Bare Knuckles Ag ™

Sorting Out the Best Leadership Styles Part V (final)

I started out with 12 distinct leadership styles recognized by other authorities. In this final part 5 installment, I discuss the two most common leadership styles and why I see a place for both, depending on three variables all experts on leadership have recognized in this series:

  • The function of the leader.

  • The make-up of subordinates.

  • The challenge assigned to the leader

There is a workplace “cultural divide” developing between the 20-something “Millennials” now entering the workplace and top management “Baby Boomers” of the late 1940s and 50s now entering or preparing for retirement. The crux of the divide? Boomers grew up under the “traditional” work ethic that advancement is based on performance and merit as determined from the top down. Yet studies show a majority among  Millennials think they should be allowed to set their own standards for “performance” or “merit” from the bottom up!

A December 2016 feature in the Harvard Business Review written by Jon Maner, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is entitled Good Bosses Switch Between Two Leadership Styles.” And are you ready for this? The two styles are nearly polar opposites! Yet I totally concur with Maner that neither style is necessarily better than the other.

The style Maner describes as “Dominance” I see akin to the “Coaching” style discussed in prior installments of this series. These leaders make clear they are in authority and that there’s “no ‘i’ in t-e-a-m” to use a classic coaching cliché. They incentivize their people with bonuses and incentives for doing things their way because it’s been proven successful, considered SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and part of the company’s image and brand with customers. Deviations from instructions are treated the same way a winning football coach treats players who don’t run the play assigned or the one called with the precision intended … they get reprimanded in front of peers or even “benched” (written up) with dismissal a risk for those who just can’t or won’t submit to the coach’s instructions.

With reference to the three critical “variables” mentioned in the lead-in, this style works best when a successful “formula” has already been identified by testing and experience and the “coach” leader’s job is to get everybody up to speed and following the winning formula quickly on tight deadlines. As Maner notes in the HBV feature, it also works best in organizational cultures marked by a clear chain of command and employees are expected to “follow orders” almost without question, akin to military execution.

I would note that carried to an extreme, however, the “dominant” or “coaching” style can morph into the “command & control” or “coercive” micro-management style that didn’t make the cut for most common styles in installments 2-4 in this series. I agree, If you come across as a “drill sergeant,” where your goal is to make your “troops” more afraid of you than they are of the enemy, your best and brightest will desert for other firms. Those who remain will hope you step on landmines (if not “plant them” for you to step on) in hopes to see you get you transferred, demoted or canned by top brass above you.

The style Maner calls “Prestige” I see akin to the “Servant” approach that has worked best for me through my 40-year career, whether reporting to others or supervising others. I’ve summed up this style as seeing your role as 1) leading by example, 2) making sure those who report to you have “the 3 T’s” (training, tools and time) to do the best possible job and 3) making sure your employees know that it is their responsibility to let you know up front if they lack any one of those “3 T’s” and why. (Offering lack of one of those as an “excuse for failure” after the fact is not acceptable!)

The Servant style works best when you have complete confidence in your team’s experience, competence and professionalism; when you have the luxury to focus only on results and don’t care exactly “how” they achieve top results; only that they DO. It also works best for stimulating innovativeness and creativity, team discussion and decision-making.

It works especially well when you’re trying to groom your people for advancement and leadership positions of their own. I once had a CEO tell me to see my job as preparing subordinates to take my place – so that he would be free (and incentivized) to promote me to even higher positions in the company!  And in my own experience, I found letting my subordinates KNOW that was my goal to be transformative for them. In seeing me as honestly committed to their own professional (and financial) growth, they saw me as an ally, mentor and confidante. Not only would they warn me of possible land mines before I stepped on them, professionally, they would rally to my defense with my own boss if I managed to step on one all by myself!





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