Mix & Match Leadership Styles for the Biggest Impact

The evolving nature of leadership and the complexities of modern organizations call for a reflective and transformational approach to leadership.   

By Celeste Smith, CAE

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As constant disruption continues transforming our world at warp speed, organizational leadership strategies must keep pace. Organizations that understand their unique value proposition continue to embrace new approaches and integrate multiple leadership models and strategies that make ground-breaking, societal impact.  

A Four-Model Focus for Associations  

Effective leaders often integrate multiple models to widen the spectrum of strategies that drive the mission forward. Associations are mission champions with evolving and complex ecosystems and thrive best when utilizing a mix of transformational, distributed, resilient, and digital leadership models. Associations interested in increasing their organizational capacity for implementation and adoption can evaluate their strengths and improvement areas. 

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders inspire and motivate others to create extraordinary impact and empower leaders throughout the organization. They champion and articulate a compelling vision, foster shared empowerment, encourage innovation, and inspire collective and individual development, and purpose. The American Nurses Association exemplifies this idea in “Transformational Leadership in Nursing”, outlining traits and the importance of this leadership style in nursing.    

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an international organization dedicated to advancing science, engineering, and innovation. The organization uses transformational approaches through its bold vision for scientific advancement, inspiring members to pursue ground-breaking research, empowering member innovation, and awarding significant contributions through its Breakthrough of the Year Award. 

Distributed leadership

Distributed leadership encourages a collaborative decision-making culture throughout the organization. Associations are natural habitats for intentional distributed leadership strategies. Distributed leadership encourages accountability and shared responsibility across all levels of the organization. Great organizations focus on innovation and adaptability, relying on many perspectives to drive strategic priorities.  In an article by the Sloan School of Management discussing why distributed leadership is the future of management, the author provided four key capabilities and five tips to help organizations avoid pitfalls when moving to a distributed leadership model.  

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global professional association for communication professionals. The association demonstrates distributed leadership by championing the role of strategic communication in driving organizational impact and societal change, engaging volunteers and chapters worldwide to create localized initiatives and collaboration opportunities and amplifying the impact of their initiatives across the globe. 

Resilient Leadership

Resilient leaders cultivate a strong organizational culture focused on well-being, building behavioral and mental muscle to effectively handle crises, uncertainty, and adversity, mitigate risk, and foster a positive outlook. Leaders build organizational capacity, learn from failures, and equip leaders to adapt to change and accept shared accountability. Organizational and personal resilience, also called multi-level resilience, can be integrated to develop and enhance systems and build a strong organizational culture. 

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest professional association dedicated to advancing social justice, human rights, and professional excellence in social work. The association employs resilient leadership at both the organizational and personal levels by promoting and advocating for systemic change and equity in social policies and services to shape the future of social work practice. The association empowers its chapters, specialty groups, and grassroots local activists to advocate for marginalized populations. 

Digital Leadership

Digital leadership leverages data-driven insights and focuses on innovation to harness existing and emerging technology. Leaders are adept at enhancing organizational impact and performance through innovation and encouraging a culture of continuous learning and forward momentum. The American Medical Association exemplifies digital leadership through its blueprint for digitally enabled care as part of its future health initiatives. 

Many of these organizations such as the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), utilize a multi-model leadership approach to drive mission priorities, including leadership in improving public health during COVID-19, public health infrastructure and data modernization efforts, working with federal, state, and local entities to rapidly identify and respond to emerging threats including recent measles and (HPAI) outbreaks. 



A Call to Leadership Action   

Associations are dynamic, unique, and complex organizations. Therefore, associations must employ multiple models and take a multi-faceted leadership approach to thrive with impact. This call to action includes a deep dive into organizational systems, structures, and culture to envision a future state poised for change, expansion, and growth.  Associations focused on these areas can effectively concentrate on their most pressing challenges and opportunities, solve the right problems, and build a ground-breaking approach to address societal needs. 

It Starts with Leadership and Ends with Leadership 

Associations can continue to pursue pathways to incorporate multi-faceted leadership values that bring innovative strategies to the forefront. Continuous learning, iterating, evaluating readiness, and auditing operations processes work together to make change possible. It starts with leadership and ends with leadership. 

About the Author

Celeste is the director of leadership certificates and programs for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She is also chair of the 2024-25 Publications Working Group. 

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