Is There One Best Leadership Style? (Part 3 In A Leadership Series)

We’ve been spending some time in previous posts looking at the idea of leadership.  Really what I’m trying to do is demystify the whole thing a bit.  I think we have been told a lot of things about leadership that aren’t necessarily true.  Last time we looked that the difference between being a moral leader and an effective one and how one really has nothing much to do with the other.

Today I want to talk about leadership style.  When I asked my friends on social media about who great leaders were I got a huge variance in answers.  I knew that I would because I have friends of all sorts of different backgrounds, ages and beliefs.  The secondary question was this; What makes this person you chose a great leader?  I got all kinds of answers.  Here are a few:

  • A great leader doesn’t ask anyone to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves
  • A great leader listens to everyone
  • A great leader leads by example
  • A great leader has a huge vision and inspires and empowers others to achieve it
  • A great leader is consistent in what they teach and are respected by everyone under them
  • A great leader is understanding and open minded
  • A great leader uplifts others including the oppressed
  • A great leader has overcome something.  They have mental and emotional toughness
  • A great leader is willing to listen and make changes
  • A great leader makes you more effective.  Get’s you in the right role, gives you the tools and then gets out of the way.
  • A great leader has empathy.  They care about their followers.
  • A great leader empowers others.

These are all great attributes. You can also see how in most answers we are assuming moral leadership.  This is great.  We should want this.  I would hope that when my friends think of leadership they would want a moral one.  I also think the things listed can help one be an effective leader.  We could probably list a lot more. This is why there are a million leadership books.  The only problem here is that if I want to be a leader I’ve got to do a million things.

The interesting thing is that there are all kinds of effective leaders and even moral ones that aren’t the best at all of these attributes.  Certainly we can all grow in our abilities.  But let’s remember our working definition of effective leadership: An effective leader is someone who has followers and gets them, through his/her leadership, to accomplish something.  The more followers they have and/or the greater the accomplishment; the more effective the leader.  You may not agree with that definition but that is what I’m working with for right now.

If that is the working definition then the question is does one particular style of leadership accomplish this better than others and if so why?  Here are some things we might consider.

First, an honest look through the most effective leaders in history would suggest that there is not one style that creates effective leadership.  I’m not convinced that one style creates moral leadership.  Just looking at some of the people that my friends listed tells me this.  Here are a few:

  • Arne Sorenson of Marriott Hotels
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Elizabeth Elliot
  • Mr Rogers (got several mentions)
  • Michael Jordan
  • Captain Winters of Band of Brothers
  • John Wooden
  • Sam Walton
  • Martin Luther King Jr
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Joe Rogan

I would indeed call all of these effective leaders.  Many of them I would call effective and moral leaders.  What do they all have in common in terms of leadership style?  Well not a lot.

Some led more by example than words.  Some are great listeners and empowers of their followers.  Some lead by service.  Some lead by doing it themselves extremely well and demanding others do it well too.

Here’s the thing, different situations call for different leadership styles.  Read that again.  This is a huge key.

Different context and times demand different things.  This is why sometimes a person is a great leader for an organization for a certain amount of time but then become not so good later.  We need to see this because often we try force people (including ourselves) to be something they aren’t..  Some people are great at leading something brand new.  Some people are amazing at leading something that’s been broken through a healing process.  Some leaders are great at leading a huge organization and taking it to the next level.  Some are good at reforming something that is wrong in an organization or even a country.

This is true in every context.  In business many great starters are terrible managers for example.

This happens in the church all the time.  A good church planter is often not a good pastor of a big church.  There are lots of fantastic pastors that should never plant a church.  I’d suggest that most really good church planters should leave and plant a new church once it hits a couple of hundred people.

The bottom line is that great leadership is not necessarily tied to a particular style.  The key is having the right leader for the right time.  This isn’t always true.  Sometimes people can grow and change to be sure.  But we make a mistake when we say only one style signifies effective leadership.

Part of developing your leadership ability is determining what leadership style are you best at and what sort of contexts can best utilize that style.  That may mean leading in the same place for decades, but it might also mean switching roles far more often.

Along with this we need to quit telling people that there is one right style of leadership. Mostly what we mean when we say this is that there is one style we like to either lead by or be led by.

Next time we’ll look at how people become great leaders and then we’ll look at what Christian leadership looks like no matter what the style or context.

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