Management Style is Not a Perfect Science
There is no one-size fits all rule and effective leaders use a combination of different styles based on the business situation (Goleman 2000). The variations in leadership styles can be explained via the Contingency Theory (Vroom & Jago, 2007). According to the Fielder Contingency Model, effective leadership is dependent upon the situation at hand which is determined by the characteristic of the task, relationship between leaders and the team members and the context within which an organisation operates. House’s Path-goal theory is more participative, directive, achievement oriented and is supportive to team members where the leader adapts his/her style in response to the need and motivation of the team members. Another model which is highly participative, allows high level of delegation and is more responsive to the capacity of team members is the Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational theory. It involves high level of coaching and as the maturity of team members improve, leadership supervision decreases.
The style of leadership is dependent on the level of ‘task-oriented’ and ‘people-oriented behaviour’ and the behaviours of leaders are mediating factors between structural experiences and outcomes of the organisation (Vroom & Jago, 2007). Organisations that rely more on Coercive and Authoritative styles in order to achieve self-control, compliance and desired performance, but organisations that rely more on services and research and development is better suited to Coaching (which develops people), Affiliative (which creates harmony and a sense of emotional link within team members) or Democratic (focuses on consensus building based on higher participation) styles of leadership as it creates greater empathy, self-confidence and fosters higher innovation and performance. Based on a research of more than 3000 executives, Goleman (2009) suggests that leaders may flexibly switch from one style to the other based on emotional intelligence. The Vroom and Jago (2007) research reveals that situational elements play a powerful role influences actions of leaders. According to Hersey and Blanchard’s theory of Situational Leadership, leaders should adapt to different styles with the changing situation in order to build the skills and confidence of subordinates and not take them less skilful as given. However, in order to be responsive to these styles core values need to be internalised by the leader. Kouzes & Posner (2007) research illustrate that leaders engage in different practices of leadership that varies from modelling the way, inspiring a shared vision within teams, challenging existing processes, stimulating others to be involved and encouraging team members. Their paper draws on examples of Hanna Barbara Studio’s use of 360 degree feedback review process, Pier 1Import’s lead- Cary Turner and Terri Sarhatt of Applied Biosystems constantly worked alongside staff to encourage, appreciate and reward them.
I agree to the notion that there is no perfect science to choosing a leadership style and that one must adapt to different situations and adopt necessary styles to be more responsive. From my experience, a mix of ‘Affiliative’ and ‘Democratic’ styles may be highly suitable for managing diverse team members and conflicting groups to work together for tasks that require higher level of diverse ideas and consensus. Within the textile and clothing industry for example, the use of different style can be seen-garments manufacturers may be more skewed towards authoritative styles as the work is much more standardised, however, in the designer industry there is greater need for affiliation and democratisation to foster more idea generation. Even while working in teams for academic projects, I have come across members from different cultures and their values, notion of motivation work pace and level of determination varies. In dealing with diverse set of individuals be it within an academic project or engaging in the work place, I have realised that as much as it is essential to have own set of values, it is important to understand the values that others bring in from different cultures and settings. Understanding others will make it much easier to lead and manage people in difficult situations. However, in times of meeting tight deadlines, the phase of establishing consensus, empathy and compassion may take longer and to be able to remain productive there is the need to change leadership style that sets stronger ground rules during that phase of work and remain more objective. In a cultural setting where people may attempt to free ride particularly in case of democratisation where some may leverage on the opinions of others, it is important to delegate work to individuals and have processes such as 360 degree reviews to be able to draw out the difficult members and work to address their limitations.
Goleman, D. 2000. Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 78-90.
Vroom, V. H. and Jago, A. G. 2007. The role of the situation in leadership. The American Psychologist, 62(1), 17-24.
Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2007) The Leadership Challenge. (4th ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass