Written by Chad Bandy
The workplace today demands different styles and personalities for vastly different leadership challenges. Transformational leaders are needed to take a team or company in a new direction all the while attempting to survive the turmoil and controversy they create to make change happen. Transitional leaders can be short-term; knowing they must bring about serious changes with tough decisions, knowing the course of action will create enemies and likely impact their ability to stay in their role long term.
The business climate today is ever-changing with companies enduring tough times and big changes. The challenge to develop managers and leaders to be better coaches is ever-present. Many leaders struggle with what their leadership “style” should be. Should I be the manager every employee likes? Should I be the “hard driving” manager that my employee talks negatively about at holiday parties?
We can review the styles and personalities of many great leaders that contrast greatly, but vastly different styles can be just as effective to achieving organizational success.
Let’s start with our first leadership example, our most famous president, Abraham Lincoln. Before running for present, Mr. Lincoln had bankrupted his business; lost more elections than he had won; and he had only served two years in Congress prior to becoming President of the United States during arguably the most tumultuous time in the history of our country. I often wonder how Mr. Lincoln felt he was even qualified to run for president. After he was elected, President Lincoln had the “leadership courage” to appoint political rivals and adversaries to his cabinet as a gesture to gain the support and opinion of the opposition. Lincoln knew that in order to transform the country, he had to have the broad opinion and support of many. I believe Lincoln was both a transformational and transitional leader.
President Lincoln made controversial decisions during the Civil War that were not popular. During the five years of the Civil War, Lincoln appointed seven generals to head the Union Army. He managed the war from Washington DC with limited means of communication, where ultimately the telegraph was the quickest and most relied upon form of information. Lincoln made decisions based on his intuition, the bits and pieces of information he received from the field, and ultimately his assessment of the generals’ ability to lead. The ultimate hero of the war, Ulysses Grant, was by many accounts seen as the least likely to succeed as general. Although Lincoln made many unpopular decisions during the war, the ultimate outcome and preservation of our country made him a hero. Even those that disagreed with Lincoln described him as a man of principle and integrity. He treated people fairly. Lincoln made tough calls but he made them with a vision and purpose for the country. Leaders can be disagreeable but not disliked as a person. Lincoln exemplified that.
Next, let’s talk about a leader that transformed technology more than any leader in our generation, Steve Jobs. In reading the biography of Mr. Jobs written by Walter Isaacson, you learn very quickly that Jobs had an extreme passion for the companies he led. He lived his life in extremes. He was the ultimate evangelist and cheerleader for his opinions and his products. He was known to “bully” those around him to get his point across, which occurred in his personal life as well. No one was immune from the harshness and cutting comments of Jobs. He was an individual who lived his life defying authority and living excessively in many areas. One example was Jobs diet. He was a fanatic about foods and what he ate. During certain times of his life, he would go on diets where he would only eat one type of food (ironically apples at one point!) and he would remain incredibly disciplined not to stray from his dietary regiment. Another example of Jobs defiance was not obtaining a license plate for his car. Jobs refused to purchase a registration for his car in California and would drive around in his Porsche with no license plate or registration. That was his statement to be an individual and not conform to society’s requirements.
When Jobs reentered Apple as the interim CEO in 1997, no one could envision the transformation that Apple would undergo. He took over a failing company that was out of ideas and talent and not seen as a player in the personal computer space. Jobs was known to have a few “go to” people around him that he relied upon. He was seen as an icon at Apple but never known for his connection to the employees at Apple. In many cases, there were scores of employees that suffered the wrath of a “Jobs tirade” and endured the public tongue-lashing that came with his outbursts. Ultimately, Jobs attracted the right technologists and business leaders that saw through his imperfections and they created the most valuable company in the history of business. The products that Apple employs have ultimately changed the way we live and work. Steve Jobs, with all of his idiosyncrasies, was able to save Apple and transform it into the revered company that it is today. Jobs leadership style was not warm and fuzzy and he certainly had no patience for employees that could not “run at the speed” he was.
What can you take from these two vastly different leaders? Ultimately, the “right style” of leadership depends on your strengths as a leader and how you employ the vision of your company or your division. Different business situations require different leadership styles. The beauty of leadership is not one specific style or formula will achieve success. In order to be successful, leaders must 1.) employ a vision for their team or organization, 2.) they must establish clear performance criteria for their team and 3.) they must coach and manage their team to be accountable to achieving the goals of the organization. These three objectives can be accomplished through timely communication, quality coaching, and honest decisions about the members of your team.
A great coach can have a difficult conversation with an employee about their performance, and the employee can leave the conversation with a positive feeling. Coaching and developing employees is more about creating a vision for an employee and where you as their manager want them to be. Once a mutual agreement occurs with the employee, you as their leader are simply providing them feedback and helping them get to the “place” where they agreed they wanted to be.
Ultimately, leadership boils down to a leader’s ability to achieve great performance all while getting employees to achieve at levels greater than they thought possible. Leaders can transform or transition organizations and survive the turmoil if they coach and develop their team members in a respectful manner. Employees want to be successful; they need managers to take a genuine interest and assist them in their journey to success. The good employees understand, with timely and thoughtful coaching, that you as a leader are trying to get them to perform better because it benefits them and not you.