This past week I’ve been noodling over the concept of leadership.  It’s one of those elusive skills and capabilities that not everyone of us possesses.  Although as I say this, I also understand the leadership is not a simple concept.

Many more people believe they can lead than have the actual capabilities and skills to do so.  Now that’s not to say that they can’t lead in the future but may need more time and support to be better positioned to lead.

In my reckoning there are five different leadership styles:

  1. Delegative – those that distribute tasks as a form of leadership.
  2. Autocratic – those that speak and never listen.  It’s their way or the highway with no input required thank you very much!
  3. Democratic – those that lead but are cognizant and open to feedback and criticism along the way.
  4. Transactional – those that focus on one objective at a time.
  5. Transformational – those that harness the power and capabilities of the broader team to accomplish their goals.

It’s clear that not all leaders are created equal…

Although what I can tell you is that over the point of our careers we will likely come in contact with all five variations of these leadership styles.

In fact, some of these styles may suit you as an individual perfectly, others not so much!   As well, there are situational moments that require a different form of leadership from the norm, although these often these are accompanied by a crisis or incident.

Confused yet?

Yes, it seems that this is no “one size fits all” type of leadership style.  We may lean into one form, but also have undertones of another one or two simmering close to the surface and brought out based on the situation.

Often we confuse leadership with decision making.  Clearly leaders need to have the autonomy to make decisions, but leadership has many nuances especially across the five different types.

We need a balance of leaders and followers, these roles are constantly changing and evolving with even leaders needing to be led at times…

Now, whether they’re open and willing is another question.

What I do know is that the concept of leadership has evolved considerably over the years, and will continue to do so.

As you know I’m a huge history buff, and as I leaned into this topic my research led me to the first world war and the differences between the nations in terms of who led their troops and how effective this was.

With the start of the war, the English divisions were led by those with privilege which primarily meant those of the upper classes.

It soon became apparent that just because you were born into an elite family or of privilege that it didn’t automatically make you the great leader…  In fact, often far from it!

Unfortunately, the Australian Army was under British command for much of the war which often translated into horrendous losses.  As an example, in the Battle of Fromelles (July 1916) in less than 24 hours Australia’s Fifth division suffered over 5,500 casualties of the 8,000 men that went into the battle.  Poor leadership in the form of not enough planning and reconnaissance coupled with inept and outdated strategy led to this catastrophic failure.

After these senseless losses the Australian Army was able to take control of its own forces.  With it came the adoption of a new policy in that the only way to become an officer was via the ranks.  They believed that experience under fire and how the man handled himself was the best way to determine their leadership capabilities.

In this scenario they were often placed in these situations during battle as their existing officers had already been killed, and so it wasn’t unusual to find a private leading a company (120+ men) where once a captain had been, because they instinctively took charge and led when it was required.

It was through these rigours of extreme hardship that the true leaders came to the fore out of necessity.

This evolution occurred out of necessity…

Although not a life and death scenario in today’s world, leaders need to be able to clearly think their way through a situation to a successful outcome.

With this comes the fact that not all leaders are created equal.  Some leaders shine “under fire” and work their magic when in a situation of mayhem and chaos…in fact some even thrive.

This translates into a fine balancing act for leaders.

As leaders we need to provide opportunities for those with the inclination to lead or face losing them, especially in the current volatile and hot job market.

However, these leaders must also have the experience and emotional intelligence to choose the right time to let others lead so as to take a coaching and mentoring role.

Interestingly, the best leaders in our careers are the ones that push us and ensure we have opportunities to learn, fail and grow.  In my mind learning to fail, and then growing from the experience is the best way to learn.

Take a moment to reflect on the type of leader you are?  Are you able to broaden your leadership style and develop your capabilities and skills to take it to the next level?  What would this mean on a day-to-day basis for you as a leader?

More importantly what will you do differently in the way you lead moving forward?

Until next week