What's Your Leadership Style?
I am standing on my front porch, already late for work, about to call my 3 dogs in from their morning exercise adventure.
Shotzie, the Border collie, sees me and naturally trots right up the porch stairs. Roscoe, the golden retriever, is still circling the coop, but as soon as he hears the word “treat”—he’s on the porch. Dexter, the beagle-basset cross, is nowhere to be found. “Dexter, come on boy,” I call. Seeing him diligently tracking something, I walk down the stairs to fetch him. My attempt to grab his collar results in Dexter flattening himself on the ground. “Really?” I say in frustration. I then pick him up and walk back to the house.
Mission accomplished. All three dogs are in the house.
As a veterinary professional, you likely could have predicted—based on the breed of dog—what I would have to do to get each pet into the house. Because of your training, you know the Border collie will do whatever I want her to do as soon as I start thinking it, the golden might need a little incentive but will usually do what is asked, and the bagel hound will need direct and decisive orders to be successful.
Three dogs required three different leadership styles from their leader.
Developing a leadership style to help your colleagues and employees be successful is no different. So, why do we employ a “one-size-fits-all” leadership style approach when leading our human teams?
Too often, leaders choose one style, usually the one that is most comfortable, and naively expect it will be equally effective with all subordinates. Until recently, this solely authoritative hierarchical approach, one where the leader was all powerful and knowledgeable and the followers took on a more passive role, was the predominant leadership strategy in the United States. In this model, employees were expected to adapt to the preferred leadership style of the supervisor.
Susan Peters, the person in charge of executive development at GE stated in a recent Fast Company article, Generation Flux, “There’s a need to be less hierarchical and to rely more on teams.” As we move away from this approach toward a more collaborative model of leadership, leaders need to learn how to adapt to the team in order to lead effectively. This does not mean that an authoritative style should never be used. It just means it should be one of many we employ to accomplish our goals.
Fortunately, we can look to Kurt Lewin, often called the father of social psychology, for help in better understanding the leadership styles I used with my dogs.
Lewin pioneered research on this topic and identified 3 leadership styles:
• laissez-faire (see table)
that have stood the test of time and are often referred to in any conversation about leadership style.
|Authoritarian (autocratic)||The leader makes the decision without any input from the followers and the followers follow|
|Democratic (participative)||Everyone has a say and the leader takes into consideration input from the group when making decisions|
|Delegative (Laissez-Faire)||The leader allows the group to make their own decisions and only provides input if asked|
With Shotzie, laissez-faire leadership was an appropriate choice. When she sees me on the stairs, she knows what the goal is and will make the right choices in order to do her part to contribute to successful accomplishment of the goal. Though not a perfect example, Roscoe requires a more participative style, one that has some give and take. I make a suggestion and he has a different idea. I make another suggestion, one that might be more to his liking and he gets on board with the mission. Dexter, on the other hand, needs a more autocratic leader. I say, the goal is to get in the house and you are going to get in the house even if I have to pick you up.
Here’s a link to the leadership quiz:
Lewin’s categories are very clean, simple and easy to understand. However, Lewin’s leadership styles are not the only options. Numerous methods of categorizing leadership style using different theoretical approaches have been proposed.
Blake and Moulton’s "Leadership Grid" uses two factors to help leaders accomplish organizational goals, concern for results and concern for people, where the combination of these factors results in a certain leadership style.
Hersey and Blanchard developed the "Situational Leadership II" model that places emphasis on the leaders' behaviors and the development level of the subordinates.
This model defines 4 leadership styles:
Servant-leadership is a style of leadership where the leader’s goal is to help his or her team members become more knowledgeable and more autonomous, in addition to instilling social responsibility.
Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee have also offered several different leadership styles in their book, Primal Leadership. They include the following styles:
All of these approaches have pros and cons. So the key is learning as much as possible about each style so you know when to use the various styles.
Now imagine you are the practice owner (leader) of a small animal practice that has a small staff and your goal is to transition from paper medical records to a paperless system. Sally, the practice manager, is very tech savvy and has been encouraging this transition for quite some time. Jane is your receptionist and though she was instrumental in getting the practice appointment book online, she is not sure she is ready to go completely paperless. Bill has been with the practice for 15 years and is now your lead technician. He is very reluctant to move to a paperless medical record system. Applying what you now know about leadership style, specifically Lewin’s types, how will you handle the transition?
Sally is just like Shotzie. She will not require much hand holding through the process. A laissez-faire approach will give her the freedom to take initiative and not feel micro-managed. Her comfort and expertise with paperless systems can also be leveraged to help the rest of the team. Jane is the golden retriever so a participative or democratic approach, where there is give and take on ideas as her comfort level increases may be most prudent. If, after allowing Bill some time to explain his reluctance as well as ask questions (participative style), he still might require a little more autocratic approach when moving to the paperless system. Though I recognize this is a fairly elementary application of the principles outlined, it gets you thinking about how to flex in order to reach a goal.
We are practicing in a time of unprecedented change. In order to keep our practices thriving, we need to embrace a flexible approach to leadership style so that we can meet the needs of each member of our team. To be an effective leader, the qualities of flexibility, adaptability, and the wisdom to recognize which style will end in positive results is critical.
1. Leadership Theory and Practice, 3rd ed. Northouse PG (ed)—Sage Publications, Inc., 2003.
2. Primal Leadership. Goleman D, Boyatzis RE, McKee A—Harvard Business Review Press, 2004.
3. Generation Flux by Robert Safian, January 2012