Leadership…people or tasks? My way or our way?

Leadership has been a topic studied for centuries.  We see it in the Bible with Jesus and his 12, China introducing a rank system into their army around 600 B.C., and Socrates was noted as saying those that can delegate will succeed and those that can not delegate will not succeed. Today, there are countless authors, organizations, and speakers that make the topic of leadership their core business. Even some of the best in academia have incorporated the study of leadership into their programs.  In Business Week’s Top Undergraduate Business Programs of 2010, the top 2 schools (Mendoza & McIntire) have classes in leadership. The top ranked MBA programs at Harvard and Stanford include leadership programs into their general/core curriculum.  For a more detailed history on leadership you can check out the full article here.  Considering there is so much information on this subject and I am not trying to write the next chapter of War & Peace, I will write a broad overview this week and cover specific topics in coming posts.

In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin developed a leadership framework with 3 key leadership styles based on their decision-making patterns.

  1. Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their teams and works well when quick decisions are required.
  2. Democratic leaders allow the team to provide input before they make a decision, although the degree of input can vary from leader to leader. This leadership is great when overall team agreement is required, but takes longer to coral the opinions and bring opposing views into agreement.
  3. Laissez-Faire leaders don’t interfere, allowing the team to make many of the decisions. Typically this happens when the team is highly capable and motivated, and it doesn’t need close monitoring or supervision. This sort of leadership works well with creative type…musicians, artists, designers, etc.

Later in the 1960’s, Robert Blake & Jane Mouton developed the Managerial Grid or Leadership Grid, which focused on the leader’s preference/concern for the task or the people doing the task. There core leadership styles include:

  1. Country Club leaders are focused on the feelings of their team and believe if their team members are happy, then production will come.
  2. Produce/Perish leaders believe the employee is simply a means to an end.
  3. Impoverished leadership isn’t focused on systems or creating an environment that fosters enthusiasm, pride, and self-motivation.
  4. Middle-of-the-Road leadership attempts to balance both production and employee satisfaction.  At first glance, this is a great compromise but it fails to fully satisfy either of these goals.
  5. Team leadership is the greatest success, according to the Blake Mouton model.  This style attempts to grow employee morale and commitment through educating employees on the corporate strategy and getting them involved with setting the organizational goals.  This commitment and trust leads to happier employees and better production.

Alan Murray, blogged about Daniel Goleman’s book “Primal Leadership” and his six styles of leadership. Below is a brief recap of that blog

  1. Visionary – a great style for changes in organizational direction or entrepreneurial endeavors.  These leaders paint the picture of where the org is going and gets its people to adopt the same goals, excitement, and dreams of the leader.
  2. Coaching – Because of the one-on-one, mentoring style of this leadership, coaching is often confused with micromanagement. This style works great for self-motivated employees that have a teachable attitude.
  3. Affiliative – This approach is more of the community organizer and focuses on team building, group praise, and developing the team.  This is great for new groups of people and maybe early on in a project, but you need to be aware of those folks and situations that require individual recognition, praise, or coaching.
  4. Democratic – Similar to Affiliative in that it is a group approach.  However, Democratic is focused on drawing from the collective knowledge of the group and the expertise of the members within that group.  While this is a great approach when direction is unclear, it does not bode well during times of crisis in which a quick decision is required.
  5. Pacesetting – In a pacesetting approach, the leader sets the standards for performance and expects the team to hit those targets.  Often, the bar is set very high and often the demand eats away at the morale of the team.
  6. Commanding – This is a classing military style of leadership where there is little praise and even leverages criticism to drive performance. Goleman states this style is only useful in times of crisis and when an urgent turnaround is needed.

Once you perused the countless interpretations of leadership styles (I just mentioned a few), the next thing you need to do is understand which fits your own personal, professional, and situational match.  If you thought the styles were difficult to follow, that is just the start…What kind of power do you have (referent, coercive, etc)? What environment are you operating in (a new start-up, IBM, volunteer venture)? In this WSJ blog, you will see the challenges women are overcoming and techniques they can leverage in the workplace.  Another consideration is the specific project or endeavor and it’s fit within the overall organization.  While you may be the VP of Operations with both strong referent and expertise power, the new PM consultant leading the development of an industry changing product receives executive attention, corporate resources, and high priority.

Even after you have identified your environment, personnel strengths, and natural leadership tendencies; you will also need to understand your people.  The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory was created by Dr Paul Hersey (“The Situational Leader”) and Ken Blanchard (“The One-Minute Manager”).  In their model, they discuss the maturity of your team members and leadership methods that best fit their level.  The full blog can be found here.  Another common model for understand your employees are DiSC profiles, developed by William Moulton Marston PhD.  A tremendous blog on DiSC profiles and your approach to employees can be found at here.  Another personality test commonly used is Meyers-Briggs…again we could go on with other tests and evaluations for learning your team members, but this post is getting long enough.

I have been a consultant in many roles and led teams at various levels within several organizations.  I have participated in several of Fortune 500’s leadership courses, had the honor to work for some truly awesome leaders, and also had the embarrassing education of personal lessons learned.  Through the years I have realized that true leadership requires a few things in addition to learning the theories/techniques:

  1. Although criticized in LeaderLab’s Blog, for a simple view on leadership, I am a very big fan of John Maxwell’s influence approach.  I believe he goes far beyond influence in the 360 Degree Leader, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and Talent is never enough.  However, I do believe it takes influence to carry out your leadership goals.  You may have done an excellent job at stepping out of your comfort zone and leveraging another leadership style/theory.  You may have taken the time to analyze your political climate within the organization and personalities of your team members.  However, if you do not have influence within your organization and/or team, then you may not get a shot at implementing the phenomenal strategy you have road-mapped.  Influence requires that you connect with you your team, understand their personal pushes and pulls (life outside of work), and be a resource for them.
  2. While the core product/service a business delivers remains relatively constant, the business model and overall industry a company operates in can change at the blink of an eye.  Technology has expanded the footprint at which even a small business can operate and retain resources (Read the World is Flat).  Business will not slow for a leader and their team to catch up, so leaders need to develop a repertoire or portfolio of leaderships skills and techniques that they can draw from. The business model may shift and team dynamics will change and if you are not ready to adjust your approach, quickly understand your people, and seize opportunity, then you will be left behind (or out).
  3. Integrity.  Although, I think this word could be left alone, I will take a moment to discuss.  I am tired of seeing managers throw their employees under the bus.  It has happened to me and right, wrong, or indifferent I shifted to a defensive employee.  It took away from my full-throttle; give it all I got approach to one in which I had to use some energy on being methodical about my correspondences.  In a day where everyone is overworked, do you want your employees spending cycles on anything other then production?  Be a leader of integrity!  If you provide some direction and your boss doesn’t like it during the presentation…don’t agree and tell your team member to re-work it.  Stand up and share the direction you provided, why you did so, and state ‘we’ will work on it.  Lastly, if you commit something to your team (an awards luncheon, a professional development plan, new office equipment) then make sure you make it happen.  If you simply can not because the business climate has changed, stand up and confront the team on it.  Have integrity and your employees will run through a brick wall for you!
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2 thoughts on “Leadership…people or tasks? My way or our way?

  1. What a great post. I am so enjoying reading them all! I loved point #3 so much I found myself saying “Amen!”

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