Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leadership Styles

TM passed along links to the following posts by Mark Tozer: Styles of Leadership and Tannenbaum & Schmidt’s Leadership Continuum.
The first article describes three basic leadership styles:

  • Autocratic
  • Democratic
  • Laissez-faire
They progress from the leader having total control of the group to the group having total control of the group.
The second article discusses the reality that leadership is practiced along a continuum of styles. Leaders exercise their authority in different ways depending on a variety of conditions. These conditions include the situation, the group, and the leader themselves. In situations where getting things done is imperative, a leader is likely to act more autocratically. In groups where the leader is confident that others will act promptly and correctly, the leader will likely be more democratic. If a leader is feeling insecure or having a bad day, they may be more autocratic. A tired leader may be laissez-fair.
I personally tend to take a more laissez-fair approach when I lead paddles and know that it is rarely the best style in a large group. It works well when I am paddling with TM, PB, and a few others because we are very familiar with how the others think, have similar risk profiles, and similar skill levels. In most club paddles that I've lead, the let the group decide approach rarely works well. Sometimes it is because the group naturally wants someone to be in charge. Sometimes it is because too many cooks ruin the stew. Other times it can lead to paralysis. In all of these cases I move more towards the middle of the continuum, but it is not my "style".
TM, on the other hand, tends to be more of the autocrat. He has the whole trip planned out ahead of time, and wants the group to follow his lead. This also rarely works out and TM typically tends to be more democratic than autocratic.
Other leaders also have default styles. The truth is that in most cases the style that works is somewhere in between dictator and buddy. People want to feel respected and part of the group, but they also want to know that a skilled and competent leader will make the hard decisions.
In a crisis, however, that the autocrat must rule. Only one person should take charge in a rescue. The leader may choose to delegate some authority to others to manage a complex situation, but they must all be on the same page. When the group must act, and act successfully, a benign dictator is the best leader. In a storm, a rescue situation, or blinding fog, there is little time for debate.

Adaptive Expertise

Tm sent me a couple of links yesterday that discuss leadership styles (which I'll ponder in another post) and those links led me to the discovery of two other posts on "Adaptive Expertise" by Mark Tozer. The posts "What is Adaptive Expertise" and "Developing Adaptive Exerptise" introduce the concept and review some of the current literature about it.
They excited me because they finally gave me a name for something I've noticed in talented people for a while.
A buddy of mine in college played guitar with a guy who was technically superior, but was doomed to be a back-up player. Despite his clear technical skills, this guy couldn't work the room. He could do a great job replicating Hendrix's "All along the Watch Tower" but it was always the same. My friend on the other hand could light up a room. He changed up the pace of the songs to fit the vibe of the room. He managed to work the drunks in a bar into the show.
I work with a some talented writers who are superior when writing on their "topic" and with their tools. Assign them to something outside their zone and they fall apart. I know writers who are great at writing programmers' guide but couldn't write a getting started guide to save their lives. Their books are always organized following the same patterns regardless of the presentation medium or the audience.
TM and I have often talked about kayakers who have gone off and chased training and became super skilled, but lacked sea sense. They know all of the tricks, have flawless rolls, and beautiful forward strokes. They can surf like gods, but when things get a little funky they cannot cope as well as they should based on skill levels. They know rescue procedures and follow them slavishly. We also know paddlers who despite a lack of formal training are spot on in crisis situations and make their skills fit the situation.
Some of this can be chalked up to experience, but the idea of adaptive expertise explains why some people are better at it than others. It explains why some people are craftsmen and others are artists. Adaptive expertise allows a person to adapt their skills and knowledge to new situations. Someone who falls back on rote procedure are not using adaptive expertise, but someone who fits their skills together in a new way to solve a new problem is using adaptive expertise.
Tozer's second post talks about someways of developing adaptive expertise. He talks about four conditions. Essentially one needs to be constantly exposed to novel situations, have a community that encourages learning and dialog, and freedom from time constraints. In other words you need to be willing to accept temporary failure and surround yourself with people who are willing to learn from each other.
Adaptive expertise, while valuable in all areas in life, is key to being a good kayaker. The ocean will throw all sorts of novel situations at you. No two groups are the same. You need to be flexible and adaptable to survive and thrive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bobbing on the Sea

It has been a long time since I've dipped a paddle in the water. The weather, social commitments, and work have been conspiring to keep me from my zen when I could really use it.
Life has tossed me through some choppy waters over the last few weeks. My project at work was getting bogged down in a tangle of rescheduling. Then just after Thanksgiving, we had a major layoff. We lost three members of my team and will likely lose a few more. (The Irish labor laws are forcing the workers in that office to labor away for 30 days knowing they may be made redundant.) While I managed to survive yet another rif, my role is in limbo. I handed off the project I was working on for two years to another writer, and have yet to be given clear marching orders for the future. All I know is that it will be something exciting.
Kayaking has taught me that sometimes all you can do is keep paddling. No matter how big the waves get, how fast the current races, how strong the winds blows you need to keep the paddles moving, the hips lose, and the mind focused on the moment. Eventually, you will find a patch of sand on which to rest.