4 Styles of Leadership for Greatest Impact

Several months ago, over a really great steak dinner, I got into a conversation about a local company that had recently replaced its long-time, universally admired CEO with a “turn-around” specialist whose mandate was to prepare the organization for a rapidly changing and uncertain future. Almost immediately he had established new work rules and procedures that left many employees both confused and concerned that they would be fired for violating policies that they really weren’t clear on. Essentially the new CEO had decided that the best way to increase performance was to have the employees constantly in fear of losing their jobs. As the dinner conversation progressed one of the other participants made the comment that while he didn’t necessarily agree with this top-down, authoritarian approach he did think it was a “very effective leadership style.” My response was that it could be a very effective, short-term “management style” but because of the lasting effects it was having employee morale it wasn’t a very good “leadership style.”

For those of us in leadership development, probably the most frequently asked question is “what is the difference between leadership and management?” For me the answer is pretty simple; management gets you through the day, leadership gets you to tomorrow. Where the confusion usually starts is that while short-term results must be a concern of every leader, if how you achieve those results negatively affects the long-term performance of the organization, and the people who report to you, then you’ve failed in your responsibilities as a leader. (Very important note: your best employees almost always have other options.) Your leadership style will ultimately determine the lasting success of your organization and the people who depend on you.

Before we start to look at the different leadership styles you need to keep a few things in mind. First, you already have a natural leadership style, the roots of which were largely beyond your control. It’s based upon your personality and emotional intelligence, your background and role models, past experience as to what worked and what didn’t, and where you are in your career and life. Secondly, there is no one style that is perfect for every situation you will encounter. Some will call for your using an “inspirational” style; others will require that you use an “authoritarian” style. While you do have your natural style that you will feel most comfortable with, you are capable of using many of the other styles. What you need to constantly keep in mind is that there are both benefits and consequences to every style. Finally, never underestimate the ability of the people you lead to detect when you are trying to be someone you are not. While you may need to adapt your leadership style to the situation, you have to make sure that you are authentic in both your words and actions.

The Four Styles

There are at least 10 generally recognized and accepted leadership styles, covering everything from “Transactional” to “Servant”. I want to focus on the four that have the potential for the greatest impact, both positively and negatively.

Autocratic – The autocratic leader has complete, or near complete power, and isn’t afraid to use it. This is the “because I said so” style of leadership. The advantages to the autocratic style are speed and efficiency. The disadvantages are the tendency to create an atmosphere of fear and passivity – autocratic leaders create compliance, they don’t develop commitment. The autocratic style is a staple of TV sitcoms and cartoons but has limited use in a world where empowerment and buy-in are crucial for success. (This style also requires more of the leader’s time and energy to be focused on day-to-day operations.) Because of the potential negative effects, the use of the autocratic style should be limited to emergencies, issues of safety, and occasionally situations where time is critical.

Bureaucratic – Leadership by the book – or policy manual. This style is the backbone of organizations where consistency is a priority and/or the time it takes to make individualized decisions is not an option. The bureaucratic style is ideal for keeping large organizations functioning but runs the risk of stifling creativity and leaving followers feeling like a number. It can also provide leaders with a convenient shield from having to make tough decisions. Every organization needs established policies and procedures. This is especially true for large and geographically spread out organizations. The question that leaders need to ask themselves is “is our bureaucracy keeping us running smoothly or keeping us from reaching our potential?”

Relationship Oriented – This style focuses on the long-term development of the organization and the individuals involved. Team building and personal development are as important as results and you are willing to let your people take risks and make mistakes (within reason.) Relationship Oriented leadership is based firmly in the belief that leadership isn’t about the leader but about providing everyone in the organization the opportunity to shine. Relationship Oriented leaders understand their followers’ strengths, goals, and challenges and use that knowledge to create the strongest team. This takes extra effort and isn’t always the fastest approach to getting things done, but ultimately it should create an organization where the leader has confidence in his follower’s ability to perform.

Transformational – Transformational leaders focus on the future, developing a vision and then making it a reality. They don’t just create the “organization of tomorrow”, they help create the organization of the next 20, 50 or 100 years. Transformational leaders not only look at what their organization is doing now, they are constantly looking at what could be, and should be doing. Transformational leaders have to understand their industry and business but they also have to keep up on trends and practices in other industries as well as cultural, demographic, and technological changes that may affect them. This style often requires a support team to help monitor day-to-day operations.

