I quite enjoyed reading this article, it was one of the first ones I read since the last seminar and having also made my significant other, Phil, read it as well, we spent quite an amusing afternoon at Bunnings applying it not only to current and previous employers and team leaders, but also applying it to the people we know in terms of what we think their personal organisational style is. Applying the leadership styles to everyday life and tidily classifying people within one or two categories. Upon further reflection over the past week I’ve been thinking that it isn’t as simple as Phil and I made it out to be, or even as simple as the article made it appear; issues of gender, culture, and race can cloud the applications and the results of leadership styles, or influence when and if they can be used.
Author, psychologist and lecturer (some of which are on TED if you are interested) Daniel Goleman may address some of these intersectional complications in his book Emotional intelligence (1995) but in this article “Leadership that gets results” (2000) he speaks of the importance of emotional intelligence in a leader and sets out six leadership styles, the pros, cons, an example and its impact on the climate of the workplace.
These leadership styles are: Coercive, a do what I tell you approach; Authoritative, the aspirational leader you can’t help but follow; Affiliative, an empathetic people first style; Democratic, collaborative but time intensive; Pacesetting, embodying a high standard which all others must emulate; and Coaching, which like the Democratic style takes time but has personal and professional development for its employees at heart (Goleman, 2000, pp. 82–83).
I currently work under someone who fits quite obviously into the Affiliative and Democratic styles as a team leader and a Coach when one on one. These styles don’t seem to be a manipulation, a leadership tactic or even a conscious decision on their part but embedded in this person’s very nature, an inextricable part of them.
As an employee, this makes me feel valued and involved, this leader remembers what is going on in people’s personal lives and even manages sometimes to adapt work load timing in response to a person’s situation. It makes for a very trusting team who share information freely and are sensitive to each other and supportive. It’s pretty damn great. There are a few drawbacks however. One is that sometimes meetings can go around in circles for long periods of time so that everyone can have their say (not too bad when there are snacks provided). Another is that when seeking clarification on a procedure or issue it can be quite hard to get a definitive answer as the answer might be somewhat changeable. It can also be sometimes quite difficult to pin down a time to see them as they are often in deep conversation with a staff member or student who needs coaching. This team leader has a great and deep empathy and this pervades into all aspects of their leadership. I wonder if perhaps this may make them vulnerable to manipulation as it means they can easily be persuaded to see things from your point of view if you need them to change their mind in your favour.
Goleman’s article also says that you can expand your repertoire of styles if you are lacking some of the six and his example John uses a coach to develop more empathy in stressful situations so that he stopped going off the rails at employees (Goleman, 2000, pp.88-89). For people wishing to perhaps try this without the benefits (or costs) of a professional coach Goleman says that “leaders must first understand which emotional intelligence competencies underlie the leadership styles they are lacking. They can then work assiduously to increase their quotient of them” (Goleman, p. 90).
Easy, right? But what Herculean powers of cognition you would need to have to be able to be functioning in the moment with the person in front of you as an empathetic human being; analyzing the situation that brought them there; removing yourself from that moment while still in that moment (without going all slack-jawed and drooling on the person in front of you from the effort) and analyzing what approach or style is going to work best with that person right then; for the organization in the short/mid and long term as well as having the presence of mind to think about your own responses and script your dialogue to suit your conclusions while still maintaining authenticity.
It’s probably as Goleman hints at more of a natural process rather than a calculated one and it’s just that some people are better at making it up as they go along than others, or as Goleman says “they are exquisitely sensitive to the impact they are having on others and seamlessly adjust their style to get the best results” (Goleman, 2000, p. 87).
Goleman mentions that a leader can build a team with styles that she lacks (his example is a she), but how much better would it be to build a functioning team, then step away from the leadership role entirely and become a team member? In Goleman’s example the VP was always out of the office roving the manufacturing plants and delegated her other responsibilities to trusted and capable team members (Goleman, 2000, pp. 89–90). Was she really the VP then? Or was the team? Could she have rebranded herself as Offsite Facilitator or Plant Manager, just another part of a fully functioning team? And what if, when putting a team together, you can’t find the right person? Can you make them into the right person using a behavior therapy (the costly coach) and is it right to?
I’ve also been thinking about the impact of other factors into the equation like gender, culture, race and even physical appearance. How do these things intersect to limit or amplify the application of leadership styles and their impact? There are times when I would like to be Coercive and brash as fuck, but being female, short, round and cute (rather than sophisticated) I can’t ever seem to quite pull it off. I can only wonder what the impact would be in the same situation if I was male, tall, broad and burly or any other of the varied congregations of characteristics that make up our diverse population. Understanding more than just the professional and personal climate but also the cultural and even religious climate in any given situation might show that in effect the six leadership strategies seemingly simple at first, are just as complex as we are.
Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, 78(2), 78–90.