By DonorSearch

Are you so busy dancing the dance that you’re not even sure it’s the right dance any more?

 Marc A. Pitman, CFCC

So often, as we move up in leadership, our responsibilities multiply and we neglect taking time to actually learn how to lead. Perhaps we assume that since we’ve gotten a title, we have the necessary leadership skills. Or perhaps we’re concerned that if we stop to learn, we’ll risk looking like we’re shirking our responsibilities.

As Susie Burdick, Executive Director at the Kids Discovery Museum put it: as a leader, sometimes you have to get off the dance floor and walk up to the balcony to make sure the dance is the right one.


In The Wake Up Call, researchers looked at four different styles of leadership:

  • Servant leadership,
  • Transformational leadership,
  • Charismatic leadership, and
  • Transactional leadership

These were chosen because there is a solid body of academic research for each style.

Servant leaders tend to measure their success in leading as serving those around them – supervisors or board, peers, subordinates, and clients. They primarily focus on the growth and well-being of the community around them.

Transformational leaders are good at rallying people around a mission and vision. They inspire others to action by becoming part of something bigger than themselves. While they often do grow people around them, they do it in the context of a bigger mission. And they regularly remind others of that mission.

Charismatic leaders are able to lead by their very personality. People just seem to follow them. In nonprofits, we see two types of charismatic leaders. The first type is the person that people are enthusiastic support. The other type are unintentional charismatic leaders. They are leaders who’ve had so much success that their boards tend to lean back and say, “Whatever you want to do, we believe in you.”

Transactional leaders are the type of leaders who focus almost exclusively on actions and rewards. They don’t understand why people might want affirmation. After all, they agreed to do a certain set of tasks and they are getting a paycheck.

Based on these brief descriptions, what type of leader would you say you are?

When I asked this to a room full of leaders in a training in Texas, one woman said, “I think I’m a servant leader. But my direct report isn’t in the room right now. Let’s ask her when she returns.” Yes, that leader exhibited servant leader traits. When asked what type of leadership her organization seemed to exhibit, she said she felt like a servant leader in the midst of peers who were all transactional. Rather than trying to grow the others around them, they were constantly bickering over limited resources.


As you look at each of the styles, it’s easy to see that we’re most likely a blend of the four. Having coached leaders for more than 15 years, I believe we need to be aware of each types so we can dip into the style we need at any given time. I find the transformation leadership trait of inspiring people around a mission is the easiest of the four styles to teach. But there are times we need people to simply follow our lead like a charismatic leader. And it’s healthy to have a regular check-in to see if what we’re doing is actually what we each are supposed to be doing like a transactional leader should. And we can all benefit from growing the people around us like we see servant leaders do everyday.

One of the things about “getting up in the balcony” as Susie says, is that we step out of the dance. This lets us make sure the dance really is the dance we want to be leading. And it gives us space to help change the tune – transform the culture – if it isn’t one we like.

To find out how these styles impact your nonprofit’s fundraising, join us:

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 at 1pm EST


You can also download The Wake Up Call, the free nonprofit leadership report at


Marc A. Pitman | CFCC - The Concord Leadership Group LLC

Concord Leadership Group founder Marc A. Pitman helps leaders, especially in nonprofits, lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. He’s the author of Ask Without Fear!® – which has been translated into Dutch, Polish, Spanish, and Mandarin. He’s also the executive director of and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank.

Marc’s expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences around the world and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Al Jazeera, SUCCESS Magazine, and Fox News. Marc tweets regularly at @marcapitman.

He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family!

Is Your Leadership Style Hurting Your Nonprofit Fundraising? | The Masterminds Blogs