Leadership means protection

Stan Soderstrom | Nov 22, 2022

Stan SoderstromDefense is a lot less exciting than offense. Any sports fan can tell you it’s true. But I don’t think you have to follow a sport to understand. If you’re in a leadership role, for example, you’ve experienced it.

Initiatives that overtly move an organization forward can produce results that are easily identified — both inside and outside the organization. People notice the activity, the signs of progress, and they see the before-and-after difference when it’s completed. 

But defense? Well, that’s the kind of thing that becomes apparent later — particularly if you aren’t good at it.  

You might not generate much immediate excitement by deploying protective measures, but you can create an unwanted stir in the future by failing to do so. As a leader, what you prevent from happening can be as essential as what you make happen.

In my experience as executive director at Kiwanis International, I can think of several preventive measures that I’m glad we’ve implemented. For example, our Youth Protection Guidelines. Most of us don’t want to think about the ways that harm or exploitation can affect the lives of children and young people. But most of us also can’t avoid the kind of news that pops up occasionally to remind us that bad things happen to young people in this world.  

Our Youth Protection Guidelines help Kiwanis members understand those dangers — and take active steps to help prevent them. With those guidelines in place, we’ve been able to protect our youth, as well as the people who serve them. And that, of course, protects the whole organization.

The organizational culture at Kiwanis encourages not just membership but leadership. So it only makes sense to provide our member-leaders with resources that help provide that kind of threefold protection.  

In addition to youth protection, we offer liability insurance for Kiwanis clubs. We protect our branding and marks. We shield ourselves from data breaches and online hacking.

All together, we work to provide what any stable organization needs — even if those measures don’t address issues that people are thinking of when they join. Especially because those aren’t the issues people are thinking of.  

We’re an organization for people who want to serve kids. But this is a world full of attacks on people and organizations who are just trying to do good things. And those attacks don’t come with helpful announcements ahead of time.  

One obligation of leadership is to stand guard against them — and to help other leaders do the same. Not when misfortune or negativity has already raised its ugly head, but precisely when there’s calm and time enough to consider the scenarios in which it could.

It’s effective leadership. Because effective leaders, like good coaches, recognize the fundamental importance of defense.


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.


Vision Partners

Be a Partner