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.

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