By Dr. Elizabeth R. Moore, PhD, Academic Lead for Professional Development And Director of MBA in Leadership at The University of Law Business School
Do a Google search on leadership styles today and you’ll find numerous articles listing and defining some of the more commonly-identified categories of leadership. The names and number vary, but a few styles pop up repeatedly. Among those most readers have likely seen (or experienced) are:
These articles typically define each style, remark that there can be advantages and disadvantages to each, and conclude that different situations may require different leadership styles. This characterisation of leadership styles, however, does more than present a supposedly definitive list of leadership options – it also provides insights into both the sociology and the psychology of leadership.
One of the key factors that links these various styles of leadership together is that, excepting Transformational Leadership, these styles fall into three main camps. First there are the styles identified in terms of power relations – the autocratic, authoritative, democratic, and servant styles of leadership. Second are the styles that use an economic model -laissez-faire and transactional leadership. Third is the leadership style that depends upon the leader having a specific type of personality, such as the charismatic style.
There are various advantages and disadvantages to each of these styles, but which is the most inspirational style? Which is most likely to encourage the greatest growth, innovation, and mutual support in an organization? On one end, we have the autocratic style, which is viewed dimly these days in modern democratic cultures due to its associations with dictatorships and oppression. Autocratic leadership, the most hierarchical of these leadership styles, is generally maintained through tactics of fear, not inspiration. Resistance to their methods are perceived as threats to this control and are punished accordingly. And the one supposed advantage of autocratic leadership – order and efficiency – is often a myth. It turns out that, in fact, Mussolini did NOT make the trains run on time.
At the opposing end of the power relations leadership spectrum is the servant style. This style, which is far more appealing in an egalitarian environment, emphasises the importance of the leader supporting and empowering others. Servant leaders exhibit the qualities of empathy, humility, collaboration, and reciprocity that are key elements in inspiring creativity and initiative in others. Linguistically, however, the term is problematic as it maintains the concept of leadership as a power relation; the very word “servant” implies the counterpart of a “master”. The term therefore inverts the traditional power relation but maintains the implications of power.
The economic models of leadership, transactional and laissez-faire, may be pragmatic in many instances but are rarely inspiring. In these models, the employees are figured as interchangeable parts in the drive for profits with little in the way of shared vision or support for the growth of the employees,
Meanwhile, the personality approach, such as the Charismatic Style, implies that only individuals who are naturally charismatic can adopt this style and likewise, that people who are charismatic are more natural leaders. The mistake here is the conflation of presentation with leadership. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history and in organizations today, are individuals who may be introverted, or even shy, but who lead through their integrity, empathy, commitment to their vision, and their belief in those supporting the vision.
So, is it possible to think about leadership outside the frames of power and economic relations or personality type? How can we feel inspired and motivated to collaborate on a common goal that serves everyone’s need for a sense of purpose and value? Of the styles listed above, Transformational Leadership appears to be the most inspiring type. Transformational Leadership encourages employees to play a role in decision-making, to have a genuine stake in the growth and success of the organization, to participate in intellectually stimulating projects, and to exemplify inspired motivation. As we go through a global paradigm shift in how we view the very nature of work and the structure of societies, I would, however, argue for one additional leadership style that flexibly expands upon the strengths of the other styles and in doing so, both inspires and supports – Navigational Leadership.
The capacity to be flexible and agile, to tolerate ambiguity, to encourage healthy interdependence, to act with integrity, and to persevere with a shared vision despite obstacles– these behaviours are the basis for Navigational Leadership. The Navigator Leader is not concerned with power dynamics or seeing employees in transactional terms. Nor is their leadership dependent upon a certain set of personality traits. The Navigator is a guide with a vision but is also an equal participant in the journey, with fellow travellers whose goals are as much theirs as The Navigator’s. The Navigational Leadership style inspires others not through authority or power but through respect earned by the trustworthiness, empathy, and agile thinking that The Navigator demonstrates and, in turn, inspires in others.
The Navigational Leader is interested in reaching the goal together, even if they have to reroute many times along the way. Using this style, a leader will clearly communicate the vision, seek a shared sense of purpose, and let employees know through actions, not just words, that they are all collaborators in reaching the goal. And once they reach that goal, they will then decide together what the next destination will be. The Navigational Leadership Style is not a set of bullet points; it’s a mindset. In a time of radical transformation and uncertainty, this is a leadership style that inspires.