More Choices for Leaders: Last in the Series

This is the last in a series of four blog posts that provide a model you can use to help your clients make their organizations more profitable (which of course will go a long way toward your getting ongoing business from those organizations).

Because not everyone may have read each of the previous three posts, here’s a brief review.

We started by reporting research shared by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee in their book Primal Leadership. That research found that an organization’s climate, profitability, and leadership styles intertwine.

  • Companies with emotionally positive climates (think EQ) are much more profitable than those with negative climates.
  • Leadership style directly controls 50 – 70% of climate, which in turn controls 20 to 30% of profitability.
  • There are a number of learnable leadership styles.
  • To maximize leader effectiveness, leaders should match leadership style to situational needs.

In posts two and three of this series, we described four of the six leadership styles discussed in Primal Leadership: Coercive (or Directive), Visionary, Coaching, and Affiliative. We talked about:

  • times when each of those styles could work well and could be used profitably
  • times when they shouldn’t be used
  • which EQ skills support their success
  • five steps which you, as a coach, can take to help clients select and use the style that best fits the situation.

Now let’s look at the final two leadership styles from Primal Leadership: Democratic and Pacesetter. (We alluded to this blog post about the pacesetter style in our story about “Jim.”)

The Democratic Leadership Style: The phrase leaders use that best captures the Democratic style is, “What do you think?” Leaders are always well advised to ask trusted followers for their opinions, because no one has all the answers. The difference with democratic leadership is that the goal is to get everyone’s input, in an effort to seek consensus, or at least as near consensus as possible. The democratic style works best in high stakes situations in which the leader is genuinely uncertain as to what the best course may be.

Imagine the impact on climate when a leader earnestly asks followers for their thoughts and opinions, especially when the stakes are extremely high. Doing so sends the message that the leader respects the intellect, perspectives, and ethics of these followers. When followers are empowered to give their opinions in a meaningful way, their sense of ownership of the problem and of its ultimate solution grows dramatically. Having everyone on the senior leadership team – and more – get behind a potentially difficult course of action is likely to galvanize the entire organization at a time when unity is particularly important.

Example: Picture a company with a long successful track record. There is comfort in the leadership cadre that they know how to be successful. But such comfort can be deadly. It may surprise you to learn that the average age of companies in the Fortune 500, the most successful companies in the world, is somewhat less than fourteen years. Why? Often it is because leadership becomes complacent, failing to notice that the world is changing. But let’s say your client, the CEO, recognizes the need to change, and alerts the senior leadership team. The question to be answered, the one to which your client doesn’t yet have the answer, is what should the change be, and how should it be handled? Such a huge decision requires the input of all the experts that your client has in senior leadership.

The potential problem with the democratic style is that it can be enormously time consuming. Therefore, most leaders who use this approach effectively are judicious about doing so. They use it under two conditions likely to co-occur: (1) when there are potentially divisive issues such that consensus can prevent an uproar, and (2) when the top leader is unsure of what is the best course of action. As a result, the request for consultation doesn’t just come across as genuine, it is genuine.

Don’t encourage your client to use democratic leadership in a crisis. It takes too long. Disaster will strike while everyone is debating. When the Tylenol poisoning crisis of 1982 happened, Johnson & Johnson didn’t have months to figure out what to do. Its immediate actions have been widely praised for their benefit to the public and for saving the product.

There are five EQ skills that leaders need in order to use the democratic style:

  • Interpersonal Relationships: Your client will get much more candor if the relationships that have been established are based on trust.
  • Social Responsibility: The kinds of situations in which democratic leadership works best are those where everyone’s welfare is on the line. Everyone is motivated to contribute. But the flip side of having everyone’s welfare on the line is that, perhaps out of fear, people will be tempted to contribute ideas that are most beneficial to themselves. The leader must look for directions that benefit most if not all stakeholders.
  • Assertiveness: Your client needs to ask for help in a way that is neither aggressive nor passive, but forthright. If the debate gets messy, as often happens, your client needs to be able to manage discussions quickly and effectively.
  • Empathy: Listening for understanding is inherent in the democratic style. In addition, your client needs to be able to recognize when a follower may, intentionally or unintentionally, be indulging a bias. Seeing things through a follower’s eyes may help your client spot times when emotions may be misdirecting the follower’s thinking.
  • Flexibility: Democratic endeavors don’t always end up in a predictable place. Your clients, and their entire senior leadership teams, need to bring a big dose of flexibility with them as they evaluate potential decisions.

