A time for flexible leadership

Stan Soderstrom | Sep 15, 2020

Stan Soderstrom

Leadership is as much about the people around you as the qualities within yourself. At Kiwanis International, that’s one of the most important aspects we emphasize for members who become leaders within our organization — whether it’s at the international, district or club level. 

During orientation for incoming officers, we refer to the three official duties of a board member: 

  • The duty of care: The leader should always act in the best interest of the organization, acting as a steward of the organization’s members, finances and programs. 
  • The duty of loyalty: The leader should always demonstrate faithfulness to the organization, putting our mission ahead of personal needs or benefits. 
  • The duty of obedience: The leader’s faithfulness to the mission should always lead him or her to act ethically and with integrity under all circumstances. 

These duties blend nicely with the philosophies we use to teach and develop leadership skills for the members of the Kiwanis family. But this year has presented leaders everywhere with unprecedented challenges. 

At Kiwanis, we have traditionally prided ourselves on developing servant leaders — people who put the needs of others first, without worrying about the personal benefits of any decision. We also emphasize ethical leadership — a respect for the organization’s democratic principles and values, which demand adherence both to the law and our own bylaws. 

But are servant leaders and ethical leaders enough? They’re still crucial, of course, but recent months have compelled us to begin defining another style: the flexible leader. In times like these, it’s like the necessary third leg of a sturdy stool. 

For Kiwanis, as for many organizations, the challenges of 2020 have brought great uncertainty, requiring us to plan and make important decisions without being able to forecast outcomes as fully as usual. Long-range planning and budgeting, for example, are far more difficult. 

In other words, the times require a flexible leader. That’s someone who stays focused on the duty of loyalty — because they’re acting in the best interests of the organization. With the adjustments they make as events proceed, with the communications they maintain with every stakeholder, they uphold the organization’s mission. They lead. 

If recent months have shown us anything, it’s that the definition of a leader is always changing — because the demands of leadership are always shifting. But we’ve also learned something else: The challenges may be unexpected, even unprecedented, but it’s the flexible leader who will rise to meet them.


Stan D. Soderstrom is the executive director of Kiwanis International and the Kiwanis Children’s Fund. His background includes global and community-based work in the public and private sectors.


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