So what do you do now? I’ve put you in a seemingly impossible position by telling you that some leadership styles are better than others but that you already have a developed style and that you run the risk of creating problems if you come across as inauthentic. As with most leadership competencies the most important thing is that you are aware of your style(s) and how it is impacting your organization. If you are experiencing high employee or volunteer turnover you may need to look at whether or not you are too autocratic. If you constantly seem to be behind others in your industry are you too bureaucratic? If you are in a middle management position and responsible for making sure deadlines are met you may need to mix in the autocratic style more frequently, at least until the effects of your transformational style initiatives kick in.

Think of the styles as not only the base of your leadership ability but also a set of tools that you can use to increase your leadership effectiveness – and make sure that you’re never the topic of a negative dinner conversation.

John Rinehart has been involved in leadership development for over 15 years.  He is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University RULE Rural Leadership Program, and served as Vice President of the program’s Advisory Board. John has also worked with organizations across Pennsylvania on visioning, strategic planning, and organizational development and was recently published in “In the Company of Leaders: 40 Top leadership experts provide proven guidance for your leadership journey.”

A Look at Current U.S. Security Issues

(Article originally published by the Carnegie Council)

As part of the ongoing debate over the budget and potential for “sequestration” at the end of the year, the administration appears to be trying to make a case for BRAC as it defends the details of its annual budget proposal.

Some may argue that this is simply an effort to “encourage” Congress to confront the issue of reducing the nation’s overall deficit through both budget cuts and tax increases. Others could suggest it is in response to the House-passed budget that attempts to prevent sequestration, in part, by large reductions in social programs. Clearly, few congressmen are interested in BRAC during an election year. Still, the battle lines are being drawn in this part of the debate and the administration presented some of its proposals in concert with its requests for military construction.

In congressional testimony, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that the Defense Department’s (DOD) request for $11.2 billion for military construction and family housing in the fiscal 2013 budget would “balance the armed forces’ needs with the nation’s economic situation.” Comptroller Robert F. Hale also requested more rounds of base realignments and closures in fiscal 2013 and 2015. He argued that “Even with planned force cuts . . . BRAC is the only effective means to meet that goal.”

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Three Steps to Leading Effective Teams

Picture this: your boss is on a “teams” kick.  It seems as though everyone in the organization has been scheduled for surgery to conjoin hips. For awhile, the staff wonders, “why didn’t we do this before?” But then reality sets in: dysfunctional conflict erupts, goals are not being met, members “miss” meetings, and people yearn for the days when decisions could be made without having to run everything by “the committee”…

Two relevant articles on “Teams” and “Strategic Foresight” recently appeared in the Diamond 6 newsletter; I hope you read both. A primary reason organizations fail to unlock the potential of the people in the organization is because those who should be leading see the latest “fad” and without strategic foresight, attempt to employ the latest craze assuming all will be well. Too many of those who should be leaders take a stab at doing something, anything!, to make the organization more effective; teams are a common approach.  But teams are not a panacea – they are one of many tools leaders can employ to improve operations, if employed appropriately. Here’s a “prescription” that should accomplish multiple goals, including reducing the “burnout” felt by the people in your teams:

  • Adopt a “continuous improvement” mindset – no organization is perfect, but that shouldn’t keep us from pursuing perfection.
  • Become a “learning organization” – one of the key tenets we promote in our quest to help unlock the potential of people in organizations is the understanding that as humans, we are prone to make mistakes. When a mishap occurs, too many bosses jump to the “punishment” phase without carefully exploring why the mistake took place. Many of these problems involve organizational constraints or failures to adequately train and equip those whom we have tasked to accomplish our mission.
  • Employ the proper techniques to meet the needs of your situation – “teams” is one of these. When used properly, teams can spark an explosion in productivity.  The first concern: how will you know you have truly employed a team?

During my initial foray into the workings of an organization I usually find “groups”, not “teams”. The difference in results is stark.  Although there are numerous distinctions that can be argued, two primary items required for teams to be functional (and avoid collaboration burnout!) are accountability and effectiveness. We all know that what gets measured gets done. Using metrics to establish your goals and serve as your “yardstick” is only a starting point.  Although objective items are easier to measure (e.g., increased sales), subjective measures must also be employed (e.g., how well is the team “working”?). To grow, team members must be open to ideas for improvement. An essential item is the one most of us abhor: the fear of receiving feedback that is anything but complimentary. It can be virtually paralyzing in an environment that lacks trust.  Employing the 3 steps outlined above is a good starting point to establishing trust. Add in a strong measure of respect – for and from each member of the organization. It will go a long way toward building an environment within which teams can thrive. An example of respect is the right of refusal – an incredibly important topic we will explore in a future article where we will also discuss additional ways to avoid “burnout”.

