Until recently, leadership styles were split more or less diametrically into autocratic style and democratic style. The increase in competitiveness within most commercial organisations has meant that the way in which a business leader is able to attract, develop and retain his or her people has become one of the key differentiators in delivering results.
Second only perhaps to the building of a strong brand identity, which again relies very much on the quality of people retained in an organisation. Let's look a little more at the two diametrically opposed styles before going on to consider some alternative approaches for leaders.
Here, the leader is the boss. During the 1960s and 1970s, many leaders were selected due to their military background as it was considered that the structure and discipline they were able to bring to an organisation would standardise service delivery through clear rules and corporate processes. Quite simply, one "towed the line" and obeyed orders. Let's also state that some structure and discipline is essential for business survival yet, in increasingly diverse and demanding commercial environments, not everyone is going to respond to this approach and therefore values like creativity, facilitation and constant appraisal can often be overlooked. Consider some of the mighty corporations whose fall from grace has been swift. Often, one of the key ingredients cited in liquidations is "an inability to change".
Sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum, lots of leaders during the 1980s and 1990s (possibly in rebellion towards the autocratic regime) set about the process of modernising and democratising many businesses. Empowerment was the buzzword as people were encouraged to take responsibility and become accountable. The often neglected element in this more liberal approach to human development was the fact that many individuals were simply not ready for empowerment. They hadn't been trained, their own leadership style hadn't developed and, let's face it, some people actually prefer to be told what to do. What then is the answer to this leadership dilemma?
The starting point, in attempting to answer this question is perhaps to start by saying that leadership isn't easy. You must always have a plan for how you are going to develop, learn and become more effective. For some leadership comes naturally, for many it has to be studied and developed through training and coaching. If leading were that easy, senior leadership roles would not be amongst some of the highest paid jobs around. Leadership is not about having the letters CEO or Managing Director after your name on a business card, nor is it necessarily about having all the answers. It's about combining the factors of production in a business. These factors may be those such as cash management, logistics, returns on investment, business processes etc but it most certainly will include people.
Top leaders are able to get the best out of people, their teams are happy and motivated. A good leadership style ensures that no one individual is greater than the team. Top leaders receive respect because they have earned it rather than demanded it. Quite simply, top leaders seem able to recognise and cope with people's diversity, their differing levels of skill, their different personalities and the fact that, whilst highly developed in some areas, they may need help in others. They don't approach the business in terms of "I'm the boss" or indeed with an "anything goes" attitude. They lead each situation according to its merits. They are versatile leaders.
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