Success in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, involves individuals and organisations coping with change. Those leading this change – and influencing others to achieve this change effectively – need high quality leadership skills.
There are various types of leaders, each deploying their skills via a distinctive leadership style. In the 1930s, psychologist Kurt Lewin outlined three major styles:
- Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their team members.
- Democratic leaders include team members in the decision-making process.
- Laissez-faire leaders give team members freedom in how they work, and how they set their deadlines.
There’s a leadership style matrix - published in Eric Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle’s book, ‘Growing Pains’
Leadership types include:
- The Hero - leading from the front, relying on their profile-raising skills and personal brand.
- The Servant - putting the team’s needs before their own.
- Adaptive leaders - taking people out of their comfort zones, exposing them to external pressure and conflict.
- Dispersed leaders – leading a geographically-dispersed team.
- Transformational leaders show integrity, and develop an inspiring vision. They motivate people to achieve this vision, manage its delivery, and build strong, successful teams.
- Transactional leadership is based on team members agreeing to obey the leader and give the leader a right to ‘punish’ under-performing team members. Ambitious team members often thrive. On its own, transactional leadership can be amoral and lead to high staff turnover, since team members can do little to improve their job satisfaction.
- Visionary leaders - who offer a vision of the future or who have a strong story. These tend to be memorable leaders - but today’s followers need a credible
There’s also the concept of inner leadership – what goes on inside the leader – as opposed to what the leader does (outer leadership). Harmonising outer and inner leadership is important for both the leader’s personal equilibrium and successful team leadership.
There’s even ‘Soul-Centered Leadership’, from Michael Anderson’s book of the same name. It’s a combination of emotional intelligence, psychology and general ‘spirituality’ to harness the power of spiritual psychology in order to lead.
Theories X and Y
There was once a view that business leaders told their workers what to do and the workers got on with it. This simplistic, ‘authoritative’ style of business leadership was dubbed ‘Theory X’ by Douglas McGregor in his book, ‘The Human Side of Enterprise’.
McGregor offered a different theory – which he named ‘Theory Y’. It claimed that, to get the best from workers, you had to trust, coach and encourage them - empowering workers to make decisions, including those that were once the sole preserve of ‘managers’. Empowerment happens when people feel confident both about what they’re being expected to do and what happens if it goes wrong, or right.
Richard Lowe, of HR specialists Hewlett Rand, says, “Leaders breed the culture they deserve - empowering or disempowering - but guess which one most people want to work for.”
Building a Strong Organisation
Companies want strong results - profits, revenue and market share. These are couched in terms of numbers – but these numbers can only be achieved via having strong client relationships. That involves people, not numbers.
Building a strong organisation requires a strong team. Establishing a strong team means developing trust, mutual understanding, an understanding of the ‘big picture’, co-operating to create consensus, strong communication skills, dealing effectively with conflicts and developing personal autonomy while being part of the team. These are key components in empowerment and each component involves some degree of on-going change.
“Empowering staff in decision making and then coaching their performance capabilities benefits the client experience - whether internal or external,” says Richard Lowe.
“Developing an empowering leadership culture can be complex. Leaders are influenced by factors including the external environment, strategic ambitions, challenges, individual personalities, capabilities and team dynamics and so on. These interwoven factors must be clarified and understood - to identify opportunities for, and obstacles preventing, an empowering culture.
“Jim Collins’ book, ‘Good to Great’, explains how empowering leaders leads to long-term sustainable financial and people results,” he adds. “There’s also Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, which says that, without trust, you don’t have open communication - and that leads to less commitment, a lack of accountability, a disempowering culture and poor results.”
The key is ‘trust’ – and there are three levels of trust in organisations:
- Self-trust and trust in the team. Everyone wants to be trusted. When that happens, we trust others in return – and concerted progress can be made.
- aligning the organisation’s various teams.
- Reputation - for example, delivering on promises.
To build a strong team, you need strong people – and strong people need self-confidence. This makes it a difficult process to manage, let alone lead – not least because there’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. Developing and managing self-confidence in an organisation’s workforce poses a problem for business leaders.
The style and quality of business leadership can build – or destroy – individuals’ self-confidence, and people with low levels of self-confidence are only going to perform averagely, at best. Alternatively, empowering leadership tends to build strong people - who build strong teams, strong organisations and, then, strong results.
While leadership development is often done through short, immersive activity – which could include e-learning – this should be followed by opportunities to apply that learning and reflect on it, often supported by a mentor or coach.
Former business leader turned business coach, Hugo Heij, believes that, when it comes to developing leadership qualities, there’s a difference between theory and practice. He says, “Like driving a car, you can learn the theory quite quickly but that doesn’t make you a great driver. Achieving that requires longer-term development, probably involving several carefully selected projects allied to some coaching and mentoring.
“Leadership development fails where the intervention doesn’t reflect the reality of that person’s current role – or where the intervention creates false expectations for the developing leader,” he adds.
When it comes to assessing leadership skills, the military have well-used processes but carrying out similar assessments seems less clear-cut in the corporate world. Here, assessment tools include psychometrics, business simulations, interviews, peer-to-peer or 360-degree assessment, along with historic job performance analysis. These tend to be most useful when they’re used as part of an on-going leadership programme – rather than as a ‘one-off’.
For more on how leadership styles impact the success or otherwise of a team's growth and development read our previous blog.
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