The Pacesetter Leadership Style: Pacesetter leaders are typically highly talented, very successful, and  exceptionally motivated people, who essentially expect everyone to perform at their rarified level. Their approach can be summarized as: “Do as I do, and do it as well as I do!” Sometimes it even works. Picture a professional quarterback exhorting his team to perform. He’s yelling, screaming, and nailing anybody who dares to exhibit poor performance. The team rallies and wins the big game!

What’s not to like? Lots of things. Pacesetter leadership really only works well when followers are as talented and as intensely motivated as the leader. For example, that quarterback is dealing with people at truly top talent levels. Remember, even the worst NFL player is an elite athlete. In addition, the goal is clear, concrete, and one that everyone is passionate about. No one wants to lose the big game.

Now let’s look at a business example where a pacesetter leadership style can work: start-ups. Early on, start-ups often involve a few talented people who are highly motivated for growth and the big payoff they see down the road. If your client has such a situation, or happens to be an NFL quarterback, consider encouraging a pacesetter style.

But the vast majority of business situations cannot be described in these terms, particularly over the long haul. Companies with all stars tend not to stay together, because, well, stars want to be the big stars in their own sky. Further, as the company succeeds, it grows. As it does so, it is unrealistic to think that it will be able to draw, or even need, just stars. Over time, most organizations acquire a range of talent and a range of commitment to the cause.

Then, when the pacesetter does his thing, for those who can’t match the pacesetter’s talent or commitment (they might have an actual life), the pacesetter’s style becomes dispiriting. In other words, it has the opposite effect from what is intended. Also, pacesetter leaders have a penchant for micro-managing rather than trusting. (They “know best,” and tend to be impatient.) Micro-managing can work for a short while if done as a part of skill development. But over the long haul, people just feel insulted. They lose rather than gain motivation.

The bottom line is that the pacesetter style works only in a very narrow set of circumstances that are not likely to persist over the life of the organization. Those who are natural pacesetters need your help to develop additional styles. Or at least to recognize when it is time to leave the company and start a new one.

There are two EQ skills that are particularly important for a leader who wants to use the pacesetter style:

  • Self-Regard: That quarterback, and that start-up entrepreneur, better believe in themselves, including having an accurate read of their own talent levels.
  • Self-Actualization: Stars aren’t born fully formed. These folks have worked hard at their craft and continue to do so, which earns them a lot of respect and credibility.

How can you help clients who want to use these leadership styles build the needed EQ skills? Ready-made exercises can be found in the EQ Leader Program, which includes sixteen sets of field-tested exercises (one set for each of the 16 EQ skills measured by the Emotional Quotient Inventory2.0). These exercises have been used successfully by coaches worldwide. You can buy the entire EQ Leader Program, saving yourself many hours of program development time, or you can purchase the EQ skill building exercises separately. Check them out at The EQ Shoppe – EQ Leader, Inc.   Alternatively, you can come up with your own exercises, aimed at helping your clients begin to practice these skills in work situations where warranted, so that these emotionally intelligent behaviors will eventually become their new default responses.

Take-away: Now that we have discussed the pros and cons of each of six leadership styles, what is the most valuable insight you can take from this series? It is without doubt the fact that no one leadership style fits all situations. Does that mean that if your client’s natural bent is toward a democratic style, for example, your client will be a great leader some of the time but a sub-par leader over all?

No. What it means is that whatever their preferred leadership style may be, you can help your clients:

  • Recognize what that style is, when it is a good choice, and why it may not always work
  • Learn about and get “good enough” at the other five leadership styles, particularly as they become relevant
  • Develop the EQ skills needed to do so
  • Learn to switch up leadership styles to suit the changing circumstances they face.
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