In ancient times the famous politician and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about the authoritative or coercive leader. This style can be summarized thus: “Do what I tell you or die.” Fear of retribution was the motivating force, and Machiavelli argued for its merits with precision.
Today, such leadership – even when scaled down to the form of personal attacks on character or reputation – is considered crass and immature. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Or have we?
I am always surprised, even in Christian leadership circles, how the spirit of Machiavelli still lives.
I favor the CONSENSUS LEADERSHIP STYLE when leading a team of professional and capable people.
We all have our insecurities. Some take the form of hiding and retreat; others go on the attack to get things done. The former is NOT leadership; the latter is… well, Machiavelli reincarnated. As a model of Christ-like leadership, both are inappropriate and end up on the trash heap of failed goals and wounded people.
Personally, I favor the consensus style of leadership, particularly when leading a team of professional and capable people. Frankly, it is the ONLY way to lead when you surround yourself with experts. You can get a lot done by releasing skilled, motivated people. My main job is to keep the vision in sharp focus, and uphold important boundaries like our core values, the budget, and the timeline. After that, release the race horses!
I use authoritative leadership, but only in special circumstances, such as short term mission trips.
Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard encourage leaders to develop a set of leadership styles and use one or more as appropriate with people and situations. They formed a model of multiple styles, from leading a skilled-but-fearful person to a confident-but-unskilled person and everything in between. A leader who masters these four kinds of leadership will be well-prepared to provide helpful leadership to almost everyone.
I use the authoritative leadership style, but only in special circumstances where it is required. Short term mission trips come to mind. On such forays – that by design only last a week or ten days – I use a TELLING style of leadership. I tell people what time we are getting up, what time we have devotions, when and where we go for breakfast, and what is expected of everyone for the day. Every day of the trip, this routine is repeated.
Perhaps I should point out that I am also consistently kind, appreciative and affirming. Being an authority is never the same a being a bully.
One very capable leader who, with his wife, have traveled with me all over the world, often comments, “I love being on your team. I can just stop being a leader and just be a kid, and wait for Dad to tell me what to do.” Of course, when he is at home in his profession, I would never lead him in this way. On the final day of a mission trip, when we all take a break to go shopping or touring, I dial down the authority and let people to do what they want, within reasonable parameters as guests in a foreign land. I do this to be an example of a flexible situational leader… and to grow friendships. I also do it because I am worn out and need a break!
People need to see the other sides of your personality and styles of your leadership. It is an insecure person who can only be one thing and project one image. Like Jesus, a skilled leader knows what is required in any situation and adjusts accordingly. Jesus was both Rabbi and Friend. Here’s to you becoming a flexible, situational master of all leadership styles!