Powerful Leadership Styles for Today & the Future (+ Their Benefits)
"Leadership is one of the most widely talked about subjects and at the same time, one of the most elusive and puzzling" (Wren, 1995, p. 27).
As humans have evolved over the past two hundred thousand years while speeding through this solar system at one thousand miles an hour, perhaps only the past five thousand years of written history has provided examples of different styles of leadership.
Managing human relationships in such a way to inspire others to follow and be guided by another can be done in a multitude of approaches. I have witnessed both effective and ineffective applications of leadership while working in different industries and positions over the past twenty years. Referencing my personal experiences will connect my observations to some of the overarching archetypes of shared, transformational, and servant leadership styles.
1. Shared Leadership
"Today, the fastest-growing organizational unit is the team, specifically cross-functional teams." (Pearce & Conger, 2008).
In this Digital Age in which we find ourselves, information is being created and disseminated at an alarming rate. One of the results of this phenomenon is the unceasing hourly explosion of startups.
When an idea gets picked out of this "Age of 'Idea-rhea'," we sprinkle on some market insight, planning, and action, and now the "ball begins to roll."
What can often follow next is the idea holder seeks out peers or various subject matter experts that are interested in banding together to launch this business idea. In these kinds of scenarios, sometimes the niche expertise that each person plays in the startup group is admired and respected by its members. A sort of metaphorical "sandbox" or "playground" develops where each person is leading the collective project at different moments in time for shared success.
When I created The Permaculture Life (a mobile app and website that taught people how to live off-grid and sustainably), our team comprised of an app developer, social media expert, graphic designer, website developer and botanist. Each of us served our team as a subject matter expert for our fields.
While developing the business, each one of us would run into different obstacles that occasionally required the entire team's support. The specialist that was encountering the problem would describe the issue to the group and lead us collectively to overcoming the obstacle.
Shared leadership can be a very adaptive and agile approach to accomplishing a lot of work in a very efficient manner.
2. Transformational Leadership
"Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers' needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization." (Bass & Riggio, 2014, p. 3).
A transformational leader guided seven other project managers and me on a wildfire disaster recovery project in California. This leader would present me obstacles the project was encountering and entrusted me with developing and proposing solutions.
His trust in me and my abilities had profound effects. I became incredibly productive and creative in developing solutions. I felt inspired to work proficiently and creatively. The results were my formulation of a digital system that saved our project more than ten thousand dollars in expenses each week. My system also increased communication and information distribution efficiency by over one thousand and four hundred percent.
I was so invigorated by his allowance for my skills and creativity to be used on the project that the impacts I was able to create were monumental. Many corporate jobs I had held in the past had such rigid structures and inflexible authoritative leaders that I often felt replaceable, useless, and under-stimulated. These less desirable jobs stifled creativity and innovative solutions.
Transformational leadership can be a powerful approach for allowing team members to realize their potential for the benefit of all.
3. Servant Leadership
"Servant leadership seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and enhances the growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of organizational life" (Spears, 2010).
This style of leadership can go beyond the boundary of traditional work boundaries and focus. A servant leader may be present to listen to, empathize with, and develop his team. There are an infinite amount of avenues for applying these actions which are not inherently or directly related to the organization's goals or work tasks at hand. However, they can ultimately provide benefits to the organization.
For instance, take an experience I had working for an environmental nonprofit organization. My supervisor took it upon himself to grow my personal awareness of my opportunities for professional growth. With his graceful and initially unsolicited guidance, he helped me become more aware of my anxieties, projected attitudes, and presentation.
Through his mentorship– which was not required by his position– he helped me develop my charisma, my ability to present myself strategically, and my ability to communicate even more effectively. In turn, I felt more valued by him and the organization. I also felt more seen, confident, and powerful.
Only weeks later, would he unexpectedly need me to give a presentation to a group on behalf of our organization– a task he could employ me for with the utmost confidence.
Servant leadership is a fantastic approach to developing a more robust, effective, and productive team and organizational culture.
4. Context Appropriation
There exist moments where shared, transformational, or servant leadership may not always be the most appropriate. At times, a more authoritative or autocratic leadership style may be more suitable. Such situations will typically contain one or some of the following attributes or events:
- a requirement for immediate action,
- highly confidential information,
- resource constraints,
- time constraints, or
- legal requirements.
An example might be a disaster situation where an immediate response is required and options are limited. The battalion chief of a firefighting company issues commands to their team to leverage efficiency and effectiveness when resources and time are constrained. This leader faced with an emergency may not have the liberty or resources to share decision-making nor delay action. Contexts can often dictate what leadership styles are most appropriate.
There is an extensive cocktail of leadership styles and methods for application. What remains certain is that every leader must possess the ability to coordinate and harmonize followers to the objectives of the organization. The effectiveness and efficiency of each leadership style are heavily dependent on the context of the situation, and many styles can be applied, mixed, or used interchangeably.
There may very well exist, a time and place for everything.
Baron, D. (1999). Moses on management: 50 leadership lessons from the greatest manager of all time. New York: Pocket Books.
Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2014). Transformational leadership. New York.: Routledge.
Pearce, C. L., & Conger, J. A. (2008). Shared leadership: reframing the hows and whys of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publ.
Spears, L. C. (2010). Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders. The Journal of Virtues & Leadership, 1(1).