Forget About Leadership Style

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“What’s the right leadership style for me?” 

As a leadership coach, I have been asked this question many times.  This question puzzles me.   Is leadership style a fashion statement that can be taken out of a closet, depending on the dress code of the occasion?  

So, I googled it.  It seems THERE IS a set of well recognized off-the-shelf leadership “styles” to choose from:

  • Strategic
  • Charismatic
  • Coach
  • Visionary
  • Servant
  • Autocratic
  • Laissez-faire or hands-off
  • Democratic
  • Pacesetter
  • Idealistic
  • Transformational
  • Transactional
  • Bureaucratic
  • Paternalistic

….. and on and on.

This puzzled me even more.  These so-called styles seem to be a mix of carrot, firing pan, spoon, and salt.  Even though they are all part of cooking, they belong to different categories.  For example, coaching is a way to grow team members.  Autocratic, bureaucratic and democratic are decision-making styles.  Transformational refers to the impact.  Visionary is an essential quality of any true leader and so is being a servant.  

Is there such a thing as a leadership style? Yes, there is, if one insists.  It is the expression and the impact of all there is within each of us – our action logic, beliefs, values, emotional intelligence, and intentions.  Given the fact that all of us have a unique combination of the above, there is a unique leadership style for every single leader on this planet.  

Leadership Style, the output, isn’t nearly as important as Leadership, the input. Unfortunately, leadership is something we talk about all the time but remains enigmatic. Many of us seem to confuse these three terms: leadership, management, and authority and often use them interchangeably.  

Leadership brings positive changes.  It is about vision.  Management organizes resources and coordinate activities to achieve pre-defined objectives. It is about execution.  Authority (in organizations) is position based rights to control people, resources or progress.  It is about leverage.  

If authority is a force, then leadership is power.  If authority is a hammer that influences people’s behaviors through control, then leadership is a light that illuminates the path ahead of us with wisdom.  Authority takes power away, and leadership induces power within. The more we embody leadership, the less we need authority.    

In business schools, we are often told that we are the future leaders.  In reality, we are trained to be future managers. Managers don’t automatically become leaders, and leaders don’t always know how to manage. Neither is the result of authority or position. Some people with positions have both leadership and management capabilities, and some have neither.  

While management capabilities require common sense, knowledge, and practical experiences, leadership capability is innate to everyone. Yes, EVERYONE.

What is leadership?

Leadership starts with a vision and an intention to change.  It is in service of collective interests.  It inspires actions. The result is an improvement. 

Here is an example.  When Rachel Beckwith found out that millions of people don’t live to see their 5th birthday because they don’t have access to safe and clean water, she wanted to change that.  She rallied her friends and family to donate to a charity called Water, instead of buying presents for her 9th birthday.  Soon after, she died in a fatal car accident, but her birthday wish inspired tens of thousands of people and eventually generated over $1 million dollar donation for water projects around the world.  

Rachel Beckwith, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, and Luis Urzúa (google them) are examples of ordinary people, from different countries, eras and age groups, who exhibited extraordinary courage to embrace their vision for a better world and who inspired actions. 

Leadership comes in all shapes and forms and it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering.  It can be as small as creating a happy moment for a single person (see Everyday Leadership), as long as it expresses an inner desire for a positive change and it is made a reality.  

Leadership requires no position and it can happen anytime and anywhere.

Are you a leader? 

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