Find Your Certification Leadership Style: Introduction (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this series introduction, I discussed and defined various traits of leadership as set forth by experts in the field. My next step is to provide a high-level overview of a number of contemporary leadership styles that I have experienced in the certification industry.
Coercive or Commanding Leadership
The coercive style of leadership uses fear and force, authority and power, as the primary motivation toward people as an influence. This type of leader gives orders and expects immediate compliance because of the authority vested in them. It’s often attributed to executives who tend to overuse their body and end up hurting the overall employee confidence, as they exert their will. (25)
This style is best used in situations where there is little group decision making needed or required. The downside to this style is the difficulty in encouraging employee engagement because the leader is seen as a pure dictator. Throughout my career I had several leaders like this.
One that I had in the middle of my career got me to realize the true value in certification as a source of economic freedom. Despite the short-term angst I experienced, my career trajectory has thrived because of this leader.
This style uses expertise in the subject 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 clear to every team member.
These style of leaders tend to leave much liberty to their followers to find their means to the task. (25) It is a “come with me” approach, but 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 or a vision.
This style places a strong emphasis on the quality of performance of a leader.; followers are expected to emulate that level of excellence. A pacesetter is handy in pushing a highly motivated team to across a challenging deadline. (25)
A pacesetter leads through example. She or he is not afraid to work within the team to get the job done. A pacesetter is obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone. This style works best, as I have witnessed, when you need quick results to an issue and have highly talented and motivated subordinates.
Democratic or Participative Leadership
This style revolves around consensus-building and every collaborator having an equal say in the collective decision. The leader fosters team flexibility and ownership of the cause. This method is most useful in trying to discover fresh ideas that may elongate the decision-making timeline as the process tends to be time-consuming. (25) This style works best it when draws on the collective wisdom of the entire organization to build consensus.
The democratic/participative style brings all of the best ideas to the table. While the democratic/participative style is a very effective leadership approach, it does not happen quickly. It takes others’ opinions into account and values them during the decision-making process.
With this leadership style, which is commonly used by many leaders, the leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member. Though naturally the leader makes all final decisions, each team member has an equal opportunity to give input on the subject matter.
It is effective because it allows lower-level peers to exercise that authority that they will need in future positions and it gives everyone experience on how career meetings will go. In my experience this provided the best method to Lead a Certification Governance Committee.
This is the style of leadership that is often followed by empathetic leaders, the kind of leader who tends to put people at the heart of success and is sensitive to their problems. Affiliative leaders prioritize people over goals, and strive to create a harmonious and balanced culture. These leaders are active relationship builders, actively influencing loyalty within subordinates. (25)
An affiliative leader enjoys working as part of a team, creating emotional bonds with his followers that help them feel like they belong; he or she leads through relationships. This style works best when you have to either heal rifts or motivate subordinates. In my experience, this has always worked well when you are forming a diverse team of non-certification subordinates.
The coaching style clearly defines the roles to be played by each member of the team, along with the respective tasks to be focused on. A coaching leader may also seek suggestions from task owners to ensure accountability of ownership. Though the leader decides on the quality of the outcome, the two-way communication makes it an excellent way for everyone to understand the big picture and where their contribution fits. (25)
This style is often framed as the “try this” or “leading through advice” style. A coaching leader is concerned with subordinates, helping to develop their skills and their potential. He or she wants to help improve performance by helping team members build their capabilities. The coach is interested in the personal growth of his or her team and helps them see how to reach their own goals and the goals of the organization.
This style works best when you need to raise awareness within your team. In my history this style was always appropriate with an established team that was getting through some rough patches.
The French term laissez faire translates to English as “let them do.” In terms of leadership, this means the leader trusts in all of her or his subordinates to do as they please and make the right decision. All authority is typically given to the subordinates because of the foundation of trust the leader builds in them.
This method is classified as sometimes effective because, while there is trust, this can sometimes limit what actually gets done because the subordinates do not have a solid strategic vision. They literally just do exactly what they want, which also can cause the leader to get pushed over by her or his subordinates. The major issue with this method of leadership is that the subordinate followers tend to forget that there is a leader and believe they can do whatever they please.
In my experience this is a rarely-seen or -experienced leadership style. It could be quite beneficial if you are the leader of a highly trustworthy, experienced, and mature team of subordinates that has multiple projects to bring to fruition.
In delegative leadership, the leader allows team members to make decisions. The leader understands that she or he is not an expert in every situation. This is why it is critical to delegate certain tasks out to knowledgeable and qualified subordinates. Even though the leader allows subordinates to make decisions, in the delegative style the leader is still ultimately responsible for all decisions that are made.
Two of the primary strengths of this style of leadership are that it encourages personal development with a hands-on approach, and it creates an inviting work environment. Two of the main weaknesses of the delegative style are that it requires a certain amount of supervision to be successful — someone must take blame when a poor decision is made — and it is difficult to adapt to changing circumstances.
Though the delegative style is often likened to laissez-faire, in my view what makes them different is that a delegative leader is ultimately responsible for any decision rendered. By contrast, with laissez-faire this ultimate responsibility is not necessarily in place.
In my experience, this style works well for a diverse team of highly specialized professionals who have a good rapport with their leader. For example, a certification director whose team has a lead psychometrician — who because of his expertise is given responsibility for all things dealing with all things psychometric. Though this professional is given responsibility for the psychometrics portion of the team, the leader is still ultimately responsible for his or her team’s decisions.
“Transformational leadership is … a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems.” (10, 13) Transformational leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group.
It is a style that prioritizes group progress. The leader connects with subordinates and inspires them. Sometimes leaders are placed in a position where they do not fit well, or the organization is continually performing practices that do not harbor growth. This will stagnate the success of an organization. When a transformational leader takes over, many (if not all) aspects of job performance within an organization improve drastically.(26)
In my experience, this is the kind of leader you need to get a program off the ground. If you can get a transformational leader to buy into the program you believe is needed, then you will be on the road to a successful program.
The Transactional Leadership style is a very popular and commonly used style when trying to promote great leadership qualities. Essentially, this style can be defined as leaders or managers motivating the group to perform based on punishments and rewards. This can be achieved by forming the right set of rewards and punishments that will persuade the group to perform at an exceptional level. The Transactional Leadership style also focuses on the idea of a management process that includes three basic concepts: organizing, controlling, and short-term planning.
“Transactional leadership focuses on results, conforms to the existing structure of an organization and measures success according to that organization’s system of rewards and penalties.” (27) It is a style which appeals to the self-interest of the individuals concerned, both the leader and the subordinates. Leader and follower enter into a “contract.” The transactional leader explains expectations, sets standards, and defines good and bad consequences.
In my experience, this is still one of the most used styles leveraged in our industry. Though not the most effective style, transactional leadership is probably the most widely used and understood style of leadership. To be quite honest, I never saw my programs thrive under the fear of punishment. The opposite tends to be true: The programs I ran always struggled under a transactional leader.
This style assumes that the leader’s behavior will vary from one situation to another. Situational is a leadership style that has been developed and studied by Blanchard and Hersey. Situational leadership refers to when the leader of an organization must adjust his or her style to fit the subordinates he or she is trying to influence. With situational leadership, it is up to the leader to change his style — the subordinate do not adapt to the leader’s style. In situational leadership, the style may change continually to meet the needs of others in the organization based on the situation. (29)
The four characteristics that impact a situational leader’s decision-making are: 1) type of organization, 2) effectiveness of the group or team, 3) type of problem to be address, and 4) time limitations. The four possible leadership approaches within the situational style are: a delegative style, a supportive style, an authoritative style, and a coaching style. Leaders need to fully understand how leadership is contingent upon their people and the situations they are trying to be successful in.
Without really realizing it at the time, the situational style was the one I used early on in my career leading certification programs. It was flexible enough to allow me to adapt to a host of situations and a diverse cast of characters.
A so-called “ambidextrous organization” refers to the fact that the organization uses both exploration and exploitation/preservation techniques simultaneously to be successful. This entails that the circumstances and opportunities must be utilized by conducting business activities that redefine the current business model by taking risks.
If an organization performs well on both fronts — exploration and exploitation/preservation — then it is capable of experiencing fast and continuous growth. Companies that focus too much on exploration, or on exploitation/preservation, run the risk that they are unable to achieve an optimal level of success. There must be balance in an organization’s goals.
Ambidextrous leadership is a style in which the leader possesses these qualities. As presented in 1996 by Tushmann and O’Reilly, the ambidextrous leader is a leader who doesn’t avoid risks. At the same time, under his or her leadership, operational inefficiencies are hollowed out and new, leading activities are implemented in the current business model. Three skills or competencies are key to a successful ambidextrous leader. The three requisite competencies are a desire to learn, a passion for others, and a breadth of perspective.
Ambidextrous Leadership is generally viewed as the ideal leadership style. (28) In my experience, this is absolutely true. The programs that I have managed that have been the most successful have typically been under a leader who was without a doubt ambidextrous.
As I prepare to close this overview of leadership styles in our industry, allow me this opportunity to share some reflections on the term “leadership” and the concept of “leadership styles.” As Lawrence eloquently stated in 2011:
Leadership has been the focus of contemporary academic studies for some 60 years, but particularly more so in the last two decades. There has been much discussion in recent years examining the best approaches and styles for effective leadership, including ambidextrous leadership, democratic leadership, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, and so forth. Although this sort of close analysis may seem new, the actual study of leadership dates back to the likes of Plato.
More importantly, what can happen if we fail to address leadership issues in our organization? I think this quote from a recent Forbes article says it best:
Corporate culture becomes a meaningless term where leaders claim it exists while employees shake their heads in frustration. There is a lack of clear, consistent communication from leadership to the employees. As a result, the office is run by rumor mill, politics and gamesmanship. Employees are uncertain of the company’s goals and objectives for success and they have no idea how they fit into that picture, or what their level of importance is toward making it happen. (23)
We have the question before us: What is leadership? Here is my take. No one person has the right answer. A good leader is made by good followers and subordinates. Without one, you cannot have the other. As two recent U.S. Presidents have said on the subject:
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” — Ronald Reagan
“Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well … to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs.” — Barack Obama
The second concept we have explored in this overview is leadership style. Here is my take on the subject: No one style of leadership is superior to all others. Different situations call for different approaches.
You must know your followers. Show that you care about them and not just yourself. Make yourself available and approachable. Say what you mean and mean what you say. And finally have the gumption to follow through. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. Make a decision, anything is better than doing nothing.
Having now explored some of the many definitions of Leadership, and the qualities of an effective leader, as well as a number of the leadership styles used in our industry from a “50,000 feet” level, it is now time to explore the first pair of these leadership styles. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.
2. Cherry, Kendra. “Know More. Live Brighter.” Verywell Mind, Dotdash, 8 Feb. 2019, www.verywellmind.com
3. Leadership. BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. February 12, 2019 – http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/leadership.html
8. Biola University. “Ken Blanchard : Lead Like Jesus.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 Apr. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGPg7o6JeQo.
9. “Leadership Styles.” Hoonuit Online Learning Framework https://learnit.hoonuit.com/5698/learnit
10. Riggio, Ronald E. “Take this test: Are You a Transformational Leader?” Psychology Today, 24 Mar. 2009, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/200903/areyou-transformational-leader
11. “What Kind of Leader Are You?” TestQ, 2017, http://www.testq.com/careers/quizzes/237- what-kind-of-leader-are-you
15. The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger (2019)
16. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, 2nd Edition, by Allen F. Repko
23. Lawrence, D., 2014, Transforming Leadership: An Introduction, ATD.