Leadership styles and context

- Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2014 - 12:00am

There are many resources on leadership available today.  A quick search on books on “leadership” on amazon.com returned close to 111,000 results.  Googling “leader” and “leadership” returned around 328 million results!  And those are just online.  Everywhere, there are leadership seminars offered to everyone.

Though basic leadership principles are universal, leading is not as simple as it seems. Leadership has to be applied within the context of the organization. A drill sergeant’s leadership style may not necessarily work well in a church setting. Leading paid employees and leading volunteers in a faith-based organization require different methods.

Let me give you another example. Attila the Hun was effective as a leader who exacted obedience by killing and obliterating his enemies. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was known as a leader who obtained love and respect because of her compassion for the marginalized. They were two different leaders who worked in two entirely different contexts. What would have happened if we assigned Attila the Hun to take care of the poor of Calcutta? Would he have been effective as a leader? Of course he would have! There would be no poor and no slums left. He would have killed all the poor and burned the slums. And the barbarians would have killed Mother Teresa long before she could open her arms to love and care for them.

Does this mean they are bad leaders?  Not at all!  What it means is that their leadership styles are fit for different organizations.  There is no such thing as being the best leader on the planet. And there is no such thing as having a perfect leader. The last One I know of said that in order to lead, you must first serve.  And He was crucified on the cross.

Every leader has faults, just as he or she has strengths. When you focus on the shortcomings of the leader, you may miss out on learning and studying the strengths he or she possesses. Learning from your leader is important if you are to rise as a leader yourself.

How you lead changes at each level of the firm.  The rules will take on new forms.  Initially, to succeed and be recognized as a leader, you have to show that you have mastery over what you do. Being a leader, however, is not just about being the best technician.  Your context changes when you become a leader. It becomes about getting things done through other people. That involves inspiring, influencing, and mentoring them as future leaders.

When you begin your career you practically operate solo. As a leader, you need to learn how to work with a team. You are also expected to create teams by reproducing yourself through leaders who can effectively lead their own teams. All these steps require a lot of time, and are filled with challenges. And the context always changes. Today’s “framework of management principles” may no longer be relevant tomorrow. This is what is not taught in many seminars: that managing people well is not enough. You need to possess the skills to manage the organization and its politics. As you rise to a higher position, the rules of survival and success change again. You need to learn to negotiate, to manage expectations, to build trust, and to align agendas.

You also need to understand the different generational mindsets.  Gen Y is increasing in numbers; Gen X is aging; and some Baby Boomers are still holding on to their positions, refusing to retire. These are all different contexts with different dynamics that require different leadership styles.

While the business landscape and its contexts may change, the one quality that people are looking for in their leaders remains constant. People want leaders who can inspire and bring out the best in them so they, too, can become good leaders.

You and I need to constantly upgrade and update our leadership skills not only because the context keeps on changing, but more so because we don’t want to shortchange the people entrusted to our care. For after all, leadership is not about lordship; it is about service.

(Spend two inspiring days learning leadership and life skills with Francis Kong as he presents Level Up Leadership this Feb. 18-19 at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. For further inquiries, contact Inspire at 09158055910or call 632-6310912 for details.)

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