The initial keys: ensure you have taken the time to develop your Strategic Foresight; communicate that vision to the people in your organization; employ the 3 tenets of an effective organization (i.e., focus on continuous improvement, become a learning organization, and employ the proper tools to meet the needs of the organization); establish an environment of trust and respect for all members of the organization; reap the rewards; and celebrate victories. If we show people the fruits of their labors and the effect their efforts have on the organization, they will be more likely to “move on” to the next target with vigor and a desire to accomplish even the most difficult mission.

People who are challenged and rewarded will be glad to take a break at the end of the week but will also look forward to showing up on Monday…make that a goal.


Ken Pasch is President of the leader development company Ki (pronounced “key”) Visions and author of “Become the Boss You Always Wanted”.  Ki Visions and Diamond 6 work collaboratively.  The full Ki Visions lineup includes: coaching, consulting, keynotes, and training.  Ken also teaches at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.  Ken’s primary purpose: helping good people…become great leaders!

Current Issues in American National Security Policy

(Article published courtesy of the Carnegie Council)

As we move towards the end of the first quarter of 2012, a number of issues confront defense officials, domestically as well as internationally.

The domestic issues are largely part of a broader debate about the state of the American economy and how defense spending should be adjusted in this period of austerity, as well as reflecting significant changes in the overall security picture. The war in Iraq is over for the United States and the administration, at this moment at least, seems determined to pursue a policy in Afghanistan that will see the end of major combat operations for U.S. units by the end of 2014 at the latest.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Why President Truman Was a Great Leader

The position of President of the United States of America embodies everything that most of us believe and hope for when we think about leadership.  As we celebrate another President’s Day it is only appropriate that we consider the leadership strengths and weaknesses in the men who have occupied this office.  This is particularly poignant now as we are embroiled in a Presidential election campaign.  For the next eight months we will hear frequent analysis of the leadership abilities of President Obama and those who aspire to replace him.

With this in mind let’s examine one of my personal favorites and heroes – Harry Truman and some of the critical leadership attributes that I believe he epitomized.  Harry Truman was a different kind of President. Consider for a moment the challenge that he faced when he became President.  Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, the longest serving President in American history, died suddenly on April 12th 1945.  Truman had only been selected as Roosevelt’s running mate in July 1944.  Prior to Roosevelt’s death Truman had only personally met FDR twice.  As David McCullough, the renowned American historian, once commented, “To many it was not just that the greatest had fallen, but that the least of men – or at any rate the least likely of men – had assumed his place.”

Strategic vision and determination.
Dwight Eisenhower, who would succeed Truman in the presidency, is reported to have said that leadership is about defining a vision and then convincing others to follow it.  Truman clearly made as many or more important strategic decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other forty-two Presidents preceding him. Consider for a moment the following brief list of his accomplishments:

  • Assumes the presidency as World War II is coming to a close and must make the difficult decision to use the atomic bomb that brings the war with Japan to a close.
  • Creates the Marshall Plan to aid in European recovery from the devastation of the war.
  • Oversees the immediate aftermath of the war to include the Potsdam Conference and when confronted by Soviet threats begins the Berlin Airlift in 1949.
  • Establishes programs to transition millions of soldiers, sailors, airman, and Marines to civilian life including the creation of the GI Bill that many have argued was fundamental to the nation’s recovery and dramatic economic growth.

All of these demonstrated Truman’s ability to define a vision for the nation and then doggedly pursue it.  But one other event may even more clearly demonstrate these abilities.  Michael Beschloss, the award winning presidential historian, documents in his book, Presidential Courage President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel as a sovereign state in May 1948.  On May 14th 1948 the President signed the order recognizing the Jewish state’s independence and membership in the community of nations.

Truman made this decision despite the strenuous objection of most of this advisers including Secretary of State George Marshall.  Marshall had even told the president that should he take this action Marshall would consider resigning his position and campaigning against Truman in the fall elections.  Many historians also believe that Truman’s wife, Bess was strongly opposed to recognizing the Jewish state.  Truman would later say he made this decision because it was in the best interest of the United States and in the aftermath of the Holocaust there was clear moral obligation to do so.

Authority vs Responsibility.

Frequently, some leaders will use the words authority and responsibility as synonyms.  They are not, and President Truman clearly understood this.  As we move up the leadership ladder we are forced to give more authority to others.  There is no alternative, as we simply cannot do or oversee everything.  This is obviously true for the presidency which is frequently referred to as the most powerful and most difficult leadership position on the planet!  Truman understood, however, that he was responsible to the American people for the successes and the failures of his administration.  To remind him of this fact he kept a plaque on his desk that was copied from that of an Oklahoma prison warden.  It read simply – “The buck stops here!”

Optimism and Hope.

John W. Gardner in his celebrated book, On Leadership, observed that “the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive.”  Former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell has similarly observed that “optimism in a leader is a force multiplier”.  There is no doubt that Truman publicly displayed an air of optimism that those around him may well have found infectious.

As the presidential elections of 1948 approached few in America gave Truman much chance for reelection.  It was clear at the Democratic Party convention in the summer that spirits were low.  The Republicans had taken control of both houses of the Congress and a majority of state governorships during the 1946 midterm elections by running against Truman.  Public-opinion polls showed Truman trailing Republican nominee Dewey, sometimes by double digits. Furthermore, some liberal Democrats had joined Henry A. Wallace’s new Progressive Party. Many party leaders feared that Wallace would take enough votes from Truman to give the large Northern and Midwestern states to the Republicans.  As a result of Truman’s low standing in the polls, several Democratic party bosses began working to “dump” Truman and nominate a more popular candidate.

Despite this cloud of pessimism, Truman secured his party’s nomination and took his campaign directly to the American people.  In perhaps one of the most celebrated demonstrations of resilience and the ability to come back from adversity in American history, Truman “barnstormed” across the nation.  “Give ’em hell, Harry,” was a popular slogan shouted out at stop after stop along the tour.

In the campaign’s final days many newspapers, magazines, and political pundits were so confident of Dewey’s impending victory they wrote articles to be printed the morning after the election speculating about the new “Dewey Presidency”.  Life magazine printed a large photo in its final edition before the election; entitled “Our Next President Rides by Ferryboat over San Francisco Bay”, the photo showed Dewey and his staff riding across the city’s harbor. Several well-known and influential newspaper columnists, such as Drew Pearson and Joseph Alsop, wrote columns to be printed the morning after the election speculating about Dewey’s possible choices for his cabinet. Alistair Cooke, the distinguished writer for the Manchester Guardian newspaper in England, published an article on the day of the election entitled “Harry S. Truman: A Study of a Failure.” As Truman made his way to his hometown of Independence, Missouri to await the election returns, not a single reporter traveling on his campaign train thought that he would win.

But Truman would win the election by over 2.5 million votes over Dewey in what many still argue is the greatest upset in American political history.  In the photo below Truman is seen gleefully holding up the front page of the Chicago Tribune which had already printed its morning edition for November 3rd 1948.  Truman’s optimism as a leader was key to this victory.

Level 5 leadership
Jim Collins introduced a new term to the leadership lexicon – Level 5 leadership in his book, Good to Great.  Level 5 refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities and this certainly would include the presidency. Leaders at the other four levels may be successful, but are unable to elevate their organizations from mediocrity to sustained excellence.  Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming any organization from good to great requires larger-than-life-leaders.   According to Collins, humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. His simple formula is Humility + Will = Level 5.  This would seem to sum up Harry Truman in many ways.

A measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House. After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves. There was no Secret Service following them.  The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence, Missouri. His wife had inherited the house (seen in the following photo) from her mother and father.  Other than their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.  When he departed the White House in 1952 his income was an Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an “allowance” and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.  In later years when offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”

Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.”

Perhaps one of the best and final observations about Truman is provided by another great leader, Winston Churchill.  While dining with Truman in Washington during a visit to the United States in January 1950, Churchill admitted his disappointment at first meeting Truman in Potsdam at the end of World War II.  “I must confess, sir,” Churchill said.  “I held you in very low regard then.  I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt.”  But he continued, “I misjudged you badly.  Since then, you, more than any other man, have saved Western civilization.”  As we look back on the presidency and life of this man from Missouri many Americans might well agree with Sir Winston’s comments.

Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.

This article is from our February, 2012 newsletter. Click here to view all our newsletter articles and features.