Bare Knuckles Ag ™

Sorting Out The Best Leadership Styles Today Part III

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on the most effective leadership styles in an age where we now have up to four distinct generations in the workplace at the same time. The thing that’s REALLY rattling cages in Boardrooms across America, however, is a cultural divide developing between the Millennials and Boomers on which leadership styles are appropriate for the generation that grew up living “virtual lives” via social media and now seeks to reverse the flow of corporate culture and expectations from top down to bottom up!

Who most needs an attitude adjustment in today’s workplace?  “Millennials” on their way up … or Boomers planning a graceful exit?

My goal in this 5-part series is still the same; an update of a popular presentation I’ve done over the years on “How to Become a Leader People Follow”. I will finish with the style of leadership I’ve used successfully for most of my career that survived a winnowing process by others that begins with twelve styles and ends with just two.

Part 1 outlined 12 different business leadership styles identified by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). In Part 2, I showed how Rhea Blanken, a Fellow with ASAE, winnowed the list to eight.

In this Part 3, I applaud Robyn Benincasa, a full-time firefighter and world class extreme athlete for further winnowing the list to six in her 2012 book, “How Winning Works.” She echoes the immortal words of business legend Peter Drucker when he famously observed “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things!”   I totally concur with Benincasa’s observation that manager and leader are two completely different roles, though often used interchangeably (because so many executives are charged with both roles in different facets of their job descriptions.)

As did my sources for parts 1 & 2, Benincasa uses different labels for some types. But as I did in part 2, I matched them up with corresponding styles from the other two writers to learn which ones “made the cut” to remain in her list of 6 effective styles (from the original 12 I detailed in Part 1:   1) Coercive,  2) Democratic,  3) Pace-Setter,  4) Authoritative,  5) Coaching or 6) Affiliative. Which one is best? As I noted in Part 1, that answer depends on three crucial factors:

1. The function of the leader.

2. The make-up of subordinates.

3. The challenge assigned to the leader.

I’ll start by explaining why I put Benincasa’s “authoritative” type in league with the “facilitative” or “servant” approach described in Parts 1 & 2 because I readily understand they seem at odds with each other by standard definition.  She defines an “authoritative” style as “a leader who mobilizes the team toward a common vision, focused on end goals but leaving the means up to the individual” (emphasis mine). That dovetails well with my own preference; the “facilitative” or “servant” approach which I describe as serving those who report to me with what I call “the 3 Ts” (training, time and tools) to do the best possible job.  The flip side, however, is that I also expect those who report to me to let me know if they’re short on any one of those “Ts” and why.

Four of those original 12 styles detailed in Part 1 didn’t make the cut to those I covered in Part 2 and now two more didn’t make the cut to Benincasa’s list of 6. In my own experience, I concur and here’s why: 

Transformational Leadership scorns dissent and rewards “yes” persons. It is described as having a “mission to change” organizations, groups and even oneself. Statistically, this kind of leadership tends to have more committed and satisfied followers. But why? Because transformational leaders tend to reward and empower followers while bristling at any dissent among the ranks! Remember Benincasa’s Peter Drucker quote above? “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” A company can suffer greatly if it has “transformational” leaders who stifle dissent, reward and empower unquestioning followers – but not doing the right things!

“Laissez-faire” Leadership is in permanent “crisis management” mode. Just consider the classic definition of the French-derived term: “a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.” Just substitute “without leading” and you’ve captured the troubling essence of this style. I once had a supervisor who practiced this style. He handed us our job descriptions and turned us loose to figure out what to do and how to do it. When any of us who reported to him asked for feedback on how we were doing, he would just give a shrug and say some variation of, “Well, I haven’t heard any complaints so just keep doing whatever you’re doing. If you screw up, I’ll let you know.” No wonder that according to research, this style of “leadership” is essentially the absence thereof and has consistently been found to be the least satisfying and least effective management style!

 In Part 4 of this series, I will show how two other authorities on effective leadership styles winnow the list of effective styles to 5 and 3, respectively – and why I agree with the three they eliminate between them. It will set us up for Part 5, where I will highlight the top two leadership styles identified in this “winnowing process” among experts on the topic, from a starting list of 12 in Part 1!

 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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