Leadership Styles

Leadership Styles tell us how a leader operates but not necessarily who he is. Ted Engstrom in his book, "The Making of a Christian Leader," said that management theorists were in despair over their inability to define leadership adequately so frequently they attempt to picture leadership in terms of style. Consequently, we describe what the leader does rather than who he is.

The great American entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller said, "I will pay more for the ability to deal with people then any other ability under the sun." And according to a report by the American Management Association, an overwhelming majority of the two hundred managers who participated in a survey agreed that the most important single skill of an executive is his ability to get along with people. They rated this ability more vital than intelligence, decisiveness, knowledge, or job skills!

Style, by definition, is the way a leader carries out his functions and how he is perceived by those he attempts to lead. Leadership styles depend on several factors. The personality, the character or needs of the group to be supervised, and the immediate situation must be considered. Of course, the Christian leader must also recognize his personality and gifts, the needs of the people, and the given condition. He cannot be driven by the thirst for power.

The Bible shows us many different leadership styles. We see men and women who emerge and are uniquely fitted for the task of leadership at hand. Church history gives us illustrations of people who became leaders because of an existing condition and God raised up men like Athanasius, Tertullian, Augustine, Bernard of Clarivaux, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Spurgeon, Moody, and Graham to lead His people forward.

So what are the leadership styles? There may be as many different leadership styles as there are types of people, but they fall into several categories or as some call them, "methods of management."

In his book, "Managing Your Time," Ted Engstrom discusses the five basic categories from which all the other combinations emanate:

(1) Laissez-Faire - No structure or supervision is given; members set their own goals and standards of performance; and the leader is the first among equals without authority. He is basically a resource man.

(2) Democratic-Participative - The leader provides some framework within which members still largely set their own goals and standards; the leader or advisor has minimum authority.

(3) Manipulative-Inspirational - There is some structure, usually confused and ambiguous; goals are set by management with little participation but employees' acceptance is sought by the "hard sell."

(4) Benevolent-autocratic - Activities of the group are largely structured; there is relatively close supervision, however, employees are encouraged to make suggestions concerning their goals, working conditions, etc.

(5) Autocratic-Bureaucratic - Activities of the group are totally and arbitrarily structured; participation by the group in any context is totally discouraged; supervision is authoritarian and autocratic; questioning of orders is regarded as insubordinate.

Even though this description of leadership styles is adequate and very widely used, I like the more modern list of leadership styles given to us by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee in their book "Primal Leadership." Goleman says that good leaders are effective because they create resonance with their followers.

Resonance comes from the Latin word "resonare," to resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people's feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of the people around them.

Under the guidance of an effective leader, the people have a mutual comfort level. Resonance may come naturally to those with a high degree of "emotional intelligence" (which includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but it also involves intellect.

So, according to Goleman, how do you create resonance with the people you lead? Creation of resonance can be done in six ways, which gives us Goleman's six leadership styles.

The Visionary Leader

This leader has the ability to inspire people. It is obvious that he believes in his own vision and he is empathetic with the people around him. He explains how and why his follower's efforts contribute to the "dream." What he is doing is building resonance by moving people toward a shared dream.

This style has a very positive impact on the working climate and builds a teamwork mentality. This style is appropriate when changes require a new vision, or when a clear direction is needed. Sometimes radical change is necessary and the visionary is the kind of leadership style that is needed.

The Coaching Leader

This leader listens to his people. He helps them identify their own strengths and weaknesses and shows them how to play to their strengths and build up their weaknesses. He is their counselor and he encourages them when he delegates the tasks that need to be done to reach the goal. He builds resonance by connecting what a person wants with the goals of the organization.

This style has a positive impact on the working climate of the people. It is appropriate when competent, motivated employees need to improve their performance by building long-term capabilities. The Coaching Leader helps accomplish this goal.

The Affiliative Leader

This leader promotes harmony in the group. He is nice, empathetic and boosts moral among the workers. He also is a good conflict manager. He builds resonance by creating harmony. This is done by connecting people to each other.

This style has somewhat of a positive impact on the working climate of the people. It is best used to heal rifts in a team, to motivate them during stressful times, or to strengthen the connections of the team members.

The Democratic Leader

This leader is a superb listener and team worker. He is also a great collaborator and influencer. He builds resonance with the people by valuing their input and gets commitment through participation.

In other words, he knows how to get them involved. It is best used when the people need to buy in to the vision or goal at hand and you need a consensus or some good input from the team.

The Pacesetting Leader

This leader is one who has a strong drive to achieve. He even has high standards for himself. He has initiative but he is low on empathy and collaboration. He tends to be impatient and micromanages everything. He also tends to be numbers driven. The only way he can build resonance is to meet challenges and make the goals exciting.

The climate is often negative, especially when this style is used exclusively or poorly administered. This style can be appropriate, however, when one needs to get high quality results from an already motivated and competent team.

The Commanding Leader

This leader is one who just commands and says, "do it because I say so." He threatens and has tight control. He monitors studiously and creates dissonance. He tends to contaminate everyone's good mood and drives the talented away. The only resonance he builds is by giving structure to those who need it.

He sooths fear by giving clear directions in an emergency. The climate is often negative and sometimes very negative. This style can be used appropriately, however, in a crisis to kick-start an urgent turnaround or with problem employees. It is obviously used well in the traditional military setting.

Leaders are definitely different, but so are followers. And this is just another way of saying that some situations demand one style of leadership while others demand another. Leaders are different. Organizations are different. And at any given time the leadership needs of an organization may vary from another time.

Since organizations can't continually change their leaders, this means that the leaders will have to change their leadership styles at different times. The right style depends on the task of the organization, the phase of life of the organization, and the needs of the moment.

The more a leader adapts his style of leadership behavior to meet the particular situation and the needs of his followers, the more effective he becomes in reaching personal and organizational goals. Studies show that there is no "best" style of leadership. Successful leaders adapt their leadership behavior to meet the needs of the group and the particular situation.

Having said that no leadership style is best, at least in all circumstances, it must be noted that interviews with all kinds of people show that practically everyone prefers a developmental, people-oriented supervisor regardless of their own values or the style they themselves practice.

Years ago the Friends Churches of the Northwest presented a study mad of growth patterns of their churches. Sixty churches were studied, showing statistics for attendance, age, and average income of each. Also, questions were asked to disclose the attitudes and thinking of the various leaders.

Unsurprisingly the findings showed that different leadership styles determined whether a church was static or growing. The leaders in the dynamic situations were characterized as positive, confident, cheerful, and goal-oriented. They always tried to involve as many people in the congregation as possible.

The static churches, on the other hand, had leaders with little vision and little creative imagination. Goal-setting, the report said, is unquestionably the most important ingredient needed for church growth. Leaders who are not visionary enough stifle church growth. Usually they are inflexible as well, without the ability to delegate work because they do not trust others.

I think this study should help us understand that style is critical in leadership. Each style has its advantages and weaknesses and must be evaluated against actual life situations, because there are no hard, fast lines drawn between different leadership styles.

The well-adjusted, mature leader is not bound by a single method or style. He can be flexible without being threatened. Such a wise leader will think carefully about the kind of style best suited for the situation. He will first want to consider his subordinates and how he can best relate to them. Then he can more accurately determine the best style of leadership.


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