There are dozens of books about leadership and developing your leadership style. Authors have compared leadership styles to animals (lions, tigers, bear, beavers), and military generals (Napoleon, Attila, Sun Tzu, Alexander) all to help managers sort through the tough task of understanding what a good leader is.
Most of us have been trained that the function of a manager is “Getting work done through others.” The more work, the better, preferably at the lowest possible cost. Inherent in this school of thought is the idea to use power to “control” others.
An example of this “controlling” style of leadership is portrayed in Matthew, “You know the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” (Matthew 20:25).
Jesus is not condemning a leadership style that seeks to control. Rather, He is showing that it is inappropriate for the relationship between the disciples and Israelites.
Over 40-years ago in his book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices Peter Drucker noted,
“to make the worker ‘achieve’ demands that managers look upon labor as a resource rather than as a problem, a cost, or an enemy to be cowed. It demands that managers accept responsibility for making human strengths effective.”
Drucker’s point is that as managers we must change our focus from managing personnel to leading people.
One can summarize this philosophy as “Getting work done with others.” The idea is to use power to serve others; to enable them to do their work more effectively.
Jesus explains this requirement for leadership; “Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat 20:26-28).
To the disciples, the “Gentiles” that Jesus referred to, were quite likely Roman leaders or soldiers. Imagine how revolutionary this concept must have seemed to the disciples; give leadership responsibilities to servants and slaves! From this single passage, we see the definition of a participative leadership style that emphasized the importance of relationships.
There are four styles of leadership prominent in business today; Dictator, Authoritarian, Consultant, and Participative. Here are profiles of “pure” examples of each style:
Dictator. The dictator answers all the questions of who, what, when, where, and how work should be done himself. Opinions contrary to that of the dictator are not allowed. The dictator’s biggest weakness is that he could care less about the people around him or the consequences of his actions on others. The dictator’s biggest strength is his ability to quickly summarize a situation, determine a strategy, and to act.
Authoritarian. The authoritarian usually answers most of the who, what, when, where, and how questions himself because he holds his own opinions in high regard. An authoritarian’s biggest weakness is his lack of regard for the skills of the people around him; either in using these people effectively or in recognizing the work they have done. The biggest strength of an authoritarian is their ability to gather information, decide, and act quickly.
Consultant. The consultative leader usually seeks input from others to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. But make no mistake, he usually makes the decision himself. The biggest weakness of the consultative leader is that their decision-making process is slowed by searching out and evaluating opinions from others. The biggest strength of the consultant is that their people are very loyal and perform at or near peak levels.
Participative. The participative leader seeks input from the balance of the “team” before answering who, what, when, where, why and how questions. The biggest weakness of a participative leader is that they are often incapable of deciding on their own. The greatest strength of a participative leader is that their workers are fiercely loyal, hardworking, and performing at peak capacity.
Which Style Is “Right”?
Some writers would have you believe that only the participative team style is biblically correct. But filtering this notion through the record of Scripture yields a different answer; there is no one style that is always correct, but there is probably one best style for any given situation. Consider how Moses demonstrated each of these leadership styles:
Dictator. Moses exhibited a dictator style in several situations. In Exodus 32 we have the account of the Israelites making the golden calf. Moses immediately has the calf burned, ground into powder and thrown into the water. He then made the Israelites drink the water. Moses showed no hesitation. He took immediate action to stop the blasphemous activity.
Authoritarian. Moses exhibited an authoritarian style in Exodus 18. Here Moses listens to his father in law, Jethro, who explains to Moses that Moses should set up a hierarchy of judges to settle disputes among the people. Moses listened to Jethro and immediately set up a hierarchy of judges within each family so that only the most difficult cases would be brought before him for a decision.
Consultant. Moses exhibited a consultative style in Exodus 35-39. In these chapters, Moses related to the Israelites the preparations needed for the building of the tabernacle. Moses gave specific instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its implements. He allowed each skilled worker to complete their work. But ultimately Moses inspected their work to see that they had done it correctly (Ex 39:43).
Participative. Moses used the participative style in Numbers 13. Here Moses prepares a group of 12 leaders (one from each tribe) to explore the country of Canaan. He gave the men specific instructions about where they were to go, and a list of eight questions he wanted to be answered. When the men returned from their scouting expedition Moses debriefed them. Ultimately, Moses even let the decision of the scouting party override his own opinion.
One Last Thought
An effective leader is one who can adeptly change his management style to suit a given situation. A dictator when fast, decisive action is required, An authoritarian when fast action is necessary, but there is some latitude in how to accomplish the task at hand. A consultant when working with experienced people on complex problems. Or participative when working with highly trained people on issues that require creative problem-solving.
Regardless of the leadership style you find yourself using, remember, you are a servant to the people you are responsible for leading. It is your responsibility to find out what their workplace needs are and to help fill them. If you do, you will build the performance levels of bosses, subordinates, and peers!
This week’s post is excerpted from a 6-page whitepaper entitled, “Build Performance by Learning How to Use Leadership Styles Effectively.”
This whitepaper includes a discussion of:
- A broader description of each of the four styles.
- When it is appropriate to use each style.
- Leadership style versus group size.
- The importance of the servant’s heart demonstrated in all four styles.
You can download the free 8-page whitepaper here: “Build Performance by Learning How to Use Leadership Styles Effectively.”
Join the Conversation
As always questions and comments are welcome. Have worked for or with someone who demonstrated only one leadership style? Was it appropriate for the situation? What was the impact on the organization?
Category: Skills | Leadership Development