Find Your Certification Leadership Style: Coercive vs. Visionary
NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing series. To read the previous article, click here.
In the previous installment in this series we did an in-depth analysis of two popular leadership styles: transactional and transformational. In this installment we will take things a step further and do an in-depth examination of two more popular leadership styles.
My hope has been that this series of articles on Finding Your Certification Leadership Style would be helpful to those who deal with certification on a daily basis. Based on the feedback I have received to date, it would seem that the series is hitting its mark.
If you’re just parachuting into the series with this article, here’s what we’re doing here: In each installment, I will examine two key leadership styles, explore their strengths and weaknesses for those involved in the certification world, and do a quick compare and contrast of the two styles being examined. Finally, I will put forth an argument in favor of one of the two styles.
In the final installment of the series, I will explore all of the styles that I have favored in each of the earlier installments, side by side, and see what they have in common and what makes each stand out. The last thing I want to share with you the reader, is my top pick of all the leadership styles for Certification Program Leaders and give you my reasons for this selection.
In this installment we will explore in depth the following two leadership styles: coercive and visionary. We will weight their strengths or advantages against their weaknesses or disadvantages. Secondly, we will examine through a brief comparison chart some of the points of similarity between the two styles, followed by a second contrast chart through which the major differences will be shown.
Finally, I will put forth a brief argument in favor of one of the two styles for managing a successful certification program.
“Coercion, after all, merely captures man. Freedom captivates him.” — Ronald Reagan (32)
“To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership.” — Ronald Reagan (32)
No matter what your title is, whether it is Chief Learning Officer (CLO), VP of Education, VP of Certification, Director of Certification and Assessments, Manager of Certification, or simply Project/Program Manager In Charge of Certification, if you have somehow been blessed with responsibilities of making certification a priority for your organization, then this series of articles will help you better understand your options for leveraging a leadership style within your organization.
Let’s now look at the next two major leadership styles. Will you succeed through coercion, or by expounding a strong vision?
Coercive (or Commanding) Leadership
The coercive style of leadership uses fear and force, authority and power, as the primary motivation towards people as an influence. The leader gives orders and expects immediate compliance with the authority vested in them. It’s often attributed to executives who tend to overreach and end up hurting the overall employee confidence, as they exert their will. (25)
Coercive leadership is best used in situations where there is little group decision-making either needed or required. The downside to this style is the difficulty in encouraging employee engagement, because the leader is seen as a pure dictator. The two most important factors to keep in mind when using this style are as follows:
a) It’s most effective when a turnaround is essential to a department’s viability, or when there exists a business need for immediate compliance with an instruction or order.
b) This style has the most negative impact on workers, so it should only be used for a short period of time. Once the crisis has subsided, the leader should begin practicing a more positive approach.
Managers who find themselves in a place that no longer demands the use of this style should also consider taking steps to undo the damage it may have caused their department. For example, the manager might want to reward the employees or followers after the crisis is over. Another approach would be to hold a teambuilding session to help regain a feeling of teamwork and cooperation among the members.
It’s easy to recognize a situation where someone is using the coercive leadership style. Words that might be used to describe this kind of individual include: relentless, overbearing, unyielding, persistent, harsh, and ruthless. (33)
Throughout my career I have had several leaders like this. One who came along in the middle of my career helped me realize the true value in certification as a source of economic freedom. Despite the angst I experienced for a short time, my career trajectory has thrived because of this leader.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Coercive Leadership
Next let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of coercive leadership.
1. Coercive leadership is extremely effective in a crisis.
2. Coercive leadership is most effective when a turnaround is needed for an organization’s survival.
3. Coercive leadership is looked upon favorably when there is a need for organizational compliance with an instruction or an order.
4. Coercive leadership has the key advantage of a leader with a great deal of control over what is happening in his/her organization.
5. Coercive leaders know how to get the work done quickly.
6. Coercive leaders are good at boosting team efficiency and productivity.
7. Coercive leadership can help to improve workplace safety.
8. Coercive leaders help to eliminate insubordination.
9. Coercive leaders look to put the best people in the best positions in their organizations.
10. Coercive leaders look to enforce current rules to exceed the quality standards that the institution expects.
1. Coercive leadership eliminates individuality from an organizations production process.
2. Coercive leadership restricts the amount of innovation that is possible.
3. Coercive leaders cause a higher rate of turn-over amongst the employees.
4. Coercive leadership can lead to employee or workplace violence and /or retaliation.
5. Coercive leaders rely on fear to be effective.
6. Under a coercive leader it is common for the workers to feel belittled, disrespected and/or have no value.
7. Under a coercive leader it is common for the workers to have the pride they feel in their work eroded.
8. Under a coercive leader it is common for the workers to lose all sense of accountability.
9. Under a coercive leader it is common for the workers to be apathetic and disengaged because the leader will not share with them the Big Picture of why they are doing what they have been told to do.
From here, let’s transition to our second style of leadership. What is a visionary leader?
This style uses expertise in the subject matter as the primary motivator to inspire followers. A visionary leader’s inherent ability to come up with clear a trajectory and articulate a clear vision makes priorities obvious for every team member. Visionary leaders tend to offer followers a great deal of leeway in finding the best means of accomplishing a task. (25)
This is a “come with me” approach, though with a less creative decision-making process. This has also been called an authoritative style. In my experience, this style works best when you have to pitch a new program, direction, a vision.
First described by Daniel Goleman in 2002, visionary leadership is a widely employed and valued approach. The leader is inspiring in his or her vision, and helps others to see how they can contribute to that vision. This in turn allows the leader and followers to move together towards a shared view of the future.
Goleman believed that certain leadership styles were more effective under various conditions. This is known as conditional leadership. For example, visionary leaders are effective when a startup company is attempting to make a move into the marketplace with a product that is very different than products currently available in that marketplace.
The visionary leadership style is most effective when an organization needs a new and clear direction to follow. A visionary leader is able to share his or her view of the future, allowing followers to understand how they play an important role in that future state. This encourages followers to become committed to making that vision come true. (35)
The following are traits of a visionary leader: Visionary leaders are good communicators while being resilient and favorable toward innovation. In addition, they are strategic thinkers while being smart in terms of taking risks, always keeping their eye on their end game which is ultimately to have successful outcomes.
Visionary leaders are also outstanding organizers while maintaining both a) their intense focus on the outcome, and b) their enthusiasm for the overall vision. (36)
Advantages and Disadvantages of Visionary Leadership
Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of visionary leadership.
Advantages (36, 37)
1. Visionary leaders inspire a true sense of accomplishment in their workforce.
2. Visionary leaders inspire and promote creativity and innovation.
3. Visionary leaders are effective because of their ability to rally their workers.
4. Visionary leaders are effective because of their ability to maintain their focus on the company’s vision for the future.
5. Visionary leaders often paint the picture of the future using compelling pictures.
6. Visionary leaders are effective because of their ability to communicate the relationship of a project, program, or an initiative to the long-term future goals that are part of the company’s vision.
7. Most visionary leaders have two things in common: They see things early, and they connect the dots.
Disadvantages of Visionary Leadership (36,37)
1. Visionary leaders must provide continued good communication and provide consistent feedback in order for their followers to stay engaged.
2. Visionary leaders can develop negative outcomes if they lose
their morale compass and go off their ethical rails.
3. Visionary leaders need their followers to buy into their vision.
4. Visionary leaders need to have a plan on how to deal with risks that may be disruptive.
5. Visionary leadership can burnout followers pontificating at the 50,000’ level with out ever addressing the operational, day-to-day needs.
6. Visionary leadership is not the leadership style best suited for an emergency situation.
7. Visionary leaders need to be detailed oriented but often are not.
8. Visionary leaders can be focused too intently on their future vision without the energy or drive to spend on how to make it happen.
9. Visionary leadership can be used in ways which would ignore pressing organizational problems of the present.
Compare and Contrast: Coercive vs. Visionary
Now let’s briefly summarize the similarities and differences between the coercive and visionary leadership styles.
● Both styles are designed to address organizational change issues.
● Both styles are based on the amount of control required for the task or project at hand.
● The success of both depends on the leader’s ability to communicate what they expect from their teams.
● Both styles can be quite successful when used at the right time and for the right reasons.
● Organizations should have leaders who embrace both styles at different times in an organization’s history.
● Both styles are involving leaders and followers with one or more shared current-state objectives and future-state goals.
● Is more present-oriented
● Is generally perceived in a negative light
● Is generally associated with military organizations
● Instructions and assignments are highly detailed in nature.
● There is more concern about present-moment objectives and successfully meeting those objectives.
● Is more future-oriented
● Is generally perceived in a positive light
● Is generally associated with the need of an organization to follow a new and clear direction
● Instructions and assignments are more focused on the end result than carrying out detailed present-moment tasks.
● There is less concern about the current state-objectives and far more concern about future-state goals.
My preferred style for certification program leadership
Based on the in-depth analysis we have just completed on two of the leadership outlined in the introductory installment, I will now summarize my thoughts on the two and then share with you my preference for leading a certification program.
Coercive leadership is a leadership style that sticks close to the rules and standards that are set by companies. These leaders try to have their employees work using fear and force, authority and power as the primary motivation towards people as an influence.
A coercive leader gives orders and expects immediate compliance with the power of authority vested in them. The downside to this style is the difficulty in encouraging employee engagement because the leader is seen as a pure dictator.
A visionary leader uses his or her expertise in the subject as the primary motivator to inspire followers. The leader’s inherent ability to come up with a clear trajectory and articulate a clear vision makes priorities clear to every team member.
Visionary leaders tend to offer followers a great deal of leeway in finding the best means of accomplishing a task. (25) This is a “come with me” approach. In my experience, this style works best when you have to pitch a new program, direction, or vision.
Generally speaking, I would recommend the visionary leadership style because of my experiences pitching certification programs to both past employers and current clients. It is important to have a good relationship with your team, in order for a successful certification program to produce hoped-for organizational impacts.
Team building, motivation, cooperation and collaboration, I believe, are the most important things in leadership. With a visionary person who has a passion for certification, and who is also a disciple of various leadership styles, then you will have a team of followers that has bought into the leader’s vision and truly wants the program to succeed.
Not only will you have a happy workforce but, you will create a program that is meeting organizational goals without the fear associated with coercive leadership.
Each leadership style can be useful in the workplace and it is important to understand the differences between the two. But you need to do more than just understand the differences between the two. Sometimes you may be called on to practice a style you are not a fan of. For example, you may at heart be a visionary leader, but on occasion have to step up and be a coercive leader in order to meet short-term objectives.
If you are like me, and have had to pitch a certification program, then you will recognize the importance of visionary leadership. When you find a receptive organization that is willing to let your dreams come to fruition, then you need to be ready to sell your idea to those who will be supporting you and your certification dream.
Of course, some of the folks you will be selling to will not be fans of your vision. How you address those individuals may well be what makes or breaks your program. Welcome to the wonderful world of being a visionary leader who is able to motivate and empower employees to achieve goals.
In the next installment we will look at two more of the leadership styles available to those driving certification for an organization.
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