What's Your Leadership Style?

Adaptability Is Always in Fashion

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
I've always been a sucker for books on leadership. If the jacket says, "How to be a (fill in the blank) leader," I usually buy it. There are so many amazing books, articles and seminars out there for inspiration and I'm sure that right now some CEO is coming up with a new philosophy that will be all the rage before the year is out. This week I'm reading one about dead CEOs, New Ideas from Dead CEOs: Lasting Lessons from the Corner Office. (I guess there won't be a sequel.) If there's anything I've learned, it's that effective leadership is a lifelong process that can be quite humbling.

I wonder what the Chinese first thought of Confucius' book on leadership, The Analects, back in the 6th century. Talk about introspective. listen to what he said about learning from others: "Even when walking in the company of two other men, I am bound to be able to learn from them. The good points of the one I copy; the bad points of the other I correct in myself." In support of the theory that through others you learn about yourself, I would like to share my leadership journey in the hopes that it might help you and your small agency.

I used to try to emulate some of the great leaders that I've admired. But this inevitably failed and I always reverted to my own devices.

So instead of trying to be like someone else, I have learned to adopt some of the characteristics of great leadership while still being true to myself. I've asked other leaders in the company to call me out when they see me slipping into a mode that's not inherently me. I always thought this made me sort of a rebel -- until my company started working with the global executive leadership company, Center for Creative Leadership. CCL teaches clients that it's better to stay flexible in your style because different circumstances and challenges require varied, creative approaches rather than memorizing a "fix-all" model. This may seem like common sense, but so often when you're faced with a tough situation at work, or in life, it's easy to forget to listen to your inner voice.

But what happens when you recognize that your leadership style clashes with someone you may work closely with? (Reading to the rescue again.) In 2000, the Harvard Business Review ran a great article, Daniel Goleman's "Leadership That Gets Results," about the effectiveness of different leadership types. I often share these insights with new members of my agency's leadership team because I believe it's still relevant to understanding the benefits of working with a diverse group of leaders. Here are some quick synopses of the types:

  • Authoritative: Leaders who mobilize people toward a vision.
  • Coercive: Leaders who demand immediate compliance.
  • Affiliative: Leaders who create emotional bonds and harmony.
  • Democratic: Leaders who build consensus through participation.
  • Pacesetting: Leaders who expect excellence and self-direction.
  • Coaching: Leaders who develop people for the future.

Although some appear to be detrimental, there's an advantage to being able to adopt characteristics of all six when necessary. Great companies are lead by people who are able to do just that.

When I first saw these, I immediately identified with a couple styles and determined where I could grow. And because no CEO is an island, I've also tried to learn how to compensate for my weaknesses through the strengths of my employees. Whenever I need to gauge whether or not I'm doing a good job, I just watch my employees, as they are my barometers for measuring effective leadership. On my smart days, I listen and learn and realize that the art of leadership comes with being humbled.
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