The success or failure of a leader is directly related to his or her leadership systems and habits. Some people refer to it as their leadership style or their leadership capabilities but the reality is that leadership is not simply a style that you adopt or a set of credentials.
Unfortunately we all have dealt with horrible leaders. They may have ethical boundaries that far exceed our own or they are too busy trying to enhance their personal career to properly address the people that they lead.
But was makes a great leader? What are the traits of a leader that is able to succeed in various situations and somehow garners the respect from their followers to trust them?
Daniel Goleman has spent years analyzing and explaining emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand emotions, both one’s own and others, to best respond to various situations. The work is fascinating and really points to the various emotional cues that we all utilize, but in different ways.
Daniel Goleman wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review called Leadership That Gets Results. He evaluates leadership and research on various leadership styles. He explains that “the research indicates that leaders with the best results do not rely on only one leadership style; they use most of them in a given week - seamlessly and in different measure - depending on the business situation.”
This is fascinating and can explain why a leader who excels at turnarounds might struggle slowly growing a company. Or why a leader might thrive in some environments and struggle in others. The reality is that leadership is about relying on various leadership styles and being able to quickly interpret which style would work best for a given situation.
He goes on to provide a golf metaphor. “Imagine the styles, then, as the array of clubs in a golf pro’s bag. Over the course of a game, the pro picks and chooses clubs based on the demands of the shot.”
The ability to perform at a high level on a golf course, just as with leadership, is a skill that gets refined over time through repetition and experience. The more one trains and the better instructors the pro utilizes, the better they will become. They will be able to turn golf into a series of reflexive responses to situations. They habitualize the process of golf.
The Navy SEALS are notorious for their high level of execution and their ability to use a small team to accomplish incredible missions. In Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS authors Jeff Cannon and Jon Cannon talk about the ability to choose the best leadership style for the situation, just as Goleman claimed.
“There are times, although rare, when screaming is effective. There are times when it pays to step back and watch the show run itself. But if you do either of these things too often, your team will anticipate your style, and then bad things will happen.” They go on to describe several example leadership styles (The Volcano, The Country Club Manager, The Bank Manager and The Cowboy).
After describing each leadership method, they talk about a mission where they exemplify the ability to switch between styles.
“During a jungle warfare mission, I used several different leadership styles. I took a step back during mission conception, when I wanted to encourage a creative environment and allow my platoon free rein to come up possible solutions. Then I was the bank manager during mission planning and preparation, imposing strict controls to ensure that unnecessary risks were avoided. Then I was a cowboy right before the parachute jump as the adrenaline got going.”
When you think about your own leadership experience can you think of times when you needed to approach the situation different based on circumstances that hinted a different approach might be best?
Yet when we read the latest article on Steve Jobs or Richard Branson they emphasize one leadership approach that we should all emulate to be as successful as they are. It is much more likely that they relied on the leadership style appropriate for that situation and were skilled at reading the situation before responding.
Taking this approach describe various leadership styles that you have encountered. They can align with those laid out by Jeff and Jon Cannon or those laid out by Daniel Goleman or be entirely different. Regardless of the names and descriptions start to implement each in your approach to leadership. You will likely find strengths and weaknesses but this will expand your leadership capabilities further than simply reading about one style and trying to emulate it.