Labeled leadership

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare).

Leader vs. managerGiving names or labels to differentiate leadership styles today is a huge business of how to invent and make up names and buzzwords from what should be part of normal human relationships between leaders and followers.

In my search for different leadership styles I was astounded by the fact that most of the times there is a unification of two important, but different, roles: management and leadership. In my blogs: Leader vs. manager, To manage people, To lead people I have already explained the issue and am not going to repeat it here again.

leadership stylesI am astonished that there are more than 20 different styles for just naming ‘different’ leadership approaches. Of some of them I have written in previous posts (Servant leadership, Authentic leadership, Charismatic Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Participative Leadership, Humble or Agile Leadership so here I’d like just to mention some more “styles” that are floating around: autocratic, coaching, laissez faire, quiet, situational, visionary, transactional.

Well, do we need so many of them?

I can buy that by using only one style in different situations is wrong. It is true that to choose between different styles and “decide” for the right one at the right time in the right situation and, on top of it the very appropriate one for those that we lead, could be a tough decision. Should a good leader know (learn) them all?

When somebody develops leadership the following question should be answered first: “Which style works best for me and my organization?”

All is fine so far, we said that the same one style may not be effective in two different organizations. But, the fact is that leadership style should fit also the organization’s culture and the type of organization. Moreover, the style should be in accordance with and conform to the kind of people the leader interacts with (more: Leadership “style”). And these issues bring into play entirely new dimensions and questions to the equation of ‘leadership styles’.

What bothers me most is why one should decide and name one style, build a whole theory on that specific style if a leader is to use more than just one style?

Reading about leadership styles that have a specific label (style) in front or behind the word (e.g. bureaucratic leadership) it is obvious that most of them, if not all, the described style’s qualities are the same as in other leadership styles, I become even more confused. For example, the laissez faire style implies low control, the autocratic style requires high control while the participative one lies somewhere in between while all other qualities that represent a good leadership (e.g. communication, truthfulness, feedback, inspiration) stays the same within all three of them.

leadership qualitiesA 2008 study ‘Growing Global Executive Talent’ conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit showed that the top three important leadership qualities or behaviors include the ability to motivate staff (35 % respondents), to work well across cultures (34 %) and to facilitate change (32 %). These qualities demonstrate that many differently labeled leadership styles are probably driven by the feeble attempt to acknowledge the diversity of means to reach the ends of leadership: leading people to do what they would not do by themselves. But with a very narrow minded approach of promoting one constituent (style) of many that are needed in leadership.

Historically, leaders seem to come to the fore when there is a crisis or special problem. To lead people involves influencing others so there must be followers. Leaders are mostly people with a clear idea of what they want to achieve and why. For me being a ‘leader’ is personality issue: the individual’s qualities and actions. Style, or rather behavior, is important but not unique and ever defined by only one ‘style’.


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