, and drumming up support. Not concerned with detailed operations as much as gathering the fuel to make it happen — external awareness matters most.


The consensus builder. The one who brings people together to debate the pros and cons of every move. From team members to the board and outside stakeholders, everyone’s voice is heard equally. And every angle is analyzed well.


You’ve seen this one before: the shrewd strategist. Making decisions is her gift. Driven by results, it’s all about creatively finding an advantage. From big challenges to the mundane daily questions — it’s always yes or no. Never maybe.


He’s like the captain of a football team. Directing other players where to go and what to do. Prioritizing, conducting a staff’s strengths and weaknesses, and carefully mobilizing resources. Action and progress is the name of his game.


Rather than calling all the shots, she knows that good people can make their own decisions and find the right path. So her ninja skill is assembling a strong team, making roles and responsibilities clear, letting go, and trusting them to do their jobs.


This is the servant leader. Unafraid to get his hands dirty in the day-to-day work. In fact, he relishes tactical stuff. It keeps him connected to the mission. And it engenders loyalty from the team, as nothing is above him.

So, what’s your management style?

Ideally, you’re a mix of these seven. And you’re doing a bit of each. Because wearing many hats and being a chameleon is just good leadership.

Or better yet, as your organization and brand grow, you look for these traits in others as you add to the leadership team.

But each of these styles also has a shadow side that emerges if pushed too far. So you have to understand and manage your unique advantage as a leader — your gift. Else, you might end up in ‘no man’s land’ — floating somewhere between these positive styles. That’s the most dangerous leader of all.

The one style to avoid.


S/he’s visionary without a vision. Out there drumming, but to his or her own beat. Bad at facilitating healthy debate. Unable to make thoughtful decisions. Poor at providing logical direction. And when s/he tries to assign work to others, it feels like shirking responsibility instead of sharing the load. Because s/he’s not doing any important work her/himself. So without clear decisions, direction, and delegation — the job isn’t done ‘right’ by his or her liking. And s/he nitpicks the end result.

The deflector unfortunately shows up often in growth-stage social ventures — despite all the good intentions. So s/he is crippling the ability to scale effective products and programs. And make a meaningful impact.

Sound like you or a leader you know? Here are a few ideas to help.


Take an assessment

Better understand your talents and blind spots with tools like the DISC and StrengthsFinder.


Go to leadership school

Get deeper with programs like Amani Institute, Acumen Academy, or Center for Creative Leadership.


Hire a leadership coach

Since four out of five CEOs have never done this before, there’s no shame in getting expert advice.


Conduct a 360 review

But bring in a facilitator. It’s hard for many teams and cultures to be candid without outside guidance.


Learn from thought leaders

From consultancies like McKinsey to thinkers like Sheryl Sandberg, good advice abounds.


Leadership drives alignment which drives brand.

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