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Adaptive Leadership Styles

With the political climate heating up, coupled with the stress of being in the eighth or ninth month of a global pandemic, I thought I would break things up by circling back to the topic of leadership. In February of this year, I had written an article for Webb Weekly titled, “The World Needs More

With the political climate heating up, coupled with the stress of being in the eighth or ninth month of a global pandemic, I thought I would break things up by circling back to the topic of leadership. In February of this year, I had written an article for Webb Weekly titled, “The World Needs More Servant Leaders.” In my article, I mention an essay by Robert Greenleaf, written in 1970, where the term “servant leader” is first coined. In his essay, Greenleaf says that servant leaders make sure that other people’s highest needs are being met and that those being served grow as individuals. This does not simply mean that they are sheltered and fed. It also means that those being served become healthier, wiser, freer, and, ultimately, more autonomous so that they might serve others in the future.

So, the bottom line is that the best leaders do not seek to control us outright by abusing their authority, nor do they buy us off by creating a society where everything is given, and nothing is earned. The best leaders provide us with the opportunity to better ourselves, and they put the needs of those they serve before their own. Unfortunately, this definition of a good leader describes a scant few leaders these days.

In an article titled, “The Four Types of Leadership Styles,” the author, Becky Leighton, describes four basic leadership styles. She goes on to say that leaders do not just adopt one style, but all four. In addition, the use of these styles change depending upon the situation. Still, the best leaders use these changing styles for the betterment of the team. The four styles are: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.

Each style is employed depending upon how much decision-making authority the leader decides to use at the time. This level of authority is dependent upon the task, the leader’s role, their experience, and their maturity.

Directing leadership: This style simply means telling a subordinate what to do and does not especially require skill. When the work goals are very clear, this style is effective. This would be most useful when dealing with contract work that is very straight forward. It would not be appropriate when working in a team environment.

Coaching leadership: A coaching style leader “sells” their vision to their team. They effectively communicate objectives, then motivate their team to devote themselves to a common goal. This style works best when team members have a stake in a project’s outcome and are full-time and/or fully invested in the vision.

Supporting leadership: The supporting leadership style is all about collaboration. Supportive leaders encourage the sharing of ideas and welcome suggestions. This style allows team members to feel valued and that they are contributing to the decision making. Supporting leadership is useful when the leader does not need to be constantly involved and is only needed when the final decision is to be made.

Delegating leadership: A delegating leadership style works best when working with a seasoned group of managers or directors. It allows team members the authority to make decisions and act independently. Leaders who use this style fully trust their subordinates to make the right decisions and get the job done. This style does not work well with inexperienced team members unless the project is of a low priority and is low risk.

While there are many definitions of leadership styles and opinions on what traits make the best leaders, it is most certainly true that the best leaders subordinate their personal needs to the needs of those they serve. They rise to the occasion and employ whatever style is necessary to lead their team. They are a mix of traits and are able to adapt to changing circumstances. They listen to their followers with an open mind, evaluate the situation, and then make honest decisions based on the group’s good. They do not merely say what we want to hear but will work to make us better. Keep this in mind the next time you see a political ad or watch the news. Think about what type of leader you choose to follow. Like the Bob Dylan song says, everyone has “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

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