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Sorting Out the Best Leadership Styles Part IV

In this part 4 series on leadership styles, I note why two additional authors on leadership that I’ve reviewed eliminated 3 more styles from the original 12 between them. One is Dr. David Jones, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Vermont. His list does not include the “coercive” style and I fully concur with his reasons why.

The other writer I cover in this installment is Steve Morgan, a leadership guru with “t2 Management Training”, a top business training and coaching firm based in the UK. Morgan’s list of just three main leadership styles actually brings back the Laissez-faire style that bit the dust with Benincasa. It’s not because he champions it; only that he still counts it among the “big three” styles he encounters. His other two are the “autocratic style” and “democratic” approach. He sees pros and cons for all three because, as we’ve all agreed thus far in this series, the leadership style that works best depends on three crucial variables:

  • The assigned function (role, authority, etc.) of the leader.

  • The make-up of subordinates by function, role, education, skill level, etc.

  • The challenge assigned to the leader; how his/her performance will be judged.

In addition to cutting the “coercive” style, as Prof. Jones did, Morgan also eliminates the “pace-setter” and the “affiliative” approaches that were still among Benincasa’s list of 5 in Part 3 of this series. I’ll start with the shortcomings of the “coercive” style that didn’t make the cut from either Prof. Jones or Mr. Morgan.

Coercive Leadership made her list, but “should be avoided in almost every case” admits Robyn Benincasa from Part 3. Jones and Morgan most likely concur with her observation that this style can “alienate people and stifle flexibility and inventiveness” because neither even include it on their own lists of dominant leadership styles. It made Benincasa’s list only because she does see it as a useful approach for executives during times of business crisis such as need for a company turnaround, a takeover attempt by another firm or an actual emergency such as natural disaster.

The “Pace-setter” Leader sees himself/herself as the ideal “role model” and didn’t make Morgan’s list at all. This leader takes pride in the conviction that he or she never expects anybody to do anything they’ve not only done, but done it exceedingly well. Their unspoken mantra to subordinates is thus, “Do as I do … and just make sure you’re keeping up!”  It can work well if team members are well motivated and have the same degree of confidence in their leader that the leader has in himself or herself.  But if either of those two factors are missing, following the “pace-setter” can be overwhelming and discourage constructive critique or innovation.

The “affiliative” approach also failed to make the cut with Morgan. I suspect he would fully concur with short-comings noted by Benincasa, even though this was included in her list of the 5 most common styles she observes. She sums it up as a “people come first” approach and says it works best in firms dealing with trauma or loss of trust among key team members. In my own experience, I’d list among such “trauma” being bought out by another firm and the usual fear of job eliminations or declining corporate revenue leading to regular layoffs. The problem is that the consummate “people person” can go too far with praise and nurturing of subordinates. It can quickly lead to mediocre performance because it de-motivates top performers if they see management catering to the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality Millennials now entering the work force grew up with; but scorned by Baby-Boomers and Gen X’ers.

Morgan brought back the Laissez-faire approach among his “top 3” leadership styles he encounters as an executive trainer and coach. You may recall this is a relaxed style of leadership, giving complete decision-making control to the staff, letting them manage their own workload, and just staying out of their way so long as they’re getting their job done, on time and up to snuff. Morgan sees a place for this approach among employees who are 1) highly responsible and skilled at what they do, 2) are in positions that are relatively independent of what others in the firm do, and 3) highly self-motivated (and compensated) for peak performance. However, he agrees that this approach can backfire badly with employees who need regular guidance and direction. This can lead to poor team performance, falling morale and conclusion by subordinates and supervisors alike that this leader is just lazy, someone who “can’t be bothered to lead properly” – or both!

 In Part 5, my final installment of this series, I  will show why I’m in good company (the Harvard Business Review) with the two most effective and rewarding leadership styles I have observed, experienced and practiced in my 40-year career as an executive with four of the top agricultural consulting firms in the country.

 REMINDER TO READERS: If you ever spot junk science, unfair attacks or fake news harmful to any of us in the global food chain, let me know and I’ll do my part to examine, expose and extinguish with Bare Knuckles!




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