We frequently find ourselves touting our leadership skills when vying for any type of management or executive position, but how often do we take the time to reflect upon our actual style of leadership? Although we may take our leadership techniques for granted, increasing the capacity to which we understand our own unique methodologies can assist us in situations where flexibility, or a implementing a varying set of leadership styles, is necessary.
(my way or the highway)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did not have a highly trained team of experts at his beck and call. He didn’t dictate the first few notes of a musical passage to an underling with the instructions “Fill in the Blanks,” and then expect them to read his mind and interpret his genius. It was a skill that he alone possessed.
This is why the most autocratic of all leaders, those who make decisions, and then publish decrees, are called Composers. It is arguably the least desirable methodology for managing a group unless you are soldiers under fire, and need someone with Big Picture knowledge.
Next in line is the Producer, akin to someone that always delivers an expected result, such as a Broadway play or a television program. This person is very results-oriented, a linear, traditional thinker, who sees the job as a series of tasks that must be completed in a systematic way. They don’t need your input; they know how to get the job done, on time and on budget.
The Prognosticator constantly gathers information, always seeking to acquire some new tidbits to gain an advantage, but rarely rushes a decision. Everything must be considered from their (generally) vast array of knowledge. This, however, is the first layer of autocrat that might actually and specifically seek information from their subordinates.
(what’s your opinion?)
“Two cheers for Democracy; one because it admits variety, and two because it permits criticism”—E. M. Forster [author]
Consultation is much more common with a democratic style leader, and, in fact, it is intrinsic to the style. The Conciliator works to integrate all the skills that are available from assorted staffers. This type of leader mixes and matches so that strengths overlap weaknesses to create a resilient and interdependent team, often considering recommendations. The environment is stable, positively reinforced, and focused on execution.
The Provisioner has some interesting parallels with an extraordinarily good housekeeper. They’re action-oriented with required supplies (breakfast on the table; children’s’ school lunches) ready-to-go in the form of necessary files on hand, and adequate equipment to accomplish the task. They’re loyal to their people, supportive, and confident in the systems they have in place.
Ship’s Captain is team oriented and collaborative. Like the days of explorers in sailing ships, this describes someone who is strategic when facing threats; visionary when facing opportunities; and consultative, when choices are overwhelming.
(manage, don’t dictate)
Laissez-faire gets a bad rap, although possibly unfairly in the opinions of some. The estimation often reflects a lack of leadership and supervision altogether, which is thought to lead to lowered productivity and quality.
The negative connotation probably derives from the fact that Laissez-faire sounds like “lazy fair” with the same spoken-meter as “I don’t care.” It actually derives from the old French trading doctrine from the 17th century of leaving economic activity to market forces, free of government intervention and interference.
What many fail to grasp is that in the right circumstances, it is a system with clear benefits. Consider our last two Leadership Styles:
The Vitalizer is less interested in imposing a set of rules than in inspiring people to action. This is an excellent skill to have in a highly creative environment where personal charisma can have a powerful effect. This type of person can put the work in a context that people can understand; they can provide meaning to the task so that people connect with it emotionally.
The Collaborator is all about The Team. They tune, recruit, coach, and support (and occasionally prune when they can’t get the results they are looking for). More than anything else they want their team to be the best.
No one understands the concept better than a Collaborator of hiring people that are smarter than they are. If you only hire people as smart as you are, your results are never going to be better than what you could do yourself. Hire geniuses, and manage them, but give them as unrestricted an environment as possible in which to flourish and show you why you hired them.
There is no single clear-cut solution to questions about leadership. Most people tend to focus on one of the styles mentioned above but every one of us, at some point, under some circumstances, will use one, two, or even three additional styles out of that list.
Sometimes you need to dictate; sometimes you need to facilitate; and once in a while, you just need to step aside and allow people to do what they do best. There is no one-size-fits-all in management. Be open to exploring new techniques and tactics because sometimes your go-to approach just isn’t suiting the situation. Know when to be flexible and extract the best parts of all leadership methods.
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