Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Does Charisma matter? Find your leadership style

Charisma is difficult to define, though it is often used to describe those with a personality that lends them the uncanny ability to lead, charm, persuade, inspire, and influence people. At base charisma, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, which means that charismatic people's power is largely dependent on the perception of others.

It is also greatly influenced by situational factors, since what might seem charismatic in one setting can be abhorrent in another (e.g. Hitlerian charisma inspired hope for national renewal among desperate Germans in the tumultuous Weimar era, even as its evil messages of hate provoked fear and revulsion in more stable democracies).

Expressed practically, charisma manifests as a sense of attraction. And ultimately we are attracted to those leaders who - sometimes for better, sometimes worse - achieve results through the application of the best leadership style for the situation.

What's the "best" leadership style?

When it comes to leadership, "best" is what is perceived to be most effective as related both to the particular situation and to the desired outcome. Research* shows that the most effective leaders use a combination of distinct leadership styles - each in the right measure, at just the right time.

Each of us is inclined toward at least one (and often two) of the eight leadership styles described in detail below. The key to dramatically improved performance and interpersonal effectiveness is to incorporate all eight - if not in one person, then by ensuring they are all represented across the makeup of groups of people and are each consulted for input at the appropriate time.

Eight Leadership Styles

Leadership style - Mentoring

Two representatives of this style are British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the character of William Wallace as portrayed in the film Braveheart.

What leadership traits could this unlikely duo possibly share?

A mentoring leadership style works best when change is driven by a moral crusade for justice and there is a need for integrity. It excels at setting a clear mission and creating a sense of urgency through effective motivation. What it looks like in practice is close and steady guidance to set high standards in the pursuit of excellence: in a phrase, "Do it again until you get it right." When well done, the style of these Explorer/Motivators encourages honest dealing with others and promotes a sense of commitment in the team culture.

When this leadership style is not present in the team there is no clear vision, no sense of purpose or common understanding, no honour and no team commitment. If a leader uses only the mentoring style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be medium positive - team members will have a clear sense of the mission, will interact honourably and with a clear sense of purpose, but will lack the advantages offered by a balance of this style with the other seven leadership styles as described below.

Leadership style - Coaching

Here it is helpful to think of "coaching" in its broadest sense. As examples, what US Vice-President Al Gore and motivational speaker Tony Robbins both do well exceedingly well is inspire and empower people, ensuring that people have the skills and information they will need for the future and fostering an environment in which they can excel and succeed. The style in a phrase is, "Try this!"

The coaching style works best when there is a need to help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengths. To be clear, it is not about empowerment for empowerment's sake - it is paired with the need to develop vision and strategy for the future. It can also be confronting (as with alarming details of the environmental threat our planet is facing in Gore's documentary film An Inconvenient Truth) but with the intent of producing positive change.

Done well, the style of these Inspirational Coach/Facilitators encourages honest dealing with others and promotes a sense of hopefulness in the team culture. When this leadership style is not present in the team the physical environment and culture become hostile and the team loses hope as the future looks bleak, like a perpetual repetition of past disasters.

If a leader makes exclusive use of only the coaching style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be positive - team members will play to their strengths and be highly self-directed in an environment of hopefulness and empowerment but again will lack the advantages offered by a balance of this style with the other seven leadership styles.

Leadership style - Affliative

This leadership style is the one most often associated with "charismatic leadership" and there are abundant examples: US Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to name just a few.

These leaders create harmony and build emotional bonds with a style that aims to put people first. The affiliative style works best to heal rifts in a team or motivate people during stressful circumstances, fostering espirt de corps and effectively communicating vision and strategy ("Yes we can") to promote team engagement. By embodying diplomacy and inclusiveness, the leader brings out tolerance in others and enables effective teamwork through the respectful negotiation of differences (of cultures, worldviews, politics, etc.).

Done well, the contribution of these Promoter/Strategists to the team culture is widespread confidence, cheerfulness, discipline, and a willingness to perform assigned tasks in the interest of the common/greater good. When this style is absent, team members become self-righteous, intolerant and blaming, which splits the team into factions.

If a leader uses only the affiliative style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be positive - the team will act in a cohesive fashion, communication will be open and morale will be quite high, but again the team will lack the full advantages offered by a balance of this style with the other seven leadership styles.

Leadership style - Democratic

This style can be hard to spot because although it's all around us, it's a quieter and more self-controlled style. To get a sense of it, think of stories in which ordinary people do courageous, even heroic things in extreme circumstances - but who when interviewed afterwards say that it was nothing special and that it was obvious they should have done what they did.

Two well-known examples of the democratic style are Bruce Willis' character John McClane in the Die Hard movies and the character Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

These courageous individuals see what needs to happen to move a project forward and just get on with it, through ingenious broad-based action to produce the necessary short-term wins. In a team, they forge consensus through participation and will frequently ask, "What do you think...?"

The talent of these Practical Problem Solvers is to break down bureaucracy, fostering innovation and confidence while building buy-in and consensus by seeking valuable input from team members. When this style is not represented in the team, everything becomes bogged down at key bottlenecks, there is no courage, no heroes and no decisions.

If a leader uses only the democratic style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be positive - the team will act in a cohesive fashion and morale will be quite high as people feel enabled to act with courage to do what needs to be done, but again the team will lack the advantages offered by a balance of this style with the other seven leadership styles.

Leadership style - Pacesetting

The pacesetting leadership style, as the name suggests, is about getting quick results from a highly motivated and competent team. There is an expectation of competence and a keen eye for turning abstract theories into real and tangible outcomes.

US President Abraham Lincoln and South African President Nelson Mandela are both exemplars of this style, setting high standards for performance and leading by example: "Do as I do, and do it now."

In a team setting, these independent and capable Creative Change Agents excel at applying discernment in the review of systems and practices, as well as consolidating gains in order to produce more change. This process of effective strategic analysis helps to ensure that the changes that take place are based on suitable and sustainable systems and practices. When this style is absent, the leadership has no credibility and the team focuses on the wrong actions.

If a leader uses the pacesetting style exclusive of any other, the overall impact on organizational climate will actually be negative. This is the case because, although the team will benefit from tangible systems and practices, the style can be experienced as quite confronting.

Pacesetters are often described as having a highly-advanced "bullshit detector" and are not at all averse to pointing out incongruence and inconsistencies, particularly if they detect what they think are instances of incompetence. It is therefore particularly important that the pacesetting style be tempered by elements of the other seven leadership styles in order to afford a balanced environment for team members.

Leadership style - Authoritative/Visionary

The authoritative leadership style mobilizes people toward a final destination. Note, however, that the authoritative style is not autocratic or dictatorial. It is more like a ship's captain navigating a course through the ever-shifting seas of change and inviting the team: "Come with me."

New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen embodied this style. Their vision and planning capacity enabled them to navigate a successful course even to what were the earth's most inaccessible realms at the time (Mount Everest's summit and the South Pole, respectively).

Authoritative leadership works best when changes require a new vision and a clear sense of direction in the pursuit of the vision's end goal. This leadership style manifests the quality of responsibility to creating certainty of cause, purpose and role:

"...we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
~ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

" we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. [...] universal human decency demands that the nation now step forward to right an historical wrong. [...] The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. ...for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
~ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Whether in pursuit of high-minded principles, seeking to protect their charges, or maintaining steady faith in achievement of the desired outcome, the leadership of these Visionary Planners fosters stability and security even in the face of widespread and disruptive change. In their absence, there is fear and uncertainty as everyone is out for him- or herself.

If a leader uses only the democratic style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be most strongly positive in that the team will possess a calm certainty about the ultimate aim of their actions and the secure confidence to handle the hardships and unexpected course changes that will be required along the way. Nevertheless, as with all these styles there are considerable advantages to be gained by balancing of this style with the other seven leadership styles.

Leadership Style - Tactical

The tactical leadership style is one of acting dispassionately based on accurate, verifiable information; the style in a phrase is "Prove it to me." The style works best in highly technical and specialized situations requiring self-control and measured action - so think James Bond and, well, pretty much every character Clint Eastwood has ever played.

In a team setting the tactical leadership of these Auditor/Organizers promotes understanding through objective, rational inquiry and action. Their disciplined presence brings out calmness and clarity in others. In the absence of tactical leaders, the team will fail to keep adequate records of meetings and decisions and will lack an effective audit trail; group learning does not happen and ignorance prevails.

If a leader uses only the tactical style, the overall impact on organizational climate will be positive - the team will be clear on the learning captured from previous successes and will focus on the competent delivery of tasks and will act with objectivity, but will nevertheless lack the advantages offered by a balance of this style with the other seven leadership styles.

Leadership style - Commanding/Coercive

The coercive leadership style is best in a crisis, to kick start a turnaround, to capitalize quickly on entrepreneurial opportunities or to sort out "problem" employees. As the name suggests, the style demands immediate compliance: "Do what I tell you to do."

The two British entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir Alan Sugar (of The Apprentice UK television fame) come readily to mind as examplars of this style.

What these Driver/Completer leaders enable is the application of vast amounts of energy to tackle large workloads and, at the end of the day, to celebrate successes in preparation for the next round of change and transformation. This "work hard, play hard" sense of drive taps into the passions of those around them and ultimately compels the team to engage in healthy debate in the pursuit of practical action. When this style is not present in the team, there is no energy or enthusiasm - everyone is exhausted and dispirited.

If a leader always and only uses only the coercive style, however, the overall impact on organizational climate will be negative. While the team will feel the pressure and drive to complete tasks, there is a risk they will ultimately feel alienated and uninvolved by the coercive leader's tendency to create the entire plan without any input from others, then expect others to follow and not ask questions. Here it is therefore particularly important that once the period of urgency and reinvention has passed, elements of the other seven leadership styles are reintroduced in order to afford a balanced environment for team members.

Eight Leadership Styles and you

Whether or not you agree with their ideology and beliefs, even whether they are real people or fictional characters, each of the people whose photos appear above are certainly leaders in their own way. What the Eight Leadership Styles model helps to make clear is that there are identifiably distinct leadership styles, each "charismatic" in its own way and in the right circumstance.

To find out more about how to identify your own preferred leadership style, as well as how to effectively interact with other styles and successfully cultivate a balance of all eight styles in your team or organization, send me an email.

*Daniel Goleman, "Leadership that gets results," Harvard Business Review (Mar-Apr 2000) pp 79-90; Peter Burow, NeuroPower handbook, edition 1.0.5 (2008); Dennis Turner & Michael Crawford, Change Power: Capabilities that Drive Corporate Renewal, (1998).


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