Navigating Your Approach to Leadership
Sep 15, 2010

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What if I told you that you should be the smartest person in the room? That you should lead with a heavy dose of direction? Or that you should take your hands off the steering wheel and let your subordinates drive for a while? That building strong connections and understanding yourself would best serve your organization? My guess is that you would think that these “leadership styles” seem contradictory, and that one or more of these ideas caused you to flinch a bit.
Every situation demands that you assess, decide and communicate a decision. In reality, leaders must continually adjust their approach to guiding their organization. Your greatest asset in making the best decision is your own personal self-awareness. What are your biases? What is your preferred style of leadership? What is your greatest challenge? What values guide your decisions? What are your options?
Consider these four approaches to leadership and ask yourself, “What attracts or repels me from using this style of leadership?”
Smartest Person in the Room
We don’t have to look far to find examples of business leaders today who either have been, or are currently, the smartest people in the room. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hiller, or Condoleezza Rice of the former Bush Administration have all been acknowledged at some point as having a visionary idea or being the smartest person on a given topic. That mantel has compelled other to follow these leaders, to build organizations around them or compelled world leaders to listen to their perspectives.
Command and Control
Hierarchy-based leadership is essential in the military. There are no questions asked, no second-guessing an order given by a general in time of battle, nor any command given to a new recruit. There are also many examples in the business world.
Hands Off
Laissez faire, a term coined by the French, indicates a style of leadership that allows loose control with very little direction from the leader.
Relationship-based leadership is about creating connections between individuals in the organization – between manager and employee, co-worker to co-worker, group to group – relationships in service of collaborating to create the best possible decisions and solutions for the business and the customer. At the heart of relationship-based leadership is self-awareness of the leader. The leader understands how he/she can best connect with others by having a good self-understanding.
Combined Approach
In the complex organizations you are leading today, there are times that each of these approaches to leadership is necessary.
At some point, you need to be the smartest person in the room: setting direction, knowing the skills needed to accomplish a goal, having the best financial mind to manage the assets of the company.
Other times, you will need to make a command and control decision: the time of analysis is no longer adding value, and the leader needs to make the call to move.
Sometimes leaders need to step back, to let others have time for reflection or to step into their next challenging assignment. And often, in fact most of the time, you need a solid relationship with yourself and those around you for the ongoing day-to-day execution of the task at hand.
How do you know when to take what approach? How do you know when your decision is more about your preference than what’s best for the organization? How do you navigate between these four approaches?
From my experience and the experiences of the leaders I work with, there’s only one answer: a deep understanding of yourself. How do you develop that? Take a deep dive into development. By knowing yourself, your biases, your past successes and failures, your values – you will learn how you react in any given situation. You may find command & control is easier for you, but it may not always best serve the situation. You may find you lean towards a hands-off approach, but is that because you have a fear of participating in relationship-based leadership?
To be the most effective leader you can be, to move back and forth between these approaches to leadership, take some time to “sit on a rock,” learn about yourself, and evaluate your effectiveness in balancing all four approaches to leading your organization.

Jim Boneau is a Vice President and Master Facilitator at Bluepoint Leadership Development. He can be reached by email
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