When one speaks about Leadership styles, there are several different models to choose from. However, whatever the model it is never an easy process to implement or practice a particular style of leadership and hope to get the results that was intended. «Leadership» per se is both an Art as well as a Science. The one key element that all leaders should possess is their ability to communicate their visions and values to the people they are leading and to get the people to buy into their visions and values.
The key concern is whether the leader is getting his people to ‘buy-in’ or is he trying to ‘sell’ his vision. When you want to ‘sell’ you need to be convincing and give the impression that the ideas you have are inherently beneficial to the people and therefore they should accept it. This usually is a challenging dilemma as sometimes the people you are leading might not quite see the relevance of your visions and values and may not be forthcoming in accepting them. However, if you are able to create the circumstances whereby the people feel that what you possess are important visions and values, and that by they buying into these it would benefit them well, you have created a winning formula to lead your people successfully.
If you want your people to ‘buy-in’ rather than ‘sell’ your visions and values you need to pay meticulous attention to the type of leadership style that you portray. I personally find that in this context, leadership can be classified either as autocratic leadership style or a consultative leadership style.
Autocratic Leadership Style
Autocratic leadership is one which is based on a clear top-down approach. The leader is in a position of absolute power and he can implement and do whatever he wants to get things done. Usually in an autocratic leadership environment there will not be much discussion of affairs as the people find that their voices does not carry weight in the problem solving and decision making aspects of their organization.
An autocratic leader will be the driver of his people and without his leadership the organization will not be able to function. Usually autocratic leaders like to delegate their power but at the same time having a stranglehold on all those subordinate to them. They also like to coach their people to do things the way they want it and may create a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of working environment. The impression one gets in an autocratic leadership style is that the leader is seen as some kind of megalomaniacal tyrant to be feared and followed.
Although there is some truth to this, autocratic leadership is not necessarily a bad style. In fact there are some circumstances where an autocratic leadership should be the preferred style. One instance where autocratic leadership style may be applicable is when the organization is new and the people are inexperience and thus look up to the leadership to guide them in their work. Another instance is if the people are disengaged in their job and have no clear direction and there is vast internal politicking of the kind that is disruptive and causes an emotional strain in the way the organization is being managed. Here a powerful autocratic leadership might help to re-align the organization to its original position and get the people back in shape.
The downside of all this is that an extended period of engaging in an autocratic style of leadership can strain the relationship between the leader and the people in that the people might find the leader to be so task-oriented that they may develop a sense of resentment. Further, when the leader becomes too autocratic he may forget that he is dealing with humans and not machines and might create the impression that the people are just part of the machinery. This can create a sense of dissonance in the work environment which will not be beneficial to the leader, the people and the organization in the long run. Take the cue from Dwight D. Eisenhower who said: «You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership»
Consultative leadership is the way to go in the long run. Management Guru, Kenneth Blanchard said: «The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority». This is the very nature of consultative leadership in that you the leader will have to develop the ability to influence people rather than impose on them your authority as is the case in an autocratic leadership style. In consultative leadership style, the leader will engage the subordinates efficaciously in the decision making and problem solving process. This kind of leadership style endorses the fact that the leader is indeed the servant of the people he is leading. The people have the power to engage in consultation with the leader and are able to make suggestions which they know would be taken into serious contemplation by the leader.
Further, consultative leadership style endorses the concept of empowerment rather than delegation. When a leader empowers, he is basically giving the person concern a freehand to do what is necessary. The leader may draw up certain parameters for the person to work within and to ensure that he is kept in the loop by the person. In a consultative leadership style, the leader still has strong visions and concrete values that he can communicate with his people. However unlike the autocratic leader, the concept underlying consultative leadership style is one of administering a people-oriented kind of management rather than a task-oriented one.
The consultative leader’s role will continuously involve the development of his people and this is done by being kept aware of the needs and wants of the people. The only way this information can be gotten is by having constant dialogue with the people and clarifying the goals and aspirations that you have and synchronizing this with their personal visions. When the people get to experience this state of being they will be more prepared to ‘buy-in’ the visions and values of the leader.
In the long haul, consultative leadership will be the most appropriate one. As the organization mature, the leader has to learn to move away from delegation to empowerment. When the people become more experienced and participative in their professional relationship with you the leader, you will have to play the role of a mentor to them. Consultative leadership style will invoke in you the ability to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals under your authority and allow you the opportunity to nurture the best out of them. The parting quote by Elisabeth Dole seems apt to be mentioned here where she said: «What you always do before you make a decision is consult. The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it».