Which leadership style is right for you?

Which leadership style is right for you?

Here’s a challenge: somehow cover the gamut of leadership theory in a single blog post. Impossible? Probably. Fun to do anyway? Almost certainly. Relevant? Well, yes, because if there’s one aspect of the workplace that seems to change its buzzwords more rapidly than any other it’s the latest thinking on what constitutes a good leader.

Popular right now is Authentic Leadership, which means any number of things depending on who you listen to, but broadly speaking is about being yourself. It requires a degree of self-awareness, a lack of ego, a dollop of emotional intelligence, and a long term commitment to developing others. Sounds good. But as a longstanding member of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school of theorising, it doesn’t sound so new when expressed so broadly.

How about LMX? It has a fancy acronym that might stand for Leadership Moto Cross but actually means Leader-Member eXchange theory. LMX focuses on the relationship between a leader and their followers. So far, so old. But LMX suggests that a leader has an individual relationship (or exchange) with each ‘subordinate’ which heightens still further the role of trust and respect in the leader’s role. In fact, LMX has been around a few decades already, but research continues and who knows, maybe its time has come?

While we’re on a ‘trust & respect’ kick, why not Ethical Leadership? Directed by concern and respect for ethics, and the dignity/rights of other people, it’s certainly attractive although a read of the news these days might lead you to think it’s a solely theoretical theory.

It says much that the old research still gets trotted out; does that mean it must still stand up? There’s McGregor’s X and Y (transactional vs. transformational) manager/leader styles;Tannenbaum-Schmidt’s continuum of styles from maximum control to maximum freedom for those being led; the ever-popular Situational Leadership concept which essentially says there’s no single ‘right’ leadership style, it depends on what you’re faced with; and then there’s Kouzes & Posner, whose “The Leadership Challenge” (Be a role model, shared the vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart) is already a quarter century old and is approaching ‘classic’ status.

How about a quick survey at a recent CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) conference? Various consultants and ‘experts’ were asked about core leadership traitsand the responses actually have a heart-warming level of common sense about them, namely: decision making during uncertainty, capitalise on failure, listen well, take it on the chin (feedback), know thyself, control yourself, and emotional intelligence.

Personally, I must confess to a fondness for the complex challenge competences from the Center for Creative Leadership: paying attention, personalising, imaging, serious play, co-inquiry, and crafting. First published in 2002 (“The Leader’s Edge”) and still offering a welcome offbeat view of the issue.

Still, the simple answer probably takes us back to where we started. The simple answer might just be… the one that feels most comfortable. Yes, by all means push your comfort zone, learn new skills and techniques, stretch yourself. But comfort is an important indicator too – it indicates familiarity, the style which is most ‘you’ and that’s not to be ignored because if you’re going to be “authentic”, i.e. real, then feeling like you’re not pretending to be something you’re not has to be high on the list of criteria, no?

p.s. No, of course, we didn’t cover everything. But we did travel from the 1950s to the present day and touch on 10 different approaches along the way. The ‘top ten’? Probably not. But a ‘useful ten’? absolutely